Every year, before the start of the D2C Convention, a new board convenes to help steer the association’s activities for the year ahead. With each member serving a three-year term, the system ensures continuity in leadership while continually encouraging the integration of new perspectives on association activities and the future of direct response.
This year, the board is being led by Gerald Bagg. With more than 35 years of experience in advertising, Bagg has been a pioneer in brand response, an approach that ties brand-building activity to calls to action. As co-chair of Quigley-Simpson, one of the fastest-growing independent advertising agencies in the United States, Bagg believes every campaign should not only generate quantifiable consumer response, but also contribute directly to brand awareness and revenue growth.
As chairman of ERA, Bagg will continue to lead the association’s efforts to help member marketers navigate a quickly shifting media landscape. “Our members face a world of volatility, uncertainty, and complexity,” Bagg says. “The digital space has added so many new variables to everyone’s lives. Even the most seasoned experts begin each day wondering what new challenges are going to come about, and I want ERA to be a beacon—the place to go to help those members solve problems.”
The last year has been a watershed for ERA, with the association transitioning to a new management model under 2016–17 chair Poonam Khubani, TeleBrands vice president. With so many changes afoot, ER asked incoming and incumbent board members about the association’s recent accomplishments and their goals for the coming months. Here’s what they said.
ER: As a board member, what goals do you wish to emphasize in the year ahead?
Lindsey Carnett: My goal is to continue the education surrounding the growth and future of our industry, keeping marketers informed of changing regulations from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), communicating new privacy policies for growing online marketers, and understanding and effectively communicating digital growth strategies and pitfalls. Given our rapidly changing economic and political landscape and its impact on global economies, I will also highlight international trade topics.
Ed Glynn: What I want to do is make sure that the restructuring is optimized so that we get the maximum value out of it. That is going to allow the association to have maximum impact on all of the issues we face.
Jennifer DeMarco: In the year ahead, I want ERA to highlight the value of the organization to its members and its plans to evolve in the digital age. I want the core, legacy members to feel that they still receive benefits and value from ERA, especially in the areas of government affairs and education.
James Diorio: It’s really important for us to get our hands around the industry again and be clear about what we provide to members and the marketplace. This will allow us to do a better job of bringing value to our constituents. The marketplace is evolving; we can evolve, too.
I think it’s safe to say we haven’t done a great job of bringing new members into the fold. This could be a messaging issue, an operational issue, or a relevancy issue, though I don’t think that it’s the latter. Direct-to-consumer has a critical and growing place in today’s performance marketing world, and we need to get the message out.
Michael Henry: Growing the membership. ERA has so many benefits that many nonmembers (and even some existing members) are not aware of. It is important to get the word out on the advantages of networking, education programs, and self-regulation. The association will only get stronger by focusing on growth.
Phil Smith: As a new board member, I want to emphasize the continuing need for self-regulation and make sure ERA continues to grow and strengthen the Electronic Retailing Self-Regulation Program (ERSP).
Steve Thorne: ERA is positioned to not only facilitate networking events, but also to take the lead in educating members and nonmembers in the latest omnichannel marketing strategies. In today’s three-second-attention-span marketing environment, these evolving techniques are no longer a luxury; they are a flat-out requirement for success.
ER: What do you think is ERA’s most significant accomplishment of the last year?
Carnett: I have been so impressed with the open dialogue with the FTC. The education offered at the Government Affairs Fly-In was invaluable.
DeMarco: The restructuring is surely the most significant accomplishment, and we have an exciting year coming up to make it a success now and for the future. Utilizing [MCI’s] resources is paramount. Aligning those resources correctly with ERA’s mission, goals, and objectives from the ground up is the key.
Diorio: I think the speakers who joined the Great Ideas Summit in Puerto Rico and D2C Convention were a real highlight. Fresh, quality content is one of the things that adds huge value to the organization.
Glynn: Again, I think it’s the restructuring. It’s a positive in two major ways. First, it represents a direct cost savings. The other thing is that MCI brings knowledge; [it deals] with all kinds of trade associations, and it has been impressive to see how they look at the experience of [other] associations to see what they can import to ERA.
Henry: There has been a focus on, and success with, recruiting new members from the digital world. This is a fantastic step, as the new member gets the benefit from joining the association, and our membership also gets exposure to digital leaders.
Smith: The Great Ideas Summit in Puerto Rico and the Government Affairs Fly-In in Washington, D.C., were the best events that I have been involved in with ERA over the last decade.
Thorne: Transitioning the day-to-day management of the association to an outside professional organization, MCI, has been a tremendous benefit. It allowed not only a cost savings that can be used to deliver more member benefits, but also [has given the] board more bandwidth to focus on growing the membership base and adding member services. As a member company, the regulatory education ERA provides is invaluable. Our company has participated in ERSP for more than five years, and although it comes with some additional investment, the benefit has outweighed the cost by 10 times.
ER: What do you think will help grow ERA’s membership and value in the future?
Carnett: Bringing new marketers and thought leaders into the mix in order to educate our industry, and [merging] the old with the new to keep thriving in this omnichannel marketplace.
Diorio: We need to evaluate the message we’re putting into the marketplace. We provide huge value, and we need to articulate that value so that other major companies join. As an industry, we don’t make it easy for new members to participate. We need to provide clear pathways to success. If new members succeed, all boats will rise.
Glynn: If you step back and look at the association, it is a television-driven [one]. But what is becoming increasingly clear is that integrated marketing is the wave of the future. The board and association leadership have been upfront about recognizing the changes that the internet has brought and why the DRTV model is no longer what it used to be.
