DRMA Spotlight: Staying Ahead of the Curve1 Mar, 2013 By: Thomas Haire Response
“We’re trying to dispel some of the old misconceptions of what DRTV is, continue to support the value that television still has and bring in some of the new technologies and abilities to integrate your online and your television together,” says Tony Besasie, Burlington, Wis.-based president of Cannella Response Television. “The consumer certainly doesn’t separate them. It’s about having a much more cross-channel marketing platform.”
Along with CEO Rob Medved, Besasie is leading the charge at the Direct Response Marketing Alliance (DRMA) member company, which was founded in 1984. The long-time media buying and analysis business — one of DRTV’s originals, as founder Frank Cannella was a leader in the space even prior to the deregulation of cable television in the mid-1980s — is more than keeping up with the ever changing market.
“We had a healthy 2012. I think the long-form media market’s rebounded quite a bit,” says Medved, referring to the DRTV outlet where Cannella is an unquestioned leader. “Response rates were down through 2009 and 2010. But it’s stabilized now, and the future’s looking pretty good.”
Besasie agrees, and points to long-form DRTV as both a leading and lagging indicator of consumer confidence. “As consumer confidence builds and the economy continues to come back, you see an uptick in the market — which is perhaps what we saw in 2012,” he says. “But long-form is more stable relative to inventory (than short-form) so that can create a lagging effect because it really is a true look at what consumers are willing to spend on.”
Medved says that the long-form DR market changed during the recession. “In an unstable environment, if you have a continuity program, a monthly renewal, or a multi-level component of your campaign, you’re going to tread a little more lightly,” he contends. “We saw a shift to more hard goods, which are trying to recoup most of their media spend on the front end now and drive retail — traditionally more of a short-form model.”
At the same time, marketers who’ve been DR outsiders in the past continue to change the face of the industry. “Companies in health care and other businesses are now coming into the long-form space and driving the rates up,” Medved says.
Those pressures, along with constantly changing technology, would be a challenge for some companies. But Besasie and Medved agree that the agency has spent recent years preparing for these shifts and is more than ready.
“We took the past couple of years to really invest in our data management tools,” Besasie says. “If you look at the industry today, they’re talking about ‘big data.’ Rob was one of the early pioneers and innovators. He essentially wrote and launched our first MediaStar program because there really wasn’t a good enough program out there to manage the kind of inventory and do the kind of analysis we wanted. We continue to make investments in that.”
Medved adds, “We’ve always been innovators in the industry. Direct response marketers have always been able to respond to the sea changes that are coming. We pride ourselves on being on that edge.”
But what’s driving those changes to the industry? “The general entertainment world is getting the consumer much more familiar with selling product,” Medved says, mentioning reality shows like “Fashion Star” and “The Biggest Loser,” which he says are “infotainment.” “Is it an infomercial? Is it content?” he asks.
Besasie adds, “The quality of infomercials has risen as the quality of general market programming has dropped.” He compares the quality of production for Guthy-Renker Corp.’s “Meaningful Beauty” product to the production value of an entertainment show like “Campus Cops.” “We’re not giving enough credit to some of the DRTV marketers who are really raising the bar.”
But Medved says technology is still the key in helping these disparate themes driving a new DR marketplace to “converge.” From video technologies like over-the-top (OTT), video-on-demand (VOD) and third-screen applications to the power of the Web as a sales and information tool, Cannella is focused on leading its clients into this new multi-channel world.
“Primary and second-screen integration is still clunky,” Besasie says. “But there’s going to be a time when you’re watching television — and you’re not even going to be thinking about it — but you’re going to be transacting on your tablet. It’s not going to happen in 2013, but we’ve got the vision to see what that’s going to look like.”
Besasie says the company has been working with Marketsmith and Songwhale to analyze data and enable technology from a retail, online and mobile perspective. “We’ve got a couple of other initiatives underway. We want to start integrating more of that digital/television mix,” he says.
Medved adds, “It puts us ahead of the curve. I think a lot of the industry has ignored the data. It’s such a creative, entrepreneurial space. Emotion and relationship have taken top seed. But we’ve proven that being data-centric is as important as those other pieces.”
Leading the way in not only collecting data but interpreting it well will be crucial as the DRTV industry continues to come together with the digital marketing space and more traditional marketers filter in.
“We’ve taken on some of those (data management) tasks,” Medved says. “From some of those strategic things we’ve done and some of the business models we’ve implemented, we’ve helped put more dollars back in our marketers’ pockets. We continue to think about how we can better use data to benefit our marketing clients.”
In the end, though, Besasie says success in DRTV still comes down to one thing. “You have to produce a good product or service with a compelling offer and a compelling solution,” he says. “Data is good, but at the end of the day, you still have to solve a need. You can’t lose sight of being innovative and really trying to put a product out there that appeals to that consumer audience.”
Looking ahead, Besasie says, “The opportunities for us are bright — short-form, digital. We’ll also be aggressive in trying to tell the story for the industry to get more marketers to take a look at, particularly, the long-form DRTV space.”
Medved concurs, adding, “We have really focused on the long-form marketplace to date. Now that we’ve grown to become the dominant player in the space, we’re going to start looking at areas like short-form, start developing our digital capabilities and continue to build out our data center.” ■