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Direct Response Marketing

Pearls of Wisdom

1 Apr, 2013 By: Thomas Haire Response

A group of from the inaugural class of the DR Hall of Fame chats about their histories, their passions and what makes direct response great.

Response Magazine and its Advisory Board are proud to announce the creation of the Direct Response Hall of Fame and welcome its inaugural class, which is made up of nine legendary leaders in the direct response marketing business: Jim Caldwell, Frank Cannella, Bill Guthy, Kevin Joseph Lyons, Joe Pedott, Ron Popeil, Greg Renker, Sy Sperling and Sydney Yallen.

The group will be honored during an induction ceremony at Response Expo in San Diego on Thursday, April 4. The event, which will be hosted on the Expo Hall floor at 3 p.m., is sponsored by DG, LifeBrands and LiveOps, and will follow a special panel discussion with a group of the inductees that will take place from 1:45-2:45 p.m. at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront.

“We are thrilled to honor such an esteemed group of inductees in our first class,” says John Yarrington, publisher of Response. “With more than 30 nominees submitted by our Advisory Board, the breadth of experience and service to the DR business displayed by the members of this first group will truly set the tone for what it takes to join the ranks of the DR Hall of Fame in the coming years.”

Here are brief biographies of the nine inductees:

After hosting mainstream TV shows in Boston, New York and in syndication, Jim Caldwell discovered infomercials in spring 1986. He hosted and/or executive produced dozens of shows with Kevin Harrington during the next three years, before starting Future Thunder Productions Inc. in 1989, and hit his first home run in the fall of 1991 with The Flying Lure.

Frank Cannella is the founder of Cannella Response Television LLC. He pioneered the long-form DRTV industry in 1982 when he capitalized on a marketing opportunity that helped launch the multibillion-dollar industry. Later, in 1984, Cannella presented an interpretation of the FCC’s deregulation report to rep firms, propelling the rapid growth and acceptance of the long-form advertisement. Today, his company, Cannella Response Television, is celebrating its 28th anniversary.

Established in 1988, Guthy-Renker is one of the world’s largest direct marketers with annual sales of $1.5 billion and was listed in 2007 by Forbes Magazine as one of the largest privately held companies in the U.S. Bill Guthy, along with co-founding partner Greg Renker, has been spotlighted by Fortune Magazine on its list of “America’s Smartest Young Entrepreneurs” and also was honored regionally as one of Inc.’s “Entrepreneurs of the Year.” Guthy is co-founder of the Guthy-Jackson Foundation, dedicated to discovering the cause, treatment and cure of NMO (Neuro-Myelitis Optica), a rare, life-threatening autoimmune disease.

Kevin Joseph Lyons has nearly 40 years of experience in media sales and marketing and was on the team that launched Lifetime Television in 1984. After serving as Lifetime’s executive vice president of ad sales, he formed Opportunity Television as an independent company in 1986 in order to build the direct response business in national cable.

While attending University of Illinois in 1952, Joe Pedott co-founded Pedott & Peters Advertising in Chicago, writing hundreds of live television commercials before moving to San Francisco in 1958. He then founded Joseph Pedott Advertising & Marketing Inc., offering complete sourcing, sales, distribution, marketing and advertising services. Pedott established Joseph Enterprises Inc. in 1981, which — spurred by the power of TV advertising — developed its own iconic brands such as the Chia Pet and The Clapper, holiday staples now for more than 30 years.

Ron Popeil is a famed American inventor, pitchman, television star, and the creator of the television infomercial. In the early 1950s, after discovering the reach and power of the television, he — along with his partner at the time, Mel Korey — produced the first one-minute long, black-and-white infomercial for the Ronco Chop-o-Matic. Some of Popeil’s other hit products include: the Popeil Pocket Fisherman, the Veg-O-Matic, and the Showtime Rotisserie. Many of the phrases and pitches Popeil has used in his infomercials have become an inseparable part of America’s vernacular including: “Set it and forget it,” “But wait, there’s more,” “Now how much would you pay?” and, of course, “Less shipping and handling.”

Greg Renker is co-founder of Guthy-Renker and has been spotlighted by Fortune Magazine on its list of “America’s Smartest Young Entrepreneurs” and also was honored regionally as one of Inc.’s “Entrepreneurs of the Year.” Renker co-founded the Electronic Retailing Association (ERA) and, in 2004, he received ERA’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Renker is deeply involved in his local community, serving on the Board of Directors and as vice chairman of the Eisenhower Medical Center. Renker also received the 2012 Horatio Alger Award for Distinguished Americans.

