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1 Sep, 2006 By: Thomas Haire, Courtney Beth Pugatch Response


Knowles, Petry Discuss Transfer of ERA Board Leadership


By Thomas Haire (

WASHINGTON, D.C. and PORTLAND, Ore. — This month, prominent direct response industry executive Rick Petry will take over for Venable LLP Partner Jeffrey D. Knowles as chairman of the board of the Electronic Retailing Association (ERA). Recently, Response was able to sit down with the pair to ask about the year just passed, the year ahead and the relationship forged by the two leaders.

What was the highlight of your term as ERA Chair?

Jeffrey D. Knowles: The two biggest highlights were the launch of the Online Retailing Alliance (ORA) and the Asian meeting in Hong Kong. ORA was the result of a two-year strategic planning process involving ERA's Board of Directors, its government affairs committee and ERA's staff and membership. It represents a significant step forward for the Association and will enhance ERA's membership, as well as its strategic and political influence. ORA will also allow ERA to tap into this dynamic and rapidly emerging channel of distribution. I am also particularly proud of this year's Asian meeting. For several years, ERA had lost its momentum in that critically important part of the world. But a re-energized Asian Committee planned, organized and carried out a well-attended and successful meeting. The unexpected success of this meeting bodes well for ERA's future in that vital region.

 Jeffrey Knowles
Jeffrey Knowles

What are your three key goals as you embark on your term as ERA Chair?

Rick Petry: The industry has matured from what was once a silo-like approach to marketing to one that embraces multiple channels of distribution. As changes in consumer behavior are ushered in by new technologies, we must evolve our relevance to align with the marketplace. Therefore my focus will be on alliances, partnerships and perhaps even an acquisition that reflects the expanded multi-channel focus of the membership including, for example, online and traditional retail. Secondly, an overhaul of ERA's branding that reflects this expanded multi-channel vision is important. Thirdly, it is my hope that these efforts will expand membership and create more economic opportunity for all of our members.

What were the major challenges of your term, and are you pleased with your role in resolving those challenges?

Knowles: This year's biggest challenge was the filing of back-to-back lawsuits against the association by Kevin Trudeau and ITV. This was the first time in ERA's 17-year history that it had been sued. As general counsel of ERA for 13 years, I worked hard to keep ERA from getting sued and becoming involved in litigation that some like to call "the sport of kings." Once the suits were filed, however, ERA needed to mount a vigorous legal defense and assure the board and association membership that it had done nothing wrong and was ready to meet the challenge. The Trudeau suit was dismissed as we expected. The ITV suit, which attacked ERA's self-regulation program, was stayed pending resolution of a separate lawsuit between ITV and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Although I would have preferred to avoid both suits, ERA answered the bell, and I am very pleased with the result in both lawsuits.

What do you believe the major challenges of your term will be, and how do you plan on meeting those challenges?

Petry: The explosion of media choices and empowerment of the consumer to choose what they want, when they want puts pressure on all marketers and that is no less true for a trade organization in the marketing space. We have to strike a balance because, at its core, ERA is a trade organization for direct marketers, yet we have to be smart about how we respond to a marketplace in a constant state of flux. I view the consumer as a divining rod, because, in the end, they are the ones who are going to tell us where the greatest opportunities exist. The exciting reality is that more advertising and marketing is becoming direct-response based, regardless of the delivery mechanism, and that is advancing opportunity for all of ERA's members.

Rick Petry
Rick Petry

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