But trading in his suits for khakis and his BMW 740 for a BMW convertible are the only things that will take some getting used to. Mr. Wiedemann has no second thoughts about his career shift -- from chairman-CEO of Grey Direct Worldwide to president-CEO of online direct marketing company Responsys.com.
Mr. Wiedemann talks about his transition as a "calling," strong enough to pull this self-proclaimed pioneer away from the helm of the agency he founded 21 years ago and built into the seventh-largest marketing services shop in non-U.S. revenue, according to Advertising Age data.
FOUNDED GREY E-UNITS
After a career path peppered with stints at renowned direct marketing and database companies including Wunderman Cato Johnson and Claritas, Mr. Wiedemann was bitten by the Internet bug several years ago.
In 1993, Mr. Wiedemann established Grey Interactive to help serve clients' online marketing needs, and this year he started Grey EMmetrics, an end-to-end marketing solution used by Grey Global Group's units to create e-mail campaigns.
"George was a wonderful leader. He was ahead of his time in most circumstances," said Lawrence Kimmel, who moves from president of Grey Direct's New York office to the worldwide chairman-CEO title. "He was aggressive in the development of interactive."
So aggressive about interactive, in fact, that expanding those capabilities within Grey wasn't enough for Mr. Wiedemann. He saw a new frontier ahead that he had the urge to explore.
"It is such the future of where we're going, and I'm so excited about that future," Mr. Wiedemann said.
He described Responsys' service as online direct marketing because it encompasses more than e-mail messaging, and includes anything that can be delivered via the Net on a one-to-one basis, like rich media and Web sites.
The company offers a Web-hosted application service provider, or ASP, that puts its nearly 200 customers -- including Lands' End, MotherNature.com and VeriSign -- in complete control of their online campaigns.
Marketers can create and deploy campaigns as well as manage, target and profile data using the ASP platform Responsys Interact, which also offers speed -- enabling clients to create and deliver campaigns within 72 hours.
"There's absolutely nothing between the customer and their online direct marketing," Mr. Wiedemann said. "You can dynamically serve a lot of different offers and creative tests, and then in real time you can switch to the winners."
Because Responsys is a platform, not an agency, it can be valuable to agencies as well as marketers, said Anand Jagannathan, the company's founder, who passed the president-CEO title to Mr. Wiedemann and becomes chairman and chief strategy officer.
"We allow our customers to directly design the marketing campaign and launch the marketing campaign," Mr. Jagannathan said. "We don't get in the middle of the interaction between the customer and the agency."
Even as large marketing services agencies like Grey Direct, FCB Direct and Rapp Collins Worldwide ramp up their interactive marketing capabilities, Mr. Jagannathan doesn't see them as competitors because he plans to remain devoted to the ASP platform rather than adopt an agency model. He believes agencies, less experienced in back-end technology, will continue to rely on companies like Responsys to provide that infrastructure.
"Agencies don't want to build the underlying platform," he said. "They just want to build the solutions off the underlying platform."
Agency veteran Mr. Wiedemann agreed, saying Responsys is "not built on an agency model. We are not going to provide creative services. What we do want to do is take the marketing best practice and we want to bake it into the cake by making it part of our tool set."
Adding more tools and convincing more marketers to use them is the next step, an expansion that required a partner in leadership, said Mr. Jagannathan, a computer science engineer by training who will focus on what he does best -- developing the technology -- while Mr. Wiedemann will exploit his skills at building a business.
"It's the general progression of a company. The technology is built and you get some customers. Then you bring in someone with management experience to build this into a bigger business," Mr. Jagannathan said.
SEEKING BIG MARKETERS
The growth goal is to sign on big-budget, mainstream marketers that have been only experimenting in online direct marketing.
"We want to be the leader in online direct marketing, to be part of the mainstream of direct marketing, to get the Chase Manhattans and the GMs who are looking to how they're going to spend their money on online direct marketing," Mr. Jagannathan said.
Many mainstream agencies have bought into such a concept, and Grey's independent venture capital arm, Grey Ventures, put its money on Responsys with a recent investment, which will allow Mr. Wiedemann to continue to work with his former colleagues.
"We still have that connection to him and we'll continue to have that connection," Mr. Kimmel said. "We will look to capitalize on some of their technology."