Fred Simon of Omaha Steaks and noted copywriter Herschell Gordon Lewis were inducted yesterday into the Direct Marketing Association's Hall of Fame.
The inductions honor exceptional career contributions to the practice, growth and stature of direct and interactive marketing. Simon and Lewis' addition lifts the 25-year-old Hall of Fame's honoree list to 83.
“The DMA has been part of my life for the last 39 years — not just me, but Omaha Steaks',” Simon told attendees yesterday at the DMA's annual show. “It's certainly the highest honor of my career.”
It was a four-day direct mail course by Ed Mayer that Simon took at the DMA in 1964 that propelled the beef marketer into mail order. He returned a year after the course to complain to Mayer that only 11 of the 15 DM tactics worked.
“Good. I'll use that as an endorsement,” Simon quoted Mayer as saying.
Under Simon's watch, Omaha Steaks has grown into the nation's largest direct marketer of gourmet steaks and frozen foods, and with a file of 2 million customers.
Simon installed the company's first toll-free line for customer service and inbound calls. He also instituted a refunds and replacement policy exceptional for its time.
He led the development of a polystyrene container that offered shipments with an eight-day transit life. In another achievement, he persuaded United Parcel Service to deliver his company's packages despite the perishable nature of the content.
Offline, Simon opened Omaha Steaks' first retail store. Today, there are 70 stores in 14 states selling steaks to local communities.
Customers are at the top of Omaha Steaks' organizational chart, Simon said.
“Make sure your product or service is unique so that consumers buy from you, not your competitors,” he said.
Aside from his work accomplishments, Simon also took the time to author four books on steak and meat.
Simon is currently executive vice president and a board member at Omaha Steaks. Though the fifth generation — Simon's son Todd and nephew Bruce — runs the company, he continues to take an active interest in the family-run firm.
“I still take customer calls,” he said.
Omaha Steaks plays a role in this year's other Hall of Fame honoree. It is a client of Lewis, who also writes direct marketing copy for UNICEF and Proflowers.com, among others.
Lewis took a circuitous route to direct marketing. He began his career in the movies, directing 37 films and producing 22. He left the business in the early 1970s and became a direct mail consultant. He established and ran for 25 years DM agency Communicomp until its sale to advertising conglomerate True North.
A prolific magazine writer, speaker, teacher and author — a 27th book on the art of writing copy was released this year — Lewis was vocal about his love for direct marketing. The industry adapts from other fields all to one end — to increase response.
“Ours is a civilized business — Bob Wientzen and my friend Fred Simon,” Lewis said. “Even my friend Bob Dunhill is civilized, and he's in the list business.”
He thanked his wife for “the reason why I'm here today. Margot, without you, I'd be opening cartons at Wal-Mart … I'm simply having too good a time doing what I do best, which is criticizing the creative work of other people.”