DMA Board: Change is Coming

After a contentious battle for proxy votes just before its annual board meeting, the DMA has vowed to change. The board has passed a motion to form a committee that will review and rewrite the DMA’s bylaws.

New DMA chairman Eugene R. Raitt pledged increased transparency on issues such as membership numbers, financials and event attendance figures at the Oct. 18 board meeting.

What brought about these changes? The three-week proxy fight waged by dissident DMA board member Gerry Pike, managing director of direct marketing firm DMSA, certainly played a major role.

Pike, who was not going to be renominated by the nomination committee, launched an effort to collect proxy votes to bring about DMA reform. He wanted to have DMA bylaws amended to allow on-site board member nominations, as well as participation by all DMA voting members in the board election process.

His goals, Pike says, were to ensure that members come first at every level: policies, services, programs and support; to get DMA management compensation back in line with industry standards; and to make the DMA relevant again. He set up a Website, AbetterDMA.com, and unleashed an e-mail campaign that began Sept. 25.

The campaign caused a stir in the blogosphere and other social media channels. What’s more, an attorney for the DMA sent Pike a cease-and-desist letter, stating that Pike’s communications “have damaged DMA and have otherwise had significant and material negative consequences to the Association.”

But it didn’t stop Pike from publishing on his Website a survey that showed voting members of the DMA saw limited value from their membership. Members saw the greatest value in networking opportunities and educational programs–and these garnered only a 2.5 rating each out of five.

Pike did not specify how many proxy votes he got (other than it was in the “hundreds”), but he showed up at the meeting held during the DMA’s annual conference in San Diego with a two-inch-think binder with proxies. The proxy vote tallies were not announced, although IVS, an independent proxy election-monitoring firm, was on hand to collect and count the votes.

Two other voting members whom Pike recommended—Matt Blumberg, CEO of e-mail deliverability firm Return Path, and Chris Bradley, CEO of bedding cataloger Cuddledown—were added as well. Three board members up for re-election—Christine Aguilera, president of SkyMall; Don McKenzie, president/CEO of Direct Group and Wesley D. Protheroe, president/CEO of Gerber Life Insurance Co.—voluntarily stepped down to make room for Pike, Blumberg and Bradley.

The DMA board also created a new class for three “adjunct members” who will serve as nonvoting representatives. The inaugural adjunct members are Suresh Mathai, CEO of ContinuumGlobal, John Papalia, president/CEO of Statlistics and Charles Prescott, chairman of the consultative committee of the Universal Postal Union.

Pike, who had been on the catalog merchant side of the business when he ran the Royal Silk apparel catalog and stores in the early 1990s, considers his campaign a victory. “The membership has been looking for reform, and the board has responded big time,” he says.

Some insiders are downplaying Pike’s involvement, however. One board member, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Pike’s battle only raised awareness of issues that the board of directors already knew about, and that the board had already been looking to move in that direction.

For his part, DMA chairman Raitt, who is senior vice president for accident and health/chief marketing officer, Asia, for Allied World Assurance Co., says the proxy campaign “had absolutely nothing to do with creating an agenda for change.”

But Raitt does give Pike credit for “generating tremendous energy, buzz, and engagement by members at every level. I intend to capitalize on this mandate and try to accelerate needed, positive changes for this great association.”–Additional reporting by Richard H. Levey

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