RELATIONSHIPS RULE AT D.C. DIRECT SHOP: NEW CEO CHIDESTER SAYS IT'S ALL ABOUT GETTING CLOSER TO CONSUMER

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Becky chidester is out to build new bridges of trusting relationships in a town not known for such construction.

As the new president-CEO of Washington-based RTCdirect, Ms. Chidester, 41, will lead the agency -- founded in 1962 as a politically driven, grassroots direct and database shop -- into the next millennium with a new focus: relationship marketing.

'IN A RELATIONSHIP ERA'

"We are in a relationship era," said Ms. Chidester, who moves up from the post of managing director. "We help clients figure out who their most profitable clients are, how to add more value to their brand, and how to communicate that value and build a long-term relationship. It is all about getting closer to your customers and striking up partnerships."

What RTCdirect does is likely to be noticed in the capital's agency community. The unit of WPP Group is the second-largest ad agency in D.C. Ms. Chidester succeeds Michael Graham, now CEO at ThompsonConnect, New York.

RTCdirect is helping clients snuggle up to consumers via comprehensive marketing programs with a personal touch via direct mail, telemarketing and the Internet, as well as traditional print and TV.

For Mead Johnson Nutritionals' infant formula Enfamil, RTCdirect created an interactive loyalty campaign to connect with new mothers. Moms got literature and coupons, plus a 24-hour hotline and a Web site to help in their new role. "We're providing value to our product so [a new mother] doesn't just see milk in a can but a company that is helping her feel more confident as a mother, answering questions even in the middle of the night, and giving incentives," Ms. Chidester said.

GREATER SHARE OF PURSE

By building a trustful relationship with the consumer, a marketer automatically gains access to a greater share of her purse because it can then introduce her to other related products, which she will be more likely to buy, Ms. Chidester said.

Relationship marketing is particularly crucial in healthcare now that the industry's marketing model has shifted from a direct-to-doctor to a direct-to-consumer focus, said Ellen Hoenig, VP-consumer and patient marketing at Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. One of Bristol's biggest marketing challenges is getting people to continue using a specific medication after the initial prescription runs out.

RTCdirect developed for Bristol a relationship-based compliance and persistency program for users of Pravachol, a cholesterol-reducing product. The campaign, themed "Just for your heart," includes six to eight newsletters and refill reminders sent to patients, in addition to a call center and special targeted offers like discounts on prescriptions. The program currently is in test, but

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