What marketers need to do is cross-reference consumers to the medium that is most likely to serve their needs, and therefore most likely to sell product. With the internet, you can do things with a :30 or a :60 or a :120 that used to take 28:30 to do. We can be the leader in the integration of television and the internet.
Henry: ERA has an opportunity to communicate the benefits of membership clearly and show how it is even more relevant today in our changing retail/consumer environment. We [can] recruit new members by sharing real-life examples.
Smith: We need to embrace the opportunities of digital marketing [for] growth. As we do, many online and digital marketers will see the value of ERA. Also, ERSP, the value of self-regulation, and working with federal regulators can be a selling point in bringing more organizations, vendors, and others to ERA.
Thorne: If ERA can become the portal for education on cutting-edge, technology-based marketing techniques, many marketers and suppliers will see that as a real value-add to their businesses. In addition, the government affairs side of ERA has been enormously beneficial for our company, and I believe that the forum it provides to hear directly from state AGs, senators, congressmen, and FTC officials is invaluable. If we can formulate a succinct but powerful message about the incredible value of these interactions, businesses will gravitate to these opportunities. There isn’t a marketer or supplier anywhere that doesn’t want to avoid regulatory challenges, and education is key.
ER: What do you see as the most important issues ahead for ERA?
Carnett: A major issue is the convergence of traditional and digital media. I will work to emphasize a traditional blend of DRTV with new performance-based marketing metrics. Learning how to leverage data and consumer response rapidly needs to be understood and implemented for DR to continue growth.
DeMarco: An important issue for ERA ahead is staying relevant to its base while growing new membership. While television and consumer buying habits are certainly evolving, ERA can’t lose sight of the legacy members’ needs by becoming an association focused only on digital.
Diorio: I think the most important issue [for] ERA is the ability to evolve and adapt, but not forget who we are. Everyone is looking for the next big thing, but the reality is that, often, the next big thing becomes a part of the overall thing. For example, there are many digital marketers looking at TV and radio to expand their current, saturated base.
There is no one right answer to any business question; rather, solutions are the artful execution of the right elements at the right time. So we don’t need to abandon our legacy in evolving. More importantly, we need to get back to basics: If we provide value, the organization succeeds. If we don’t, it won’t. I want to bring value to participants through education, expansion, and collaboration. Working together, the industry can blossom.
Glynn: A lot of self-regulation has been on the front end, [looking at] the claims you make and what substantiation you have. Increasingly, we’re seeing a lot of interest on the back end. We need to think about how a self-regulatory model that was established in the context of claims and substantiation can be adapted credibly to consider issues on the back end.
Smith: Keeping ERA vibrant and valuable to the direct response industry. Embracing new marketing channels and being current in the changing landscape, and showing value to these organizations and players. Growing ERSP and expanding self-regulation in all areas. And expanding and strengthening the membership base.
Thorne: Educating marketers on the constantly changing regulatory environment has to be at the top of my list, and since almost every company on Earth now deploys some form of DR in their customer acquisition models, it applies to everyone. I would also love to see us find a way to educate consumers on who participates [in ERA and ERSP] and who doesn’t—similar to having the Better Business Bureau’s badge on your site.
Khubani Completes Year of Change
The 2016–17 board oversaw substantial shifts at ERA, not the least of which was a restructuring that outsourced day-to-day management—a move that promises to save money while ensuring uninterrupted access to the networking, advocacy, and support members have come to expect. And leading the board throughout these efforts was TeleBrands Vice President Poonam Khubani.
“ERA is going through significant change, and Poonam has provided a solid foundation of intellectual capital and guidance,” says Bill Sheehan, ERA’s executive vice president. “We want to thank her for her years of service, most recently as chairman. Poonam’s wisdom, judgment, experience, and leadership have helped move our organization forward.”
According to Khubani, the moves have helped stabilize ERA’s balance sheet. “It was not an easy task when I took over as chair, but with the help of strong members, we were able to achieve financial stability,” she says. “Additionally, I think there is a lot of enthusiasm and optimism within our industry. For example, we had our best Moxie Awards Gala ever. We were sold out a week prior to the event.”
Restructuring will help streamline ERA’s daily operations and support its long-range goals, she adds. “[MCI has] significant experience in increasing membership, driving digital innovation, and overcoming operational challenges,” Khubani says. “They are also experts in researching new market opportunities and designing business and product strategies to help us gain entry into new markets.”
Future growth depends on attracting more digital marketers as active members, Khubani says, and beyond the business-building and networking, ERA’s Electronic Retailing Self-Regulation Program (ERSP) is a huge incentive to join. “Internet and digital marketing organizations may not know the pitfalls of selling direct to the consumer, and could fall under FTC or FDA scrutiny,” she says. “Our self-regulation program is critical and an invaluable resource for members.”
As immediate past chair, Khubani will continue to be involved in attracting new members, attendees, and exhibitors to participate in ERA events. “Trade shows are crucial for both exhibitors and attendees, especially in the D2C space,” she says. “As our industry continues to evolve, the market is flooded with options and competition. Our goal is to make all ERA events a one-stop shop to keep up with industry trends and develop new contacts.
“ERA is a unique organization and the only nonprofit in its space,” Khubani adds. “Economically, members of ERA have done very well. Whether they are a TV, retail, or web marketer, their sales have grown exponentially. It is in the best interest of members to keep this organization going, as it selflessly serves the membership as a whole and is always looking to enhance the membership experience by introducing new services and new avenues for growth for all members.” —Ian P. Murphy