Spring Conference in DC Highlights New Agenda for DRTV Marketers

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WASHINGTON - While the trade association NIMA was originally formed to address the special needs of the infomercial industry, it is undergoing a transformation to represent a broader array of companies that include direct response TV in their marketing mix.

The association voted to rename itself the Electronic Retailing Association in the spirit of reaching out to a bigger group of potential members, but at least association member that the new name may be perceived as exclusionary.

"I wanted to see it called the 'Electronic Marketing Association'," said Arthur D. Schiff, president of Direct Response Associates Inc. in Coral Springs, FL. "Electronic retailing seems to exclude companies that use direct response for other things, like lead generation."

Selling Short Form

While "electronic retailing" may not describe how pharmaceutical and insurance companies generate leads through television, the association is making efforts to address the concerns of a variety of DRTV marketers with the formation of its Short Form Council. The council is intended to represent companies that advertise with DRTV spots, which vary in length from 15 seconds to two minutes.

The council held its first informational meeting at the ERA spring conference and drew an audience of about 40 people, said Collette Liantonio, the president of Concepts TV Productions Inc., a DRTV spot production company in Montville, NJ. Liantonio led the effort to organize the group.

"I was really pleased with the turnout at our first meeting," she said. "We had people who not only sold gadgets and gizmos, but also ad agencies like A. Eicoff, that represents Fortune 500 clients."

The inclusion of Fortune 500 companies that use DRTV campaigns mostly to generate customer leads, as opposed to selling products directly on TV, is seen as necessary in growing the association's membership beyond the confines of its core constituency of infomercial entrepreneurs.

The issue of whether to reach out to Fortune 500 companies or not is the subject of debate. Some infomercial entrepreneurs that sell products in DRTV spots argue that Fortune 500 companies drive up media rates and make it difficult to profit on TV. Others say that Fortune 500 companies will be the ones which sustain the DRTV industry into the next century.

One such proponent of Fortune 500 companies is Desiree Dumont, managing director of Media Direct Partners Inc., a DRTV media buying subsidiary of Interpublic Group in New York. She voiced concern that the council would consist of marketers of gadgetry, while most her clients consist of such major corporations as Ameritech, Roche and Novartis. She did not attend the spring conference because of a client commitment.

"I'm interested in the future of DRTV," she said. "The future is not about slicers and dicers. It's about major companies using DRTV in innovative ways."

Liantonio, whose company produced DRTV spots for such hit products as the "Bacon Wave," "Back Pleaser," "Smart Mop" and "Great Wok of China," said the council wants to meet the needs of a variety of DRTV marketers with the formation of sub-committees that address a variety of issues. These sub-committees would be formed in the areas of media buying, creative work, education, outreach, globalism and awards recognition at ERA's annual trade show, Sept. 15-17 in Las Vegas.

"Many people in the industry told us that it's about time short form DRTV received more recognition," Liantonio said. "We'll formalize many of these initiatives at the annual meeting."

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