DMA Chief: We Can't Lose 'Hearts and Minds' of New Marketing Generation

New website, Webinar Aim to Make Organization More Relevant to Social Media, Digital Worlds

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SAN FRANCISCO (AdAge.com) -- The Direct Marketing Association has promised to jolt the industry and CEO Lawrence Kimmel did that quite literally -- with a thunderclap -- in his opening speech for the organization's annual meeting.

Larry Kimmel
Larry Kimmel
Before Mr. Kimmel took the stage to kick off the DMA Annual Conference and Exhibition three huge screens, aided by the auditorium's sound and lighting system, depicted a violent thunderstorm representing the current marketplace. As the screens flashed promises for solutions to help weather the storm the cloudy screens, flashing lights and thunder were replaced by images of clear skies and Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now" playing as Mr. Kimmel made his way on stage.

Certainly a grand entrance by association keynote standards, but one designed to underscore Mr. Kimmel's call to arms for the industry to eradicate the misconception of direct marketing. "I'm concerned with losing the hearts and minds of a new generation of marketers," Mr. Kimmel said. "Most of the innovative and aggressive marketers today don't define themselves as direct marketers when in fact they are direct marketing practitioners. This discipline we have been working on for over 100 years deserves to be recognized appropriately."

To underscore his point, he cited the definitions of direct marketing on Wikipedia, noting that one of the site's meanings suggest that "[direct marketing] be merged with leaflet distribution" and that "direct marketing is not appropriate for big brands." He asked the nearly packed auditorium to "write and right Wikipedia."

He went on to tout the DMA's efforts to becoming more relevant to the digital and social media-based generation of marketers. He talked about the organization's new website, newdma.org, and a section of the site called The Showcase, where marketers can post case studies that exemplify the innovation taking place in the world of direct. He also unveiled a global webinar program that will launch in November designed to bring together insights and understanding of best practices in direct mobile.

Moreover, Mr. Kimmel admitted that the association has done a poor job of providing DMA members with efficient access to all of its content. As a result the new DMA site will also have a section called the Knowledge Center, where members will be able to access all of the information from every session held at each DMA show throughout the year.

Echoing Mr. Kimmel's thoughts on changing the perception of what direct marketing is was Steve Stoute, founder and CEO of Translation and a member of the conference's first keynote panel along with musician Bret Michaels. Moderated by Scott Donaton, president-CEO of Interpublic Group of Cos.' Ensemble, the panel touched on everything from how to use social media and technology to connect with customers, to selling out and partnerships.

Mr. Michaels recalled how, in one of his first discussions with TV executives when his show "Rock of Love" was getting ready to debut on VH1, the execs were all calling for a social-media strategy to help promote the program. Instead, he felt the important thing was to make sure they had a quality show on their hands. "My mom is on Twitter, but I'm not sure how many people will find it interesting to know that she is in her pickup truck driving across town," Mr. Michaels said. "I find it interesting, because she's my mom. So you have to make sure what you're pushing is going to be relevant to people and doing a social-media campaign was the first thing out of these executives' mouths. But I said let's make sure we have a good product that people like first."

Mr. Stoute said he marketers understand that Facebook and Twitter aren't appropriate for all brands and said most go into it not knowing what they want to accomplish or lack a fully-baked strategy. But he said the desire from marketers to play in the social space presented great opportunity for direct marketers. "You have to understand what lane works best for you but everyone wants to be involved in social media," he said. "Direct marketers are in the best place of all because everyone is looking for value and the only way to get value is to remove the middle man. And you guys can do that. But you have to find a way to raise the value of our content and the perception of what we do for a living."

Mr. Michaels said you can't fake the passion you need to have for the brand you're working with. He said the diabetic-friendly Troparocka Snapple flavor he created on "Celebrity Apprentice" is a perfect example. The drink was only supposed to be a short-lived promotional product but he has turned it into a business deal with the beverage maker. "It was about passion and I fought really hard to make sure it was more than just a promotional product," Mr. Michaels said. "I went to the CEO of the company and told him I wasn't going to let him give up on the product."

"Artists have been much more open-minded to working [with] brands," Mr. Stoute said. "But in order for it to work you have to find that organic relationship with a brand like Bret has with Snapple."

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