2018 DR Hall of Fame Inductees: A Scintillating Septet

DR Hall of Fame inductees 2018The Direct Response Hall of Fame will welcome seven new members this spring — long-time leaders whose work has both advanced and revolutionized DR marketing.

“These inductees span the breadth of the DR world — from marketer to agency to host, and from front end to back — with a rich history, but also remain vibrant forces in today’s industry,” says Thomas Haire, editor-in-chief of Response

They will be inducted on Thursday, April 26, at the

Hilton San Diego Bayfront. Visit www.mtcshow.com for more information on MTC Expo. The 2018 inductees are:

  • Hal Altman, co-founder of fulfillment firm Motivational Fulfillment and Logistics Services (MFALS), has become one of the most trusted and admired professionals in the industry. His work made MFALS the first full-service fulfillment company to offer continuity and installment payment programs for infomercials. 
  • Fern Lee, CEO of direct-to-consumer marketing firm THOR Associates, is a marketing pro who’s worked on (and with) such successes as Billy Blanks, The Firm, Turbo Cooker, and Richard Simmons. She’s also served major brands, including MetLife, AIG, Johnson & Johnson, and Mars.
  • Keith Mirchandani, founder, president, and CEO of Tristar Products Inc., has transformed countless original ideas into top brands surpassing $1 billion in retail sales, and created the “talk-mercial,” blending the talk show format with infomercials.
  • Cathy Mitchell, cookbook author and As Seen On TV host, has been dubbed the “Infomercial Queen” for her prolific career successfully selling food-related products on numerous national TV programs including The Rachael Ray Show, NBC’s Today, The Steve Harvey Show, and many others. 
  • Steve Netzley, founder and CEO of direct response marketing firm Havas Edge, has become a respected leader and innovator in performance marketing by tapping quality talent, technology, and analytics to help brands reach unprecedented profitability. 
  • Colleen Szot, owner and CEO of Colleen Szot Wonderful Writer LLC, has risen to the peak of advertising copywriting stardom, helping to send products such as NordicTrack, My Pillow, and many others into the stratosphere of sales. 
  • Dick Wechsler, president and CEO of direct marketing agency Lockard & Wechsler, helped grow the firm from $3 million to $650 million in annual media billings. He developed tools to plan, track, and analyze integrated media campaigns that support direct and retail channels.

We caught up with each and posed a few questions to help you get to know them better. 

What does it mean to you to be inducted into the DR Hall of Fame?

Hal Altman: It validates the hard work, creativity, and personal care that we have put into every project. In most cases, the back end of the business never receives the credit for the incredible value it adds.

Fern Lee: I am humbled and grateful to be acknowledged by my peers for the contributions made to the direct response industry. My first job after graduate school was with The Hammond Company, and we were an original member of NIMA which morphed into the Electronic Retailing Association (ERA). My roots run deep.

Keith Mirchandani: It’s a very special honor. The fact that I have been in this business for 25 years means not only that I have succeeded more than I have failed, but also that I have thrived — and it’s all been tremendously rewarding. Making the Hall of Fame is as much an achievement of endurance and persistence as it is a personal triumph of innovation and pioneering.

Cathy Mitchell: After 29 years in the direct response television business, being inducted validates my place in the industry.

Steve Netzley: I feel very honored … but I also feel a bit guilty. This feels like I’m being honored by my peers as an individual for success and accomplishments in this industry that were and are a byproduct of collaboration with some of the most amazing, driven, and intelligent people I’ve ever met. Havas Edge is what it is today because of the vision, leadership, and passion of so many people I’m blessed to call colleagues and friends.

Colleen Szot: It’s an honor I never thought I would enjoy! Creatives rarely are recognized, so this means a great deal to me — and to my fellow writers.

Dick Wechsler: I’m a cynic by nature, but I would never make light of the recognition of my peers. It’s humbling that this honor is a result of the support of my colleagues and competitors.

What professional accomplishment makes you most proud and why?

Altman: There isn’t any single accomplishment, but I am proud that we have been responsible for many of the programs the industry now uses on a daily basis. As an example, MFALS wrote the first continuity programs and was the first company, in the late 1970s, to be able to put two different SKUs on the same billing. Additionally, we have worked on several unique and rewarding projects, including: fulfilling programs for both the 1984 and 1996 Olympics; co-producing two television specials with HBO; being an integral part of 18 years of Comic Relief; and working with Walt Disney, as well as all the greats in the direct response business.

