At Staples, Goodman Is Right on the Button in its Marketing Push

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Ron Sargent had a simple question for Shira Goodman, then a consultant at Boston-based Bain & Co.: Should Staples expand its $30 million catalog delivery business?

"You've got 50-pound cases of copy paper," she responded in 1992 to Mr. Sargent, then VP of Staples Direct. "I came back with a resounding yes."

After a few more yeses to other opportunities at Staples, Ms. Goodman is exec VP-marketing at the U.S.' biggest office-supply superstore. Mr. Sargent is still in the house too as CEO.

That affirmative in '92 was clearly the right answer; today Staples' direct-delivery catalog business, which includes online sales, generates almost $5 billion of the chain's nearly $16 billion in sales. In 2006, Staples leads the office supply category with only a 7% share, so the need for effective marketing has never been greater. That's where Ms. Goodman, 45, and the "Easy Button" campaign come in. The latest spot in the push broke last month.

Delivering goods

Mr. Sargent, who headed Staples Direct, brought in Ms. Goodman by offering her the chance to join his team expanding the delivery business she had recommended.

This time the answer wasn't so easy for her. Ms. Goodman's family was planning to move to New York so her husband could pursue his education as a rabbi. Mr. Sargent suggested a weekly commute to Boston; that's when her Red Roof Inn days began.

From Monday through Thursday for two years, she stayed at the discount hotel, until Staples acquired a competitor and she could work from a New Jersey office. In 1996, a six-month commute tour began with Staples` takeover attempt (it failed) of Office Depot. Again, the timing was less than perfect as Ms. Goodman was expecting her second child.

"I told them at that point I'm moving up to the Sheraton Terrace," said Ms. Goodman, now a mother of three.

Ms. Goodman rose to senior VP of Staples Direct and grew the operation by more than 60% to an $850 million business. Given her success heading the catalog division and her background-a J.D. from Harvard Law School and master's degree from the MIT Sloan School of Management-Ms. Goodman's jump to marketing might have surprised some.

"J.D., MBAs typically go into the financial world," she said. "What I love is driving the top line."

"I see our competition way beyond OfficeMax and Office Depot," Ms. Goodman said. "It's Costco, Wal-Mart, Sam's Club, many places over the Internet."

She added, "We have a lot of opportunity ahead of us." To seize that, Staples in 2004 switched agencies to Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann Erickson Worldwide from Omnicom Group's Martin/Williams, Minneapolis. McCann developed the "Easy Button" campaign.

The latest spot broke in January, when Staples also started offering a downloadable Easy Button that consumers can use to link to Staples' Web site.

Working with Ms. Goodman has been refreshing because of her open attitude toward creative executions, said Joyce King Thomas, chief creative officer at McCann's New York office. "Shira ... expects advertising that makes people laugh but gets a reaction," Ms. Thomas said. "But when it comes to strategy, she's serious."

Which meshes well with the serious-minded chain. Recalling her Red Roof days, Ms. Goodman said of 2006: "This is Staples. On a good day we get to stay at the Marriot Courtyard. We have a frugal culture."

Just asking

Shira Goodman

Staples

What books are you reading now? One is from a book club with my daughter in fifth grade; also "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter."

Your passion outside work? I’m president of my children’s day school and have a tremendous passion for education.

Do you use an "Easy Button" at home? I don’t have a button at home ... We have a terrific housekeeper.

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