Q&A With Eugene Raitt: Times Change, And So Will DMA

The Direct Marketing Association has taken a public beating of late. Membership has reportedly dropped, as has attendance at conferences that were once can’t-miss events. And on Jan. 19, DMA president/CEO John A. Greco Jr. resigned, just three months after a contentious battle for proxy votes.

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. MULTICHANNEL MERCHANT senior writer Tim Parry caught up with Raitt to find out what’s going on with the search for Greco’s replacement, what DMA will do to restore faith among its members, and whether catalogers are still important to the association.

You have said the DMA’s search committee will need three to five months to choose a successor for president/CEO John A. Greco Jr. What does the search process involve?

We have already put into place a seasoned group of senior executives representing the direct marketing landscape, and we will use an executive search firm. We anticipate opening up communication streams, enabling us to maintain two-way dialogue with the direct marketing community for their input and to keep them apprised of our progress.

This search will be like no other we have undertaken inasmuch as we will be opening all the social networking channels to invite participation on all levels of the process.

The industry – and DMA itself – has gone through a lot of change since you last recruited a new president/CEO in 2004. How have the job requirements changed, and what will you look for in a successor?

The permanent replacement for the DMA president/CEO will face a rigorous slate of requirements. He or she will need a comprehensive understanding of the association marketplace, a deep knowledge of direct marketing practices, management skills, visibility within the industry and outstanding credentials across a wide range of traditional and new media, particularly digital and social channels.

The new leader will be required to navigate some very difficult stretches for DMA and have the capacity for negotiating with other trade associations. His or her understanding of direct marketing practices and grasp of direct marketing’s impact on the U.S. economy will be critical.

Greco’s compensation had been a bone of contention among members. Will you ensure that the new president/CEO’s compensation is more in line with the average salary for an association executive in New York City?

The compensation committee has always employed benchmarks based on comparably sized and scoped organizations. For the past few years, where there was strong growth, compensation increased. 2010 is a different world, and the search committee, the compensation committee and our outside executive search partner will carefully balance the compensation offer against the need to attract a top quality candidate.

The DMA has 31 employees listed on its Website, and 17 are in roles that are vice president and higher. With that many people in executive roles, what does the president/CEO really have to do?

DMA offers members a complex and inter-related array of benefits and services, ranging from advocacy in the public policy arena to market-making and professional development within the direct marketing community. The president/CEO’s daily responsibility is to ensure that the Association makes fully effective use of limited resources to create the most value possible for members across this huge and growing community. You can rest assured this is more than a full-time job.

You said last month that multichannel retailers and catalogers will be an integral part of the DMA’s strategy, and that this will be evident over the next few months. Can you elaborate on steps you will take to make the DMA relevant to those member companies again?

For a start we are bringing back the “council” model that worked so successfully in the past. And we have and will continue to actively reach out to catalog and multichannel marketers for input, guidance and insight on how we can better serve their unique needs.

The Annual Conference for Catalogers and Multichannel Merchants has been rebranded as the Retail Marketing Conference, with less of an emphasis on catalogers. Obviously, catalogers are not very happy – this is sending a strong signal that catalogs are really not important to the DMA. How would you address those concerns?

Multichannel marketers and catalogers are extremely important to DMA, and we greatly appreciate their continued support of DMA – especially through this time of evolution. We rebranded ACCM to the 2010 Retail Marketing Conference in order to broaden the appeal of the event and attract a wider range of retailers who use print as well as other digital channels to communicate with their customers.

What started out as an industry around one channel 27 years ago is now a means to drive sales to multiple channels based on a customers’ preference. While most retailers have chosen to mail less, there are many more retailers who have added catalogs and print to their repertoire. The Retail Marketing Conference will better position this event for the 21st century retail marketer and better address the needs of our members.

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