Not only is Sy Sperling the founder and former president of Hair Club for Men, but as his DRTV ads made him famous for, he’s “also a client.” After opening his first hair-restoration salon in 1969, he formed Hair Club in 1976 after celebrity endorser Ron Blomberg of the New York Yankees made his business famous. By the 1990s, there were more than 85 Hair Club salons in business across the United States, and Sperling’s memorable turns as DRTV spokesman were as impressive as his business touch, as, at its peak, the company’s annual revenue reached more than $100M.

Sydney Yallen, InterMedia’s founder, was a direct response advertising pioneer and industry long time industry leader. A leading innovator in direct response media applications, Yallen and his son Robert grew the InterMedia Group of Companies® from a regional agency into a national powerhouse with annual billings of more than $500 million. Syd started working for a Los Angeles radio station at the age of 13 and advanced through the general advertising ranks until the late 1960s, when he was instrumental in developing the media buying entity concept, eventually founding InterMedia Time Buying Corp.® in 1974. He graduated with a business degree from the University of Southern California, after serving in the Navy in World War II. He passed away in 2009.

Recently, Response was able to catch up with a few of the inductees to discuss their careers, the direct response business and more.

What does it mean to you to be an inaugural inductee into the DR Hall of Fame?

Jim Caldwell: What an honor! When I think of all the folks who helped build the industry into what it is today, I am a realist to know I played a small part. To be placed in this group of industry icons is humbling.

Frank Cannella: This is a wonderful honor, and I am truly grateful to Response for including me among this elite, respectable group of industry innovators. More importantly, I applaud Response for acknowledging the industry’s roots and providing a forum for the industry to celebrate its accomplishments and incredible growth over the past 30 years.

Kevin Joseph Lyons: I appreciate being remembered by a fast moving business whose memory is usually only as long as the latest results. Things were always changing, never dull. I’m delighted to be remembered by good friends in a business I’ve been away from for five years.

Joe Pedott: Clearly it is an honor, and I am not sure I deserve it.

Ron Popeil: It truly is an honor.

Greg Renker: I’m humbled and appreciative to be an inaugural inductee into the DR Hall of Fame. This motivates us even more to increase our performance and our contributions in this industry. We have some remarkable creative and professional entrepreneurs in our industry, and we’re thrilled to be included among them.

Why do you believe the Response Advisory Board supported your case for induction into this exclusive group?

Caldwell: I broke new ground, whether in categories that had not used the half-hour format before (fishing lures, oil additives, anti-theft devices), or in formats — specifically the magazine format, using B-roll, voiceovers and lifestyle immersion of a product in the editorial side of the programming to tell emotionally engaging stories, with the Fantom Lightning vacuum being perhaps the perfect example. Also, I suspect my reality-based direct response approach where unscripted moments were featured — especially dramatic, unrehearsed demonstrations — may have been something that stood out.

Cannella: That’s probably for others to say, but I’m sure it has a lot to do with my achievements in 1982 and 1984 that launched the long-form DRTV industry and then creating Cannella Response Television as its media leader.

Lyons: This honor highlights one of the strongest characteristics of the response business: the importance of personal relationships. Some of those relationships began at the very start of national cable television. I was given the opportunity to help build a new national cable channel, first under the leadership of Tom Burchill and then — through the high-growth years — working for Doug McCormick. With less than 1 million television homes at the beginning, we began working with product people and marketers selling products on television. As it developed, our objectives were perfectly aligned. If I could provide airtime and they could successfully sell the product, this would help build our cable distribution. As we gained greater national television distribution, product sales increased in tandem.

Pedott: I’ve spent my 60-year career as the owner of Joseph Pedott Advertising and Marketing, producing TV commercials and marketing products throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe. Perhaps the board enjoyed knowing that I created two American icons (the Chia Pet and The Clapper) that have continued to be promoted and sold for more than 30 years. They may also have liked that I have built national brands over the years including The Garden Weasel, The Garden Claw, The Creosote Sweeping Log, The Ove Glove line of products, and others.

Popeil: I’ve always delivered “the promise” — the promise to make and send a quality product at a fair price that the customer will enjoy. I’ve also been in the business for a very long time.

