October 2008 - Columns: Rick Petry 50 is the New 50

50 is the New 50

By Rick Petry

Recently, I worked on an ad campaign where a bunch of middle-aged white guys speculated about the media usage habits of Gen-Y women. We were experienced marketers, yet the notion of actually engaging our target audience prior to the new product launch was but a mere afterthought forced to bow to our collective wisdom. In my 20-plus years in the business, this scene has been repeated too often, with a direct response television ad used as the lead means with which to go to market. In a business where the odds of success are cited as being between 5 and 10 percent, this is an awfully expensive path to discovering what’s needed to pave that path with gold.

So as I turn-gulp-50, it seems apropos that this is the 50th column I have written since the inception of Electronic Retailer, proving that my folks actually knew what they were talking about when they spoke of the way time accelerates with age. Oh, the agony and the irony. I believe the column keeps me young, forcing me to feed my brain and keep up with new trends. And even though I may try to maintain a fit, nimble mind with daily workouts as cyber-surfer, blogger and avid electronic consumer, the fact remains: I’m not them. (Though I think I’m a bit savvier than our outgoing President who admitted using “The Google.”)

At a recent industry gathering, I heard a good deal of grousing from long-time colleagues about direct response television media results eroding in the wake of the Internet. Some of these were among our industry’s first generation of entrepreneurs who have now become multimillionaires. Frankly, they seemed more than ready to hand over the reigns to the so-called greenhorns in favor of green fees.

As ERA closes in on its first 20 years, all of this points to the fact that the way in which consumers gather information, assimilate it and make purchase decisions has changed forever. This behavior has forced our industry to move from a tactical orientation to a broader methodology-direct marketing-that now relies on managing multiple consumer touchpoints to achieve sales. Among our membership and staff there are new generations coming up conversant in this new behavior that need to be engaged at the highest levels. They are, after all, consumers themselves who reflect the habits of their individual generations.

This notion that they are ready for leadership might get some pushback from those seasoned pros. Yet, it’s imperative that we welcome our younger members’ perspectives. This engagement will accelerate our metamorphosis and allow our industry to flourish on a whole new plane. Think of it as a bigger dance floor-the sort you see in South Beach or Vegas-where the drinks are flowing, the music is thumping and age matters not, for one simple reason: everybody’s having a good time.

Rick Petry is the acting president and CEO of the Electronic Retailing Association. He can be reached at (503) 740-9065, or via e-mail at [email protected].

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