From DM to Dot-Com and Back

Though many direct marketing professionals were lured to the dot-com side by the promise of excitement and money during the last few years, recent events and experiences have brought several back into the traditional DM fold.

Layoffs at Internet marketing firm earlier this month has at least one former offline direct marketer considering something a bit more stable.

“My inclination would be to go to a company that has a little bit more emphasis on the traditional and a little less on the dot-com side,” said Jane Weber, who had been with since 1997 when she left Reader's Digest.

Weber was part of a 13-percent staff reduction that saw her former division, Direct, consolidated with the company's division.

However, Weber said she has no regrets and expects her former employer to survive the sweeping industry changes.

While it is unclear when the turmoil in the Internet world will end, stability is part of the foundation of traditional direct marketing. Going from an established environment to one that has been in existence for only a few years was certainly unsettling for some direct marketers.

When asked why she went back to a traditional direct marketing company after a stint at 24/7 Media, Lisa Moore, vice president at Direct Media Inc., Greenwich, CT, said, “The way I look at it, Direct Media is a well-oiled machine. They've been in business 30 years. They have systems. They have processes. The dot-com world doesn't have that yet.”

Moore also pointed out, however, that people with traditional direct marketing backgrounds started several of the dot-coms that are succeeding and that the Internet has certainly affected the offline direct marketing industry in positive ways.

Meanwhile, there have been enough dot-com disasters in the past year to make many job seekers wary of taking that risk.

“We are seeing people coming in now who may have gone to work for a dot-com who want to go back to a more traditional marketing environment because they don't like the lack of financial stability or they don't like the chaotic environment,” said Steve Smith, direct marketing recruiter at Victoria James Executive Search Inc., Stamford, CT. “They're used to a more stable, professional work environment than maybe some of the dot-coms provide.”

The thrill of becoming the next millionaire has dried up for most, said Victoria James, founder and president of the recruiting firm.

“We have definitely seen a swing for those who are more faint-of-heart back to something with more stability,” she said. “[However,] there's still a constituency of folks who have a high risk tolerance, and those people will continue to search for the next dot-com [that] will bring them the brass ring.”

The compensation packages of stock options that many of the dot-coms used to gain employees don't amount to much today, Smith said.

While not all direct marketers are hurrying back from their new posts, those who did not enjoy their dot-com experiences can expect a salary increase when they move back to the stability of the offline side, James said. The dot-com surge definitely bid up salaries in the DM industry as a whole.

Despite a renewed interest in the stability of traditional direct marketing, companies still are having trouble filling openings with qualified people.

“The pendulum went from way left last year back to the middle this year, and it is my feeling that it will stay there in the middle and somewhat conservatively to the right for the remainder of this year,” James said.

In the latter part of 2001, James predicted, direct marketing companies will have an easier time finding talent.

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