Q&A: DMA’s Greco on what to expect at the annual show

As part of DM News’ pre-show coverage, Direct Marketing Association CEO/president John Greco sat down with DM News editor-in-chief Eleanor Trickett during 2007 Advertising Week to discuss current trends, the DM industry’s progress since DMA06, and the importance of looking outside traditional audiences.

Eleanor Trickett: Looking forward to The DMA07 show, is there an emerging group of people coming to the show that hadn’t traditionally attended?

John Greco: I think from what we can see so far, there is a good pattern of people who are coming from both the traditional direct marketing community and our membership community, but also from outside traditional direct marketing. It says we’re accomplishing our objectives in going beyond talking to ourselves, and attracting the largest possible community. Direct marketing applies to everyone, and the proof is when you see registrants from around the world and across a variety of segments.

ET: Can you give me some specific examples of people who are attending now who hadn’t traditionally come before?

JG: It’s not that these people didn’t come before, but on an increasing level we see increasing interest [from] the pharmaceutical segment; on the part of traditional retailers as they go to multichannel platforms; and while we’ve always been strong in financial services, we see other verticals growing.

ET: Who’s not going who should?

JG:Everyone who’s not attending! I believe, in my heart, that every single marketer who makes a decision about marketing, if they’re involved in the discipline, they should be there.

It’s a very broad answer, but an honest one. We’re looking to bring everybody to the table. This is both in terms of marketing in the general, commercial sense, as well as nonprofit fundraising. We do reach out to the whole community, whether it’s business-to-business, business-to-consumer, or prospect-donor communications. Everyone in that process should be at the conference.

ET: When you have an annual show as big as the DMA, you tend to get a good idea of what themes are driving the industry year on year. What were some of last year’s themes?

JG: What I’m really excited about is the bridge between last year and this year. Last year we laid the foundation in general terms of marketing going direct; I used a play on words and said it’s about marketing directly, not direct marketing. That was intentional, to get out of the paradigm of the direct marketing process or industry as a closed community, to talk more broadly about it.

We’re seeing the payoff now as we can cite that more than 50 percent of advertising is spent in the direct channels. It’s not just a directional concept, it’s not that it’s just on the increase; we’ve really reached that tipping point.

Last year we talked about how important it was to keep every channel open and affordable – an example is, I talked last year about the importance of postal reform, keeping down the cost of the mail channel, and we were able to deliver on achieving getting postal reform enacted. This was a major positive in terms of laying the platform for future rate activity. And if anyone didn’t realize how important that was, they just have to look at one of the final rate cases, which was hopefully the last one (there’s an opportunity legally for one more, but hopefully that won’t occur); that rate case absolutely occurred outside that postal reform process as the last, hopefully, bite of the apple. If anything were to reinforce why we need the stability of reform, that rate case did.

On the flip side, we talked about the interactive channels, how important they are to us, and the payoff during the year was not only increasing the visibility of the interactive marketing advisory board, but also acquiring the Email Experience Council and putting substance behind that with our existing counsel. It was also about demonstrating across the board that we’re working to keep every channel open, that they’re affordable and viable, and most of all raising the bar on the three Rs that we talked about last year – the power of direct, which is relevance, responsibility, results.

I introduced this theme in Atlanta [in 2005] and continued it in San Francisco last year, and said then that it’s not just three cute words. There’s a lot of substance behind them. Responsibility would be a big component of where we wound up in the future, and it’s shaping our destiny. This year, it’s to talk more specifically about what we can do to be more responsible marketers.

ET: Tell me more about the kind of responsibility you’re talking about.

JG: This year we’ve already laid the foundation in the environmental arena with our environmental policy generator that we introduced to our members. This year we’ll talk a whole lot more about our commitment to consumer choice, we’ll talk about specifics in Chicago. It’s a major step forward, helping members ensure greater compliance with a number of things that will help us increase our positive reputation.

This all has to lie on the foundation of extensive education. It’s not just telling our members at the annual conference, but having an ongoing education program at the corporate level, and our education foundation that says, we’re in this for the long term, we have to make sure the labor pool of the future is adequately and properly trained. That’s why it’s so important to look at the continuum of what we’re doing with the education foundation, on everything from how to get results [to] the ethical components, the self-regulatory ones. That’s got to be built into the programs. We have the same kinds of training programs for people in the workforce.

ET: If your three Rs were a call to action, what grade would you give the industry on that?

JG: I’m very pleased with how we’re doing. I won’t put letter grade on it, but if this were academic environment with a pass/fail grade, I’d give us a pass. We’re doing all the right things to go in the same direction [with the three Rs].

We’re committed to self-regulation. [In terms of being] relevant, we’ve increasingly seem demonstration of that. We’re clearly driving great results – the overall ROI for all channels is moving up, I believe it was $11.60 overall last year, it’s 11.69 this year. And the key is, I see us taking all the right steps.

I’m so proud of this community. I continue to call it a community as we’re not one industry. We’re this whole process of direct marketing that goes from list compilation to agencies to all the supplier community members, and then into the market segments. I’m delighted to say we continue to take the steps we need to on that “R” called responsibility, the board has been very much behind everything we’ve been doing on this combination of our environmental policy and our commitment to consumer choice, and I’m very proud of us.

ET: We’re sitting here after the direct marketing day in Advertising Week. How long has the DMA been involved in that?

JG: We’ve been involved in Advertising Week for three years now. It’s been exciting watching it grow, and the impact of it has been stronger and stronger each year.

ET: How did the DMA’s involvement with Advertising Week begin?

JG: When I came on board, Burtch Drake, who’s head of the 4As, reached out to me and told me what they were doing, what the purpose of Advertising Week was. And with the role that direct marketing was playing in the overall marketing mix, what a good idea it would be for us to participate. I’ve really enjoyed watching it develop.

ET: What can traditional advertising people take away from a day like today?

JG: I hope they’ll take away the fact that marketing in general is something that cannot be siloed, and it should not be, no matter which lens you look at it from – from traditional direct, or brand. I think everyone has to realize that by focusing on the consumer, everything that we’ve been talking about through the panels today, through the additional tools and skills available, there’s so much that can be done by collaborating through channels.

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