Penn Garritano CEO sees rebound in '03

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(Third in a series of Executive Outlooks)

While 2002, with it corporate belt-tightening, was a year many marketers would like to forget, there seem to be signs of life in 2003.

Steve Penn, CEO-executive creative director of Penn Garritano Direct Response Marketing, says marketing spending is trending upward as companies loosen their budget restraints.

BtoB: What does your crystal ball predict in 2003?

Penn: Purse strings will loosen up. Mail will increase.

I think we've seen the economy bottom out. Barring some catastrophic world event, we won't see another downturn. It'll be slow recovery.

What I see is a greater enthusiasm for people to talk about what they want to do. People weren't even talking about their plans in 2002. Now they're talking about specific projects and specific budget figures for 2003. We've even had a couple people ask us about 2004.

BtoB: What are marketers saying matters most to them in the next 12 months?

Penn: The one thing I'm hearing is that clients want traction now. Sometimes that limits what academic instincts tell you should be done for the long term. But that's the beauty of ROI-based marketing. You can create immediate successes and minimize the risk. It's balancing the short-term need for revenue with long-term sustainability of the company.

BtoB: What do direct marketers need to do to meet the continued challenges of the current economic environment?

Penn: What worked last year won't necessarily work this year. I think those times have changed forever. Besides being patient, direct marketers need to be flexible in the coming months.

Things we see working the best are block and tackle direct marketing. For us, that's been direct mail, e-mail and e-newsletters on the b-to-b front.

Ink on paper is not dead. Look at where the bulk of our marketing dollars are going in terms of channels. It's into mail. Direct mail is not a cheap way to market, but if you've done your homework, it's the best way. You're putting the message in the hands of people who are most likely to respond.

Also, you can't create relevant messaging without good information. In some instances, companies have it, but it's in too many places. You've got to clean up your data. Get it in one place. Make it relational. Make sure various components of your company are talking to each other. A garage full of warranty cards doesn't do you any good unless you use that information.

--Interview conducted by Carol Krol

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