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Direct Response Hall of Fame: Industry Icons

1 Apr, 2017 By: Doug McPherson Response

Iconic. Exceptional. Extraordinary. Or choose your own similar adjective to define the 2017 Direct Response of Hall of Fame inductees.

Another year brings another crop — the fifth — of revered leaders to the Direct Response Hall of Fame.

“This septet … not only represents more than 30 years of industry

Michelle Cardinal
Jonathan L. Congdon
Carl Daikeler
Nancy Lazkani
Tim O’Leary
Lenny Sands
Rob Woodrooffe

ustry history, but also features leaders who are still driving change in our ever-evolving space, as well,” says Thomas Haire, editor-in-chief of Response.

The inductees will be honored during a series of afternoon events at Response Expo at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront on Thursday, April 27. They are:

  • Michelle Cardinal, CEO and co-founder of Portland, Ore.-based R2C Group, has been successfully tapping accountable marketing techniques for more than two decades.
  • Jonathan L. Congdon, co-founder and president of Beachbody LLC, has taken fitness marketing to unchartered territory with more than $1 billion in annual sales and a long list of awards.
  • Carl Daikeler, co-founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of Beachbody LLC, is a 25-year veteran of the direct response business whose database of more than 20 million people leverages $100 million-plus per year in advertising.
  • Nancy Lazkani, founder of Icon Media Direct, helped pioneer performance-driven advertising and innovated how media is purchased and analyzed.
  • Tim O’Leary, author and co-founder of R2C Group, launched his first DRTV campaign while still in college in 1980 and went on to create some of the industry’s first big-brand infomercials for Apple, AT&T, Sony, Hewlett-Packard, Sears, and many others.
  • Lenny Sands, chairman of Los Angeles-based Capital Brands, is a proven innovator in diet and fitness, skincare, and countertop appliances who was behind the Magic Bullet and the Six Week Body Makeover.
  • Rob Woodrooffefounder of Interwood in Canada, pioneered power branding that tapped direct response TV to create awareness and sales throughout 115 countries.

We caught up with each and posed a few questions to help you get to know them better — and perhaps learn a few useful secrets of success. Attendees of Response Expo can hear more from the group in a special roundtable conversation set for April 27, directly preceding the induction ceremony.

Why do you believe you were selected for induction to the DR Hall of Fame?

Michelle Cardinal: I suspect it has something to do with my track record during the past 20 years building two successful advertising and media agencies. In partnership with Tim O’Leary, we’ve been one of the few agencies to successfully meld creative and media services and remain highly respected in both areas.

Jonathan L. Congdon: I think it might be that we’ve been a visible company for many years and very involved in self-regulation issues for the industry. We’ve worked hard to be a leader relative to the image of direct marketers and to make sure that we’re treating customers right.

Carl Daikeler: Because I’m old (laughs). I suppose it’s really because of staying power. I’ve survived and been around the business since 1987, when I first met Kevin Harrington. I stayed around the business in many different forms and worked with all the classics — the forefathers who invented the concept of DRTV.

Nancy Lazkani: I like to believe because I’m seen as a person that has been a strong and consistent player in an industry and has evolved through all the changes and chaos. I have kept my focus and relied on truth in advertising to help me guide my clients and employees to success.

Tim O’Leary: I suspect it is because of longevity. Business is always tough — and it is particularly difficult to build businesses that last decades. Though it seems like yesterday, I started in the business almost 30 years ago — and have managed to survive the many trials and tribulations of the industry and economy.

Lenny Sands: Because of the years of continued success and evolution in an industry where people have a tendency to come and go. Also, we’ve grown from a small company to a company that’s selling products in 89 countries.

Rob Woodrooffe: I started Interwood in the very early days of DRTV — 1974 — and was lucky to be part of the tremendous domestic and international growth of this exciting way of selling goods and services. Our pioneering of the DRTV “Power Branding” concept around the world helped to make the industry a global success.

Why do you think you were able to maintain success in business through all the ups and downs this marketing method has seen over the years?

Cardinal: Our relentless focus on staying ahead of our clients’ needs and making bold decisions about the direction of our marketing, creative, and media strategies. And we have laser focus on our core values in “CREW”: courage, relationships, excellence, and winning. We love to win for our clients!

Congdon: I think we’ve kept it pretty real. We know who we’re talking to and we stay true to who we are. It helps when you try to understand the customer and go where they are — that’s where we are now in the industry. Everyone is online right now, rather than just watching TV. You have to adapt or you go the way of the dodo, as they say.

Daikeler: Being innovative — always from a foundation of good fundamentals. There’s a fundamental approach to direct marketing that I’ve always studied and continue to study with great curiosity. Any innovation that we’ve been able to achieve has very obvious and deep roots in strategies developed by Joe Sugarman (mail-order copywriter) and Ron Popeil (pitchman and DR Hall of Famer) to name just a couple. Anyone achieving success with any longevity owes a lot of gratitude to them — and to the original Franklin Mint — to demonstrate how to sell something directly to the consumer.

Lazkani: The one key component to maintain a successful business is to admit that you should never be comfortable. People who know me know that I am never comfortable or satisfied. I believe in investing in people. That is the most important asset for a service-oriented business like mine.

