Direct Media Founder Reflects on Entering Hall of Fame

David W. Florence, founder and chairman of Direct Media Inc., Greenwich, CT, and Benjamin Franklin will be inducted into the Direct Marketing Association Hall of Fame at the DMA's 87th Annual Conference & Exhibition in New Orleans next week. Florence spoke recently with DM News about his career.

The Hall of Fame was established in 1978, nine years after you founded Direct Media in 1969. At that time did you ever think you would be inducted into it one day?

No, I never thought that. Years and years later, I served on the Hall of Fame committee, and I didn't even think so then because of the high caliber of the inductees.

What goals did you have for your company that came to fruition?

I just wanted us to be the best list firm in the country — not necessarily the biggest, but the best. I'm not saying we are now because a lot of other companies really have come up like the Millards and the ALCs of the world, but there was definitely a window of time in there when we were the best and everyone looked up to us.

You established DMI at a time of tremendous growth in the list industry when lots of new firms that are still competing with you were starting out. Do you think that list industry professionals today still have that entrepreneurial spirit?

That's a hard question, and there are certainly exceptions, but overall I think probably not. There were just a lot of entrepreneurial people around then. Times have changed, and the industry is a lot more bureaucratic and corporate on the whole. I'm not saying it's bad, but there is a lot more attention paid to budgets and things like that. Today it takes a different skill set as far as technology is concerned.

What are you most proud of as far as accomplishments during your career? What was your crowning achievement?

I think my most significant accomplishment or contribution was creating the first prospecting database back in the early '70s. Now, over 30 years later, it (Executive Database) is still in existence and being actively used by dozens of mailers. I'm also quite proud of being able to help many of our clients be more successful with their businesses and of being able to mentor many of the young direct marketers.

Any regrets? Is there anything you would do differently? Maybe the Acxiom merger?

My major regret is that I didn't keep Direct Media much smaller than it became. Life would have been a lot easier, and I would have been able to take better care of our clients and employees.

Any list-related anecdotes or memories you would like to share?

I've got a lot of industry anecdotes, but all of them would involve embarrassing someone, and I don't want to get into that.

Can you name any mentors you had who influenced your career in the direct marketing industry?

I've learned — and am still learning — from so many people over the years. Marty Edelston, founder and CEO of Boardroom Reports, has been giving me good advice for over 25 years. Todd Simon, who incidentally is about half my age, of Omaha Steaks taught me a great deal about e-commerce in the early days of the dot-com boom. Another person half my age is Eric Snider, marketing vice president at Skillpath Seminars. Eric has taught me a great deal and brought me into the next century about the product I invented 32 years ago, prospecting databases. Just being able to observe the management and marketing skills of longtime clients and friends George Mosher (founder/CEO of National Business Furniture) and Bob Dorney (founder and former CEO of Day-Timers) taught me so much. There are dozens more that have helped and taught me over the years, and I don't have the space or memory to recall them all now.

What challenges face the direct marketing industry today? How is the DM/list industry different today?

You can't go back, and they were golden days back in the '70s, '80s and '90s. In a lot of ways, it was like being in the water during high tide and everybody just kind of rose with the tide. It's never going to be that way again, but Internet technology is the key today. The Internet is all about direct marketing, so that is a real growth machine for the industry. It's still in its infancy, but it's huge already and growing.

One of the criteria for being selected for the Hall of Fame is contributing to the direct marketing industry at large. It seems that a lot of former Direct Media employees have gone on to prosperous careers in direct marketing. Is that something that makes you proud or a frustration or a bit of both?

I take pride in a lot of the people that I've been associated with and the people that worked for Direct Media. We've staffed about a third of the list industry, I think. We had a lot of good people and some that were great people but their culture didn't fit ours, and they were better off someplace else. I am proud to say that a lot of people like Alice Zea, who founded AZ Marketing; Adrea Rubin, who founded Adrea Rubin Marketing; and Kathy Duggan-Josephs, who founded D-J Associates, started out with us. I'm very proud of their achievements, and I'm not necessarily taking any credit for them but they did pass through here on their way.

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