Dial it up

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The situation is pretty dire at Dial. The company has missed earnings targets for three consecutive quarters, resulting in the ousting of CEO Malcolm Jozoff. And Dial's venerable household brands -- from its namesake soap to Purex detergent, Armour canned meats and Renuzit air freshener -- now subsist mainly on trade promotion rather than consumer advertising.

The formidable task of raising earnings -- and the profile of those brands -- now falls to new CEO Herb Baum. If anyone is up to the job, it is Mr. Baum, who labored for years to distance Campbell's condensed soup from private-label competitors. But by the same token, a heavy dose of realism is called for. "Dial has forever been heavily dependent on the trade, so all of a sudden to turn tail. . .they're not going to be able to pull it off" says Ken Harris, partner at Cannondale Associates.

True, the company can't unilaterally cut off trade spending -- retailers would retaliate by cutting out Dial's shelf space. Perhaps the best Dial can hope for is to hold the line on its existing trade allocations. Or, as some analysts and company-watchers suggest, the company may need to sell off some weaker brands to fund consumer advertising for its stronger ones. It's even within the realm of possibility that Mr. Baum has been charged by the company's board to dress its brands up for sale.

No matter how -- or why -- it's accomplished, the direction toward pull rather than push marketing is the right one. Because although it may be hard to execute, the prescription for turnaround is simple: Dial it up.

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