The More Things Change

Sometimes we get a feeling that people who become involved in the management of the Direct Marketing Association are required to take certain pills which guarantee they will do things that cause eruptions, displease people, set off controversies and generate waves of criticism from the membership.

Guess what? I didn’t write those words. Joe Fitz-Morris, DM News’ first editor, did 20 years ago when the rumor was going around that then-postmaster general William F. Bolger was to be named president/CEO of the DMA. That, of course, didn’t happen, and Jonah Gitlitz was selected. Is it mandatory that some sort of controversy surround the change in leadership? This time it was that the DMA missed its deadline to name a replacement for H. Robert Wientzen (granted, it was by only a few days) and issued a vaguely worded press release offering no insight into how much longer the process would take. My, how much can change in a week.

Like Wientzen, incoming CEO John A. Greco Jr. has a long resume in the industry. Greco’s background is in marketing technology, having worked at AT&T for almost 20 years. He also picked up some printing experience at R.R. Donnelley & Sons and ran the Yellow Pages Integrated Media Association for three years. Was that enough to prepare him for this? The YPIMA is much smaller than the DMA – only 350 members – so it was a far different beast to deal with.

Before writing this week’s editorial, I paged through some old issues of DM News to see how previous changes of command at the DMA were played out. That’s where I ran across Fitz-Morris’ comments as well as the news item about Gitlitz: a mere 92-word story at the bottom of page 2, while Wientzen’s news was the lead story on page 1 in 1996. I also noticed that Greco will face the same issues that the industry has been facing for decades. Near the top of the list is direct marketing’s image. To quote Fitz-Morris again from 20 years ago: “It’s time direct response marketers learned something about public relations. That is a field about which direct firms know little and care less. … Otherwise, the industry is going to end up with a law regulating the list business [and] direct response will continue to win top places in the listings of absolutely infuriating situations …”

Will Greco be able to fix anything? Not by himself. Everyone in the industry needs to do his or her part as well. Let’s just hope he hasn’t been slipped any pills yet.

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