Renker: Guthy-Renker has created some enduring and long-lasting brands, has reduced its need for DR “hits,” and is proud to have built a business that has good creativity, along with systems that provide a platform for future growth.

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

Caldwell: There were periods where I was not successful, especially when I put my own money into projects! It was strictly a numbers game, and I was pretty lucky, generally, at picking products that had a chance at success. Steady royalty flow from winners didn’t hurt while I was licking my wounds over those losers.

Cannella: I’d like to think we traveled down the ethical path and always told it like it was. We created win-win-win relationships with great clients, great vendors and very importantly, a great staff. Surround yourself with the best and the rest becomes pretty easy. Lastly, we have always stayed focused on identifying new opportunities that have benefited not only our clients but also the industry overall.

Lyons: We were both in the same growth business. It was working together to our mutual benefit that created an atmosphere of loyalty and trust. This was necessary, because during more than two decades, there were rough patches to get through. Over time, those experiences resulted in some permanent personal friendships that I cherish even now that I am out of the business. Direct response television was a substantial factor in the growth of national cable television. It provided substantial revenue that went directly to our programming budget to buy and develop original cable programming. This programming brought viewers from broadcast television to cable. It continues to do it today.

Pedott: Although our business is not a true DR business, we use TV advertising to educate the consumer to buy our products and visit their local retailer to make their purchase. One reason for our longevity is that we reinvent and make slight or large changes to each product, keeping them new and fresh in consumers’ minds.

Popeil: My vocation as an inventor allows me to create something new and different, which has been and always will be appealing to the public.

Renker: Through good ethics and fair dealing, we have managed to maintain good relationships with vendors, creative partners, celebrities, etc., and it has contributed to our 25-year longevity. We have always asked a lot of questions, listened closely, and then tried to make good, entrepreneurial decisions. Luck has always played a role as well. Bill and I have always been passionate about the direct response business, and we have remained entrepreneurially driven enough to want to study it, pay attention to competitors, and try to get better. Most importantly, we selected great business partners in the early days — Ben Van de Bunt, Kevin Knee and Lenny Lieberman.

What does it say about the industry when major brand players that used to avoid DR now utilize it extensively — not only to create sales but also to build brand?

Caldwell: It was always just a matter of time. How often can a Fortune 100 executive be flipping channels and seeing the same program over and over to not realize that something is going on here where stories, brands and innovation can cut through the clutter, find an audience and build household names in the process?

Cannella: It says — very loud and clear — that long-form DRTV works. It’s that simple

Lyons: I am happy to see the development of product branding on response television. We had some early efforts to build product awareness for pharmaceutical manufacturers explaining new drug therapies, automotive advertisers announcing new models (Chrysler) and national big box stores introducing new areas (Wal-Mart Nurseries). These early efforts were successful for a limited time. I now see national brands creating sales and developing branding in a much more coordinated and sustained manner. This will develop to everyone’s benefit.


Pedott: The market is changing, as well as consumer buying habits. DR and consumers’ ordering directly is a growth industry, and the major brand players are following the trend. More people are shopping from home than ever before and it’s continuing to grow.

Popeil: They finally wised up! But, having them advertise on television with an infomercial creates a higher advertising cost for people like me.

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

Caldwell: Even though the first RotoZip infomercial won Infomercial of the Year, it was the Unbrakeable AutoLock project that was intensely challenging and fraught with danger of failure. Who can sell into a negative using an infomercial? Two years later, after establishing a serious brand in the automotive space, the president of our biggest competitor, The Club, came to work for AutoLock!

Cannella: Getting the infomercial industry started is at the top of the list.

Pedott: Surviving and somewhat flourishing!

Popeil: The “Set it and Forget It” Showtime Rotisserie invention, as well as its marketing.

Renker: Establishing and growing meaningful and profitable relationships with our business partners, and all the concentric circles around it, ranging from celebrities to product owners. By being honest, hard-working and creative, we’ve been able to navigate challenging business circumstances, and with a little bit of good luck and blessing, we’ve been able to grow to a size we never originally envisioned.

What other memorable accomplishments stand out in your career?

