Senior marketing veteran Peggy Bell recently joined ERA as vice president, marketing. Rather than having an association background, which has been typical of recent ERA executives, Peggy has a diverse background that includes working in advertising and marketing within best-of-class corporations, such as Sprint and Capital One to Cigna Healthcare, Redbox Instant by Verizon, AT&T and Comcast. Your Friday Forecaster recently sat down with her for a free-wheeling conversation about her background and her initial perspectives on ERA’s challenges, and some of her initial ideas on how it might thrive and grow.
RP: Tell me about your background and how you arrived at ERA.
PB: My career spans 20+ years as a strategic brand marketer and advertising/marketing communications professional. Nearly 20 years ago, while I was already working in the profession full-time, I earned my master’s in Journalism, with a major in Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC), from the University of Kansas. At the time, the notion of Integrated MarCom as a discipline unto itself was in its infancy. That program was only the third of its kind in the country and the curriculum was patterned after two like it at Northwestern University and University of Colorado, Boulder. I only mention the education part of my background because it’s a nod to how the profession has grown and shifted over time. As the internet evolved, and as measurement and analytics tools were introduced, IMC became a strategic necessity for corporations and businesses. In fact, as I understand it, a graduate program like that one now resides in the business schools of universities versus the journalism schools. This speaks to the critical role of an integrated marketing focus in business today.
I started my career working in PR and media relations within the nonprofit sector. From there, I worked as a marketer for mid-sized companies in categories, like healthcare software, manufacturing and wholesale distribution, and as an account executive for a Midwest DR agency. Eventually, my career grew and I transitioned to big corporations, like Sprint and Capital One, where I was director of brand advertising. I’ve spent recent years as a brand marketer and advertising contractor and consultant. Companies for which I’ve contributed my talent in this capacity include Cigna Healthcare, Redbox Instant by Verizon, AT&T and Comcast.
Why ERA and why now? At this point in my life and career, I was interested in “shifting down” to a smaller organization and trying something completely new and different. Though the work is still demanding, I’m hopeful it may prove to be more fulfilling, offer greater work/life balance, and allow my efforts to have more of a direct impact. Time will tell!
RP: You are obviously bringing fresh eyes to the association and have a background apart from a traditional trade association management perspective. Where do you think the opportunities lie for expanding the group and creating new business opportunities for membership?
PB: My early take is that in its mission to serve a very specialized, niche audience, ERA has pigeonholed itself a bit. The association’s heritage is clearly rooted in DRTV and DR radio, but the definition of DR has evolved. To my earlier point about the growth of integrated marketing as a discipline, the ability to personalize campaigns, measure results, track performance and adjust accordingly in real time, is no longer exclusive to DRTV and DR radio. In fact, large corporations, like those for which I’ve worked, face a tremendous amount of pressure to quantify marketing results and performance. They now regularly incorporate traditional DR mechanisms into many of their brand marketing channels—with dedicated toll-free response numbers, offer codes and unique URLs. And ERA members no longer have the market cornered on “D2C.” D2C describes not just the way in which merchandise is delivered, but a product’s primary value proposition. Take the burgeoning “box delivery” product and service industry—the Blue Aprons, Stitch Fix, HelloFresh, etc. All are based on the continuity marketing model, which was born in the world of DR. So, why aren’t companies like these becoming members?
Back to my original observation that ERA has potentially “niched” itself too much. IF ERA is perceived to serve the needs of only DR marketers whose campaign channels lead with DRTV and DR radio, then growth opportunities will be limited. On the other hand, if ERA can expand its offerings to include programs and content that appeals to any DR marketer, the association can reinvent itself, its brand, and potentially grow membership.
Redefining a brand takes thoughtful consideration, broadening and reinventing programs, and membership buy-in. Does a marketer have to have DRTV in its media mix to find value in ERA membership? Or do we provide information and content that’s just as valuable to the marketer that relies entirely on digital and leverages online video? Though I’m still learning about this category, I would say, yes. The boxed meal preparation marketers and the personalized wardrobe styling marketers would also seem to need ESRP and networking opportunities, just like current ERA members.
RP: The legacy of the group is TV-centric. What measures do you think we could take to attract a broader audience of Omni-Channel marketers?
PB: My previous answer starts to touch on this. As we work to shore up the Association as it exists today, we need to ask which programs and content we offer that might appeal to a wider audience? ESRP stands out to me as our leading “reason to believe” for establishing an evolved value proposition for the ERA brand. It’s a matter defining prospective members, refining a message and relevant offer (program) for those prospects, determining the best way to reach them, and executing a test campaign. To the extent that budget allows, this is the type of approach I propose.
