By Joseph Gray
President of DRMETRIX
Back in 2003, a group of DRTV professionals joined together with the Direct Marketing Association to form the DMA Broadcast Council. In the early days of the Broadcast Council, its co-chair, Jake Weisbarth, approached me to join. Jake, who had helped bring Sears and its Craftsman line into the direct response world, had also served as President of King World Direct for eight years. At that time, Jake was consulting under the banner of his own company, Content=Commerce. I shared some of my frustrations with Jake about the lack of data in our industry and this led to my being invited to co-chair the DRTV Research Committee with industry veteran Tim Hawthorne.
My relationship with Jake was based on a mutual drive to make a difference in the industry. We spent many hours brainstorming together on the phone and in person. Jake was a huge help and worked behind the scenes to support me as I began to work on a whitepaper to document solutions that would enable the DRTV industry to quantify itself with credible research data to answer the most basic of questions. How large is the industry? What are the growth trends? Who really are the top DRTV advertisers?
Unfortunately, there was limited data available for infomercials and short form DRTV campaigns. To answer these questions, we needed the type of granular data that only existed from companies such as TNS Media Research (now part of Kantar) and Nielsen. Our whitepaper documented the fact that neither of these companies segmented DRTV advertising from traditional. The only segmentation was based on a narrow definition of direct response, which only included hard offers pitching products not available in retail i.e., “Call now to order.” The DRTV industry had exploded with lead generation and many other types of “call for more information” campaigns that were not categorized as DRTV by TNS or Nielsen. Our whitepaper requested that TNS and Nielsen change their approach and, at a minimum, begin to flag offers using toll free numbers in their systems. We had great hopes that the DMA would lobby these two companies as the Broadcast Council had unanimously voted to adopt the white paper thanks to Jake’s unfailing support. The DMA was never able to prevail with either TNS or Nielsen —and Jake, unfortunately, passed away later the same year from cancer at the age of 52. Losing Jake was a terrible loss for the industry. For myself, I lost a kindred spirit and someone who I considered to be a friend. I felt badly that despite our best efforts, we were unable to get TNS or Nielsen to change.
Did I give up the quest? Well, I found myself at a crossroads a couple of years ago. As a result of bringing equity investors into my prior company, just ahead of the great recession, I found myself with some cash but ultimately lost control of my company. I guess when one’s growth curve begins to head in the wrong direction for the first time in a successful 19-year history, the downside of raising capital from private equity is the risk of losing control. The recession was a game changer. I told my financial partners that if they thought someone else could do a better job of managing the company, I would not stand in the way. I had the distinct feeling this was inevitable and that I could either fight it or try my best to help despite knowing what the outcome would be. As expected, after transitioning in new management, I was shown the door a couple of years later. It didn’t take me very long to figure out what I wanted to do next though — I immediately thought about Jake and our past efforts.
Jake and I shared a vision, and it’s poetic to think that by the 10th anniversary of his passing, a new company I have started, DRMETRIX, will start fulfilling that vision. While we dreamed of it, creating our own technology solution was simply out of reach back then. I don’t believe I would have taken on this challenge and created DRMETRIX without people like Jake, and many others, who have shared a common vision and have encouraged me over the years. Who knew back then that life-changing events would ultimately provide me with the opportunity to tackle this problem? 2014 marks my 25th year in the DRTV industry — an industry that has given so much to myself and my family. When you combine the experience and technology that DRMETRIX has developed, it’s like the DNA of the direct response industry is being sequenced for the first time. It’s gratifying to know that the tough questions, which have always eluded the DRTV industry, will soon be answered.