Lee: I am most proud of the ability I have to continuously transition. I was the long-form queen back in the day, helping to bring business success to The Firm, Billy Blanks, Turbo Cooker, Richard Simmons, GTExpress, and Leslie Sansone. Once I left corporate America to start our strategic marketing agency, THOR Associates, we moved into short-form and digital omnichannel integration. We’ve been able to bring in big brands, such as MetLife, AIG, Tranzact, Balsam Brands, Kumon, J&J, Mars, and InventHelp.

Mirchandani: One of my most unforgettable moments was when the Ab Roller became the No. 1 ab-sculpting product in America. On a personal level, I couldn’t be prouder of the family my wife and I have created together. She and my two children have always been my greatest source of strength, support, and — always — laughter.

Mitchell: I’m proud of my longevity and, most importantly, the relationships I have established with both the marketers and the consumers. 

Netzley: Seeing so many people build incredibly successful careers, friendships, and lives at Edge — seeing them develop into true industry leaders and being able to have played a role in each of their journeys. 

Szot: The MasterLock infomercial, exquisitely produced by Opfer Productions. It is, in my opinion, my masterpiece.

Wechsler: Building an organization that provides meaningful and challenging opportunities to all my employees. I’m also proud of the long-term relationships and successes we’ve shared with our clients. 

To whom or what do you attribute your professional successes?

Altman: MFALS has never had a salesperson other than management, and all of our business for 40 years has come from referrals or personal contacts. Our reputation, as well as our practice of treating our clients as family, is our greatest sales tool. Additionally, we have a highly experienced and dedicated team in the office and warehouse that works tirelessly to ensure our clients’ success. 

Lee: I’ve been blessed to have mentors, partners, and industry icons I can call my friends: Peter Hammond, Katie Williams, Greg Renker, Steve Pittendrigh, Linda Goldstein, Lynn Hamlin, Jean Vernor, and my life-long partner Lori Zeller. I send a heartfelt thank you to the many other people that have extended confidence, trust, and love my way throughout my career.

Mirchandani: The team I have assembled, the willingness to take chances and face challenges head on, and choosing the right products to market. 

Mitchell: I am always true to myself. That is key in this and any profession. I stick with my personal ideals of truth in advertising and will only endorse products that I personally like and use. I will always represent a product effectively and with my true insights.

Netzley: I attribute it to drive, determination, amazingly supportive client relationships, and an incredible team of Edge co-conspirators who have challenged, supported, and inspired me for 25 years.

Szot: Well, it started with a $900 ad in Response Magazine back in 1994. I asked if I could pay for it in three installments because I just wasn’t sure it would work. But it did — and I was able to pay it off immediately. I also thank the word-of-mouth advertising and recommendations I have received over the years. Plus, I’ve been blessed to work with some extremely talented producers. 

Wechsler: I attribute my success to my clients and my employees. Without them, I’d be flipping burgers. But there are a few others that should be mentioned. First, Arthur Lockard, who invited me in as his partner in 1991. Second, John Caples, whose book, Tested Advertising Methods, has been my professional bible for more than a quarter century. Third, my willingness to delegate to others, to allow them to make mistakes, and to learn from them. 

What have you enjoyed most about working in the direct response industry?

Altman: It has allowed me to work with the true giants and pioneers of the industry, like Mike Levy, Ron Popeil, Martin Yan, John Gray, HBO, and the U.S. Olympic Committee. I have been privileged to participate in many of the largest telethons, including Live Aid, HBO’s Comic Relief, Farm Aid, Hurricane Relief, Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans, and Imagine with John Lennon; and work with personalities like Michael Jackson, Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, and many more. 

Lee: Making a difference. Getting to mentor the next direct response rock stars. I am passionate about using my knowledge and experience to move the needle, keep things nimble, and disrupt the status quo for creative innovation and operational efficiency.

Mirchandani: The people. I have developed some very close friendships, solid partnerships, and a tight-knit family of individuals whom I depend on every day. I also loved working with Jack LaLanne. His juicer introduced the world to the power of juicing and revived the juicing category for retailers. He lived by his motto — “Anything Is Possible” — and he was a true inspiration.

Mitchell: I honestly love what I do, and I hope and feel that the consumers see that shining through in each and every infomercial I shoot. Sharing my love of cooking coupled with sharing insights into great products and simple recipes for people who might not otherwise enjoy cooking is a joy. I enjoy creating recipes right in my own kitchen and using those recipes to demonstrate the latest kitchenware and cookware items.

Netzley: How relationship-centric it is and has always been. I’ve met so many incredibly talented, intelligent, and driven people where my relationship may have started with them in their professional capacity … but quickly evolved into a relationship with a trusted friend. I tell people regularly that my favorite part of being in this industry is that I get to work with my friends every day.