O’Leary: I’ve always taken a long-term perspective. In the early days, much of the business was concerned with chasing hit products with little regard for building stable companies and brands. This is why the business has always had such a bad rap with consumers. Marketers that could have used the format to build companies chose short-term profits instead. I have clients that I have literally worked with for more than 25 years, and one of our largest clients has been with us since we opened the agency.

Sands: By continuing to use the decades of experience, as well as bringing in the new generation of folks who know how to communicate with millennials and their peers. It’s a combination of using an old merchant style merged with the younger, tech-savvy style of communicating.

Woodrooffe: Certainly, there were — and always are — the ups and downs. First, you must continually believe in yourself. Second, you must always be positive. And third, every experience — good or bad — increases your knowledge and strengthens your foundation. There are always valuable lessons to be learned — every time.

In your professional career or personal life, what have been your biggest defining moments?

Cardinal: A few years into my first company — Cmedia — I had a client who refused to pay me several million dollars for media we’d bought. It was devastating. Painstakingly, I decided to pay for the media — from my own pocket. One of our core values is to value relationships, and I knew I could not get the best media deals for my clients unless the stations and networks trusted me implicitly. It was the right decision, and we’ve been in business 20 years with a stellar reputation.

Congdon: One is our ability to adapt and grow from two people to a pretty big company with four locations — and not get booted out by some hired gun. But the first was when Ben van de Bunt at Guthy-Renker introduced me to Carl (Daikeler) in 1996. Our working styles are complementary —and so off we went. Another — there was this crazy moment when someone posted on an online message board asking if Power 90 was a scam. They were looking for a reason not to believe. I walked into Carl’s office and he told me, “Let it ride.” One by one, our customers answered, telling the original poster just how good it was. Then, at the end of the thread, the guy who initially asked the question wrote, “Thanks. I just bought it.”

Daikeler: The first was when we finally cracked the code to make P90X a successful infomercial. So many in the industry — and even in our own company — were telling us to give up on that product. We believed we still had incredible potential, particularly because we were selling a $120 solution in a marketplace where Bowflex was succeeding by selling a $1,500 solution. The value equation just made sense — and P90X went on to become a billion-dollar brand. The other was the creation of the Beachbody Network. Instead of putting our product out at retail and taking advantage of the all the exposure of our DRTV advertising, we let our customers take advantage of that remnant demand and let them be ambassadors for the product — and that created amazing marketing efficiency for us.

Lazkani: When I was working with Sears, managing the media and TV marketing for Craftsman Tools, I recall meeting with the Craftsman tool product buyer. He thanked us for selling more than 4 million RoboGrips in a single year. This campaign made history in the Sears Tower! He then pointed out the gold-plated RoboGrip on the product “Wall of Fame,” and it was at that moment I realized how much of an impact DRTV had on a global basis. Another defining moment was when I was selected by BNP Paribas International Bank to be one of 23 female business owners from around the world to attend a prestigious event at Stanford University.

O’Leary: The biggest moment was both professional and personal: I met my wife Michelle Cardinal on my birthday at a DRTV industry event 26 years ago. That’s the best gift the business ever gave me.

Sands: In DRTV, it was my original relationship with Guthy-Renker — that was the initiation of my career. I also am thrilled to still be active in the twilight of my career — with hard work, perseverance, and risk taking. Finally, it’s rewarding still to have many of the same employees who started with me 27 years ago.

Woodrooffe: Realizing in the early 1970s that direct marketing was a growing marketing technique and being part of its evolution through all of its phases — including DRTV. A second was when I realized that a consumer is a consumer — whether they live in America, China, Russia, or Africa. It doesn’t matter — everyone has similar aspirations.

What do you believe was the most significant accomplishment in your Hall of Fame career?

Cardinal: Helping to transform traditional direct response marketing and brand building into a new genre called transactional brand building, where both legacy and emerging brands can more effectively and efficiently build their companies for long term prosperity.

Congdon: That’s a tough one. It’s hard to name the most significant. I guess it’s the whole thing — and just that we’re still here!

Daikeler: Am I allowed to say that it’s just getting started? Our Beachbody-on-demand digital service, which is like a Netflix of fitness, has more than 1 million subscribers now. And that has an incredible potential to completely disrupt the $228 billion fitness industry.

Lazkani: When Response’s Tom Haire and John Yarrington advised me that I was the only person that had been DRMA Member of the Year to also become a DR Hall of Famer! What this means to me is that I must be impacting more people that I can imagine. If had to boil it all down to a single significance, it would be the realization that taking a risk to start my business as a single mother was the best thing I ever did.

O’Leary: Probably the fact that I helped bring big brands into the industry, which was not always popular in the business. I was always interested in redefining the DRTV creative format from a pitchman approach into something more interesting and complex and palatable for major brands. While I was at Tyee, we developed something called the “storymercial.” That was a really popular and successful format for a long time.

Sands: Our Bullet brand, which has redefined the way people are changing their nutritional habits as a lifestyle choice.

Woodrooffe: Helping entrepreneurs in 100-plus countries establish our successful DRTV-based “Power Branding” business and giving them the knowledge and the tools to make it happen. And of course, making all of my wonderful business friends, too. ■

About the Author: Doug McPherson

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