2001 Marketers of the Year: Joseph Kremer

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In the Kremer household these days, Joseph Kremer and his wife are on pins and needles expecting the arrival of their second child. But another Kremer baby—an ongoing, integrated marketing campaign he fathered as VP-marketing for CDW Computer Centers Inc.—has caused little stress.

In late 2000, the company began its first multimillion-
dollar TV campaign, aimed at information technology managers at small and midsize businesses who are the prime customer for the computer hardware, software and services CDW sells. Working with DWP/Bates Technology, Atlanta, the "Fred" campaign featured non-technical, Dilbert-esque managers making impossible requests of the IT department. It definitely struck a chord with the target audience. The company sent more than 10,000 CD-ROMs containing the humorous spots to its customers at their request.

Kremer, a former IBM Corp. executive who became Vernon Hills, Ill.-based CDW’s first VP-marketing in 1998, then added a direct marketing layer to the "Fred" campaign in 2001 that has garnered a 50% response rate.

He also led CDW in the building of customer extranets that have generated 85,000 unique visitors daily and $152.8 million in direct, unassisted sales on the corporate Web site in the second quarter.

Kremer said CDW would not have been able to do what it has done without a strong executive team.

"Our marketing expenditures are up this year, and that’s been an advantage versus competitors who are cutting," he said. "There is less noise out there. Ad rates are better than they’ve been in more than two years. My opinion is this is the wrong time to cut back."

Nonetheless, the "Fred" campaign was risky. It was an empathy message, which reached out to IT staffers and told them CDW understood what they had to deal with on a daily basis. But at the same time it took jabs at corporate techno nitwits, a brash move that could have alienated those who approved IT purchases.

"We did not know what kind of legs we would have for ‘Fred,’ " Kremer said. Based on the incredible response, it appears that CDW will keep "Fred" around a little longer.

Toward the end of this year, CDW was stepping up radio spots, something never before done in its 27-year history. Sixty-second "Fred" radio spots allowed the audience to use their imagination when thinking of ways to tap CDW. The proof is in the marketing. At the end of 2000, CDW reached 306,000 different end-user employees at clients. Today it reaches nearly 15% more.

If Kremer can keep that kind of momentum—amidst the baby bottles at home—CDW ought to do even better in 2002. "No question, we’ve reached out and touched our target audience," he said.

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