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At the recent D2C convention, I was humbled and grateful to receive the ERA Volunteer of the Year award at the Moxie Awards Gala on the conference’s final night. Amid the various congratulations and well wishes, I heard another kind of rumble: that ERA was not doing its job, as if the organizational part of ERA somehow defined the association in its totality.
It got me thinking: what is a trade association? My perspective: it’s a body for colleagues to come together with a spirit of common purpose to advance their industry and business interests. In fact, if one recalls what formed the association originally, it was a crisis of sorts—government hearings and the threat of the infomercial’s extinction—that spurred the formation of the National Infomercial Marketing Association or NIMA—the precursor to today’s ERA. In the beginning, the organization and its members were single-channel focused and there was a true spirit of entrepreneurialism and possibility. But that was then and this is now. As ERA marks 25 years in existence, the truth is the industry has matured, become exponentially more complex, and our ranks have not grown as much as we would like. Our conferences have become a quality versus a quantity sum game. So who’s to blame?
I hear a lot of that fault placed at the doorstep of the ERA staff and honestly, I don’t think that is fair. The staff acts as facilitators and promoters, in addition to helping lead the effort to giving the industry a unified voice on Capitol Hill. It is up to the members of a trade association and non-members who are part of the industry to first of all: show up, second of all: pay their fair share, and lastly give of their time and talent to foster collaboration, common cause, and, yes, advance their business aims. Those kinds of decisions—like attending a show, buying a badge, or sponsoring—are very personal and obviously have to make sound economic and business sense. The last thing anybody needs is for me to lecture him or her on what is right for his or her business. All I am saying is: are you willing to assume your share of responsibility just like a taxpayer does in their greater community? Are your actions consistent with your idea of fairness and commitment? Are you active and involved or sitting on the sidelines in a bar somewhere (that is likely circular in shape)?
I’m asking these questions because if we don’t recognize we have a new crisis of sorts—which is being fueled by our own apathy—then ERA truly is damned. And by the way, I’m not choosing sides. We need to show up wherever it is that we can grow our businesses. However, I’d like us to maintain a prosperity mentality, not a scarcity one. Together I want to see us grow our industry and attract more of the direct marketers I see on TV and online every day who never step foot in our tent. Let’s face it: we’re a pretty small tribe—I’d even call us a family—and there’s really no time for insults, infighting, or other dysfunction. We need everyone in the boat with both oars in the water paddling in the same direction. Why? Because when you paddle in opposite directions, you go nowhere. I don’t know about you, but that certainly isn’t my idea of a desirable destination. Damn it.
Photo by iStockphoto.com
Rick Petry is a freelance writer who specializes in direct marketing and is a past chairman of ERA. He can be reached at (503) 740-9065 or online at rickpetry.com and @thepetrydish on Twitter.