Caldwell: First, I never knew that the formative years with Kevin Harrington as the executive producer for Family Guide Network would be so influential down the line on my track record and others. I’m also proud that I have been able to wear all the hats as a virtual company in executing an infomercial — from writing, producing, directing and hosting to helping to consult on campaign roll-out has been intensely satisfying. Finally, you never know where your experiences will lead you. Converting my DRTV experiences into a full-time gig with one of my old clients is perhaps the most interesting transition I have made and a serious accomplishment. Unequal Technologies is destined to be a serious player in the Nike/Under Armour world and involves a technology with 39 worldwide patents issued and more than 30 pending.

Cannella: For me, it has always been about relationships and the people I have worked with and gotten to know. That’s what made this so much fun. Someone once said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Well, that statement sums up the memorable moments of my career. My career has been filled with some remarkable clients and talented vendors. We have had many laughs while breaking bread or sharing a drink … or two. And I have been ever-so-fortunate to have worked side-by-side with the most talented, dedicated staff anyone could ever ask for. They continue to make me look good.

Lyons: Among the many clients that helped build this into an industry are my fellow inductees. Ron Popeil is a television icon who happens to be the greatest on-air salesmen I know. Frank Cannella brought his experience with television to the national cable arena and helped manage some of the all-time greatest hits. Two other inductees who were responsible for a substantial portion of my success are Bill Guthy and Greg Renker, who created high production value television shows combined with celebrity-endorsed products. This vastly increased the amount of airtime we could provide for DR, increasing the size of the pie for everyone.

Pedott: DR was a byproduct of what we do best: selling primarily through retail. However, I was able to bring our way of marketing products to several European countries by being the first or near first to run dealer tagging TV advertising campaigns with chain retailers throughout Germany, France, the U.K., Austria, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

Popeil: I was one of the first to sell consumer products on TV using short-form commercials, and I was one of the very first in the direct response business to use infomercials to sell my products.

Renker: Launching Tony Robbins’ “Personal Power” (and then “Get the Edge”) was always very important for Guthy-Renker. We always believed that the quality of that product — and its life-changing benefits — rewarded us financially, as well as personally. Lenny Lieberman played a vital role in this effort. The same spirit of helping others contributed to our decision to try to create a success with Proactiv. Our best products have always been those that have helped the most people, and we’ve been richly rewarded when we have tried our best to deliver on our promises.

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

Caldwell: One has to be when I proactively suggested that Advertising Age’s Bob Garfield should take a close look at infomercials as a legitimate advertising tool, and start reviewing them like he did 30- and 60-second Madison Avenue spots. I gave him my first Flying Lure infomercial as an example, and he ended up reviewing it, giving it 3.5 out of four stars. It went on to be included in that year’s top five advertisements of any kind. Another is when the Kopras family sought me out with their RotoZip power tool, having seen me on-air with Dura-Lube. They had achieved $45,000 per minute in sales on QVC, and I simply could not believe I could corral the opportunity to produce this infomercial. It seemed like they would use a bigger company. It was the most rewarding several years — commercially and critically — that I could have imagined. To see 13:1 MERs (media efficiency ratios) week after week was sick. And 6:1 a year later? That’s just crazy.

Cannella: Of course, one is the early pioneering of the infomercial in 1982 — and then, two years later, when I presented an interpretation of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) deregulation report to rep firms. Then, in 1994, I partnered on a product called Windows NOW! with a young entrepreneur named Rob Medved. That started an 18-year partnership that brought growth and success to Cannella Response Television. And we had a lot of fun doing it.

Lyons: A defining moment in my professional career was being given the basic opportunity to start the media business by Tom Burchill, then the president of the brand new Lifetime Television. Later on, Doug McCormick took over and gave me additional opportunities to expand and grow across more Lifetime networks.

Pedott: One is when I received a call from The Smithsonian’s American History Museum informing me that the story of the Chia Pet and The Clapper had been chosen for the Museum’s archives and artifact collections. I was asked if I would agree to give the Museum the original Chia Pet and original Clapper, which I naturally agreed to do. Another has to be meeting President Obama and personally giving him a “Chia Obama.” He graciously accepted it with thanks, and good-naturedly commented it was a good likeness — except for the green hair!

Popeil: When I went public on the American Stock Exchange in 1969, and when I sold my company in 2005.

Renker: The defining moment for my personal life was, of course, convincing my wife Stacey to hang with me for the rest of our lives. In my professional career, it’s convincing Bill Guthy to let me be his partner in the launch of the “Think & Grow Rich” infomercial. ■

About the Author: Thomas Haire

Thomas Haire

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