Szot: Being at the forefront of a burgeoning industry. After 20 years working at big ad agencies like Foote, Cone & Belding, J. Walter Thompson, and McCann, it was thrilling to be part of relatively new ad category. And, of course, being someone who only writes — I don’t produce, I don’t do media — it was exciting to be one of the original pioneers of this industry.

Wechsler: There is no greater thrill than starting every day and knowing in hard quantifiable measures exactly how you did. You can’t beat the excitement of opening a client report and knowing how many items you sold, how many new customers you acquired, how much revenue you generated — and then figure out ways to make those campaigns even more successful. 

What do you believe to be the industry’s greatest asset, and why do you believe brands continue to gravitate toward the industry?

Altman: The industry has seen almost a complete rebirth in the past five or so years with the addition of social media, digital media, mobile response, Amazon, Google, YouTube, and the importance of retail sales. Walmart, Target, and Costco are just a few of the retailers that can make a program or product a success.

Lee: The industry’s greatest asset is a clear understanding of how to engage a consumer for a selective journey that is experiential in the best way possible, using integrated advertising, marketing, and media.

Mirchandani: New technology: the internet, mobile, social media, home shopping, online shopping, and other new ways of interacting are the biggest advancements to direct response in my lifetime. Amazon, Facebook, and social media now allow you to buy advertising right from your desktop and sell throughout the world with unlimited potential. It’s faster, easier, and less expensive for consumers to buy. As technology evolves, the direct response industry only prospers.

Mitchell: Direct response will always be the best way to reach the most consumers with demonstrations or information about products or services that might otherwise go unnoticed. Our industry’s greatest assets are its brand marketers, its on-air talent, and everyone who works behind the scenes to make direct response products successful from inception to sales.

Netzley: Our effectiveness is in being able to cost-effectively drive relationships between our clients and the individuals they are desirous of having a direct relationship with, and doing so in a fully transparent and accountable way. 

Szot: Direct response connects — really connects — on a practical as well as emotional level with the consumer. Social media is great — but it’s still a website. With DRTV, you get someone who feels passionately about the product, someone familiar, someone you can trust. Viewers watch them and think, “Wow, I really believe this person, and her/his story resonates with me.” I always say, if you can get someone to cry on camera, that’s your money shot.

Wechsler: Measurement, efficiency, and flexibility are the greatest assets. There isn’t a brand in the world that wouldn’t benefit from the way we go to market. Speed, efficiency, and accelerated growth pretty much sum it up.

What do you believe to be the most important issue in the direct response industry today and why?

Altman: The DR industry has a gigantic cloud over its head by the name of Amazon. Amazon has changed the way consumers purchase, reduced traditional delivery times, lowered prices, and changed the mentality of the standard DR shopper. Customers now go to Amazon, if not as their initial point of purchase, then certainly to comparison shop before placing their order from the direct response-generated media.

Lee: Embracing disruption to provide clear use of data to make decisions that identify a clear path and that drive sales by utilizing channel specific strategies for conversion and brand building. 

Mirchandani: Staying ahead of technology is paramount because it provides specific, measurable data almost instantaneously. It gives us the information we need to respond in the most effective ways to consumer behavior, which is always changing and evolving. Viewing habits are radically different now, and people are not watching television the way they used to. Everyone has their phone with them at all times — consumers have become very demanding and very demand-specific. Embracing the latest technologies has allowed us to successfully anticipate and fulfill the many and new expectations of customers who do not buy the same ways they used to. 

Mitchell: During the past 29 years, I have seen people’s reaction to television infomercials change from doubt and distrust to belief and acceptance that the product will really work. This is why it’s important to continue to keep standards high and demand truth in all product demonstrations we present. I can hold my head high and know that my pitch and my photo on a product package fits into the valuable standards of today’s “As Seen On TV” products.

Netzley: Ensuring accurate attribution of consumer responses back to the source that drove those responses as more and more offline and online acquisition channels are developed. 

Szot: The direct response industry needs to focus on staying relevant in this changing economy/marketplace. Of course, social media is important and has its rightful place in any e-commerce, but how do you know it’s reaching the right audience without DR to drive your traffic? YouTube, viral messages, etc., are important, but for my money, there is no more powerful medium on earth than television. DR has to keep up with the times — and the demands — of its audience.

Wechsler: Managing change is and has always been the most important issue facing the direct response industry. Our biggest challenge is to stick to what we know works, not to be quixotic and charge windmills simply because they’re out there. There’s always going to be change in the way we communicate and the channels through which we communicate. We need to constantly remind ourselves that measurement, efficiency, and urgency have and will always drive direct marketing. We can’t be distracted by the shiny new toy.