White Plains, NY–It’s rare that you attend an industry conference and a comedy performance ensues. But that’s exactly what happened during the opening general session, “What They Didn’t Tell You on the Way to the Top,” at list services provider Direct Media’s 31st annual Mailers Conference & Co-op on April 20.
The panel discussion, moderated by Direct Media executive vice president Linda Huntoon, featured direct marketing pioneers Marty Edelston, founder/president of books and e-mail newsletter publisher Boardroom; Dave Florence, founder/chairman of Greenwich, CT-based Direct Media; and Fred Simon, executive vice president of food cataloger Omaha Steaks. But it was Edelston who stole the show.
Though slowed by a stroke four years ago and confined to a wheelchair, what the 76-year-old Edelston lacked in strength, he more than made up for in laughs.
For example, when Huntoon was poised to ask her first question, Edelston took out a whistle and blew it, much to everyone’s surprise. “I brought my own questions,” Edelston said. After a few minutes of give and take, Edelston blew his trusty whistle again after a Huntoon question. “That’s one of the worst questions I’ve ever heard,” he said to the delight of the audience.
The panelists did manage to weigh in on a series of questions from the audience:
Edelston, on having a direct marketing career: “It’s very nice. If you play your cards right, you could work 24 hours a day.”
Florence, on maintaining a company’s entrepreneurial spirit: “That’s easy. I send a note to everyone that says, ‘Be entrepreneurial.’”
Simon, on growth prospects, “We’re making some real progress with our retail stores and the development of the A La Zing business [which sells precooked frozen meals via the Web and catalog]. I’m looking forward to that becoming a real growth business for us.” Omaha Steaks currently has 61 retail locations.
When the session ended to raucous applause, Florence said, “I’ve known Marty 25 years but had no idea he was a sit-down comedian.”
But by not taking himself too seriously, Edelston taught attendees a valuable lesson: A sense of humor can go a long way to success in direct marketing.