Direct marketer Bahler brings experience to Net

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Earl bahler got his first taste of direct marketing right out of high school, as he went from farm to farm in Illinois peddling silos and livestock equipment.

He honed his advertising and one-to-one marketing skills over the next 30 years as he rose to serve as president of J. Walter Thompson Direct and a senior VP at Ogilvy & Mather, both New York. At those shops, he worked with such major marketers as American Express Co., Bell Atlantic Corp., Ford Motor Co., IBM Corp. and Trans World Airlines.

This month, the 59-year-old leaves his post as VP-managing director at Communications Plus and moves to an Internet start-up to ply his trade.

Mr. Bahler, as VP-marketing at EPromos.com, is charged with building the company's marketing strategy and attracting new customers to the site that sells promotional merchandise such as hats and coffee mugs with corporate logos.

During his seven years at Communications Plus, Mr. Bahler helped turn a small family-owned marketing services agency into a 55-person company with $52 million in annual billings. At JWT Direct, New York, then a unit billing less than $25 million, Mr. Bahler said he raised revenues by 140% within five years.

"Actually, those are the most exciting times I can remember," Mr. Bahler said. "Going and getting everyone excited and focused on the responsibilities."

CLASSIC TECHNIQUES

At EPromos.com, Mr. Bahler will be using some of the same marketing techniques he learned from operating his farm equipment business.

"Some of the same things I learned [then] and still apply are being able to size up a prospect, understand what that person's concerns and needs were and adjusting the solution to really fit, not come up with a standard sales pitch," he said. "I listened a lot. Listened and learned that people, if you give them a chance, will really tell you how they see things and what they need and want. . . . Now with the Internet, if people will tell us [what they want] we can then tailor solutions for them."

Mr. Bahler, who sold his business in 1962 when he entered the Peace Corps during its inaugural year, headed to O&M in 1969 after receiving his MBA from Dartmouth College's Amos Tuck School of Business and his undergraduate degree from Lake Forest College in Illinois.

He handled general ad accounts at O&M for 10 years before moving to Ogilvy Direct in 1981..

While there, in a five month period -- considered warp speed in the pre-Internet era -- Mr. Bahler helped build and launch TWA's frequent flier program.

"Direct marketing in 1980 was an exciting new thing with database introduction and the introduction of bonus programs like TWA's frequent flier program," Mr. Bahler said. "That's now become old hat. The groundbreaking things are happening now with the Web."

EPromos CEO Jason Robbins thinks it's important to have seasoned veterans at the company.

"I don't think b-to-b sites like ours need [ads on] buses," Mr. Robbins said. "We're not beauty this beauty that. We really want to target our specific industries and there's nothing like direct marketing to do that."

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