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Billy's Greatest Lesson for DR Pros - Gratitude Is Job No. 1

1 Jul, 2009 By: Thomas Haire Response

"Thank you so much for the article you wrote on me. I cannot tell you how much it helped my career."

Whether a scheduled get-together, a momentary handshake at a cocktail party or a phone call, not one meeting I had with Billy Mays between the publication of a December 2001 feature I wrote in these pages (on the Orange Glo business and Mays' role in its success) and his untimely death on June 28 passed without him offering me some variation on those words.

In the day-and-a-half since I learned of Billy's passing, it's become clear that the simple kindness he extended to me in each conversation we had was not some exception, but rather the norm. In soliciting and fielding thoughts from many of the leaders of the DRTV business, the words that keep coming up about him include: love, care, positive, kind, genuine, engaging, family man.

Yes, Billy's outsized personality — the booming voice, the black beard, the blue shirts — was his big draw as one of the most successful television pitchmen in history. However, as he liked to say, Billy never took on the task of promoting a product he didn't believe in. That belief shone through in each and every DRTV ad Billy filmed. So, no matter how loud the pronouncement — "Hi! Billy Mays here!" — for a product, in the end, the viewers at home knew they could trust Billy's word on that item.

When Billy would thank me for the story, I'd always make certain to thank him in return. I can truly say that the 2001 story was the beginning of the magazine that Response has become during my eight years as editor. My interview with Billy came before I'd spent nine months on this job, and I'm not afraid to say that, at the time, Response was a very insular publication — of, by and for the agencies, vendors and service providers of the DR world.

With the publication of our feature on Billy and the Appel family behind Orange Glo, we found, for the first time, that we could step away from featuring the heads of fulfillment companies, media agencies and teleservices providers on the cover — and the political nightmares inherent in featuring the same people who are counted on as advertisers — and talk about celebrity pitchmen and marketers, expanding the magazine's scope without fear of advertiser backlash.

By the end of 2002, Response had transitioned to featuring celebrities and pitchmen on the cover, talking about the products they endorsed. By late 2004, we'd switched our cover strategy to the marketers who bring successful DR products to consumers. Without the example of the Billy Mays/Orange Glo cover, this transition would have been a much tougher task. Now, instead of an insular publication, Response is a wide-ranging magazine that seeks to draw any and all marketers into the DR space.

For that, Billy, one final thank you. We didn't help make you nearly as much as you helped make us.

Thomas Haire, Editor-in-Chief

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