RP: Trade associations have a fair number of ‘sacred cows’; i.e., sliding scale dues, trade shows, education, advocacy, etc. The trade show gatherings themselves tend to consist of a ‘set’ playbook: trade show floor with booths, education, cocktail parties, etc. How do you think the association could shift such paradigms—which have arguably become stale—to reinvigorate the association and the industry?
PB: Prior to this role, my trade association experience has been on the “other side”—as either a member and attendee, or exhibitor. Number one, ERA must listen and respond to member input and feedback. I believe ERA has started to do this, through its Town Hall initiatives, most recently held in L.A. in January and in N.Y.C. back in November. Change takes time, as well. While attendees may not see any wholesale shifts in our next big event, D2C 2018 Las Vegas, we do hope to introduce some changes in how the conference is executed.
RP: One challenge that plagues marketers is fake reviews. What happens is that a consumer sees an ad, uses online search to find out more about it, and gets ensnared by competitors who put up sites with come-ons like, “Does So-and-So Product Work?” “So-and-So Product: Real or Scam?” The advertiser’s leads get hijacked. Do you think a marketing campaign that was consumer-facing and that enlightened consumers on how to spot fake reviews might help the membership? If so, how would you envision that being executed?
PB: That’s a very interesting notion, particularly in this age of paid bots—as we know all too well, the ability to separate real from fake is a challenge facing not just the world of marketing, but the world of journalism. If ERA can define viable consumer tactics for differentiating between fact and fiction, and effectively articulate those tactics in a compelling message, I absolutely believe a consumer-facing campaign would be great. It would create visibility for ERA, reinforce our value to existing members, and potentially attract the interest of prospective members. That said, a consumer campaign is an expensive proposition. It’s a topic I’d certainly like to explore and discuss further with some of the marketers on our board.
RP: You live in the heart of the greater D.C. area and in the midst of the political maelstrom. What are your observations regarding deregulation, tax cuts, etc., in terms of how you see them affecting the business climate?
PB: That’s a loaded question with many arms and legs, so I’ll try to address just one. Removing my consumer hat and putting on my business person hat, I’ll say this: It certainly appears businesses are welcoming and embracing the recent tax cuts. To the extent that tax cuts = increased profits, then our membership base is likely pleased. At the same time, we have yet to see how a revised tax program impacts consumption of consumer goods. The overall political environment influences consumer perception and buying habits, as well. I’m certainly neither an economist, nor a political insider, so I’ll simply say this: In a short period of time, we went from a high-performing stock market with optimism galore, to an unexpected slide. To me, this means we’re still living in uncertain times and businesses appear to be operating cautiously.
RP: The FTC recently undid net neutrality without a lot of hue and cry from consumers. What do you think the implications of that are for marketers? Is there anything to be done about it?
PB: I believe any absence of hue and cry was based in lack of consumer understanding and confusion. For marketers, particularly those relying on online communications and sales, worst case scenario is customer loss. Even the most basic internet content today requires speed to deliver a good customer experience. If those speeds are throttled, where they’re throttled, and how they’re throttled . . . I think the hueing and crying will grow very loud—from consumers and online marketers alike. Right now, there seems to still be many unanswered questions around how this is going to play out.
RP: What trends do you observe in marketing that you think present untapped opportunities for direct marketers?
PB: Video, influencer marketing, personalization and increasingly sophisticated messaging tactics. Today’s start-up marketers readily embrace these campaign strategies and tactics to drive results and success. I’m not sure to what extent ERA member marketers are doing so as well. Again, my responses at this point are observation vs. fact-based. My perception is there’s a bit of an “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” attitude: Stock the inventory, promote the goods, quantify the responses, rinse and repeat. That’s one viewpoint. On the other hand, when these marketing strategies define the majority of ERA member marketers, our ability to attract new members is more difficult.
RP: In terms of your background in marketing, do you have a story or case study that you think was innovative/effective/breakthrough that would have lessons for your new constituency?
PB: I’ve spent so much of my career on the consumer tech side, I would just say that it’s paramount for marketers to regularly monitor, adapt to and incorporate technology. Buy or drive the research required to know your target audience inside-and-out and build marketing programs that answer audience needs. And, if you want to be a leader, don’t be afraid to test new strategies or tactics, and, perhaps most importantly . . . don’t be so influenced by numbers, results and analytics that you lose the ability to be creative. Sounds so simple, right?
RP: Right (laughs). Thanks for allowing us to learn more about you and your vision and we wish all the best in your new role with ERA!
Rick Petry is a direct marketing veteran of over 25 years who has been involved with campaigns that have generated over $1 billion in sales. He provides creative services to both B2C and B2B marketing campaigns and recent projects have included Actegy/Revitive, Education Connection, GOLO, Joybird, and OYO. The author of over 200 articles on direct marketing best practices, Petry has a Bachelor of Arts in Cinema/Television from the University of Southern California and an MBA with a Concentration in Marketing and Sales from Marylhurst University.