Q&A: New CEO Woolley on Future of the DMA

Posted on by Richard H. Levey

Linda A. Woolley, who was named acting president and CEO of the Direct Marketing Association earlier this month, spoke with Chief Marketer about the challenges and opportunities facing the organization. Before being named acting president, Woolley served as the DMA's executive vice president of Washington operations. She joined the DMA in August 2008.

CHIEF MARKETER: You are a lobbyist. How does this qualify you to be a CEO of a marketing organization?

WOOLLEY: As head of the Washington operations, part of my portfolio was to run two of our organizations—the DMA Nonprofit Federation and the Internet Alliance—that we would call profit centers, were they part of a corporation. Both of those are executive management positions. Executive management positions are things I have done all of my career, in addition to being a government affairs person.

I was also responsible for management of the Digital Advertising Alliance, the consortium that developed the Advertising Alliance. That organization we built from scratch. It didn't exist two years ago. That was business building.

[Before that, Woolley founded] LegisLaw, a public affairs consulting firm. [Running that included] business building from the ground up. Previous to that, I worked for ITT, where I reported directly to the chairman. Before that I worked for the US Chamber of Commerce, which is a great and wonderful trade association. More important, it is a general business trade association with lots of members who are interested in different things. [They focus on] different issues, conferences and publications. It's pretty similar to the DMA model.

CM: Where is the DMA is right now, and where does it need to go?

WOOLLEY: We are in a period of really compressed, major changes. We have all sorts of marketing channels that didn’t exist 10 years ago, and some that didn’t exist five years ago. When I started with the DMA, we were talking in terms of mail vs. digital. Now it almost seems quaint to say just digital. Digital encompasses so many things. It could be apps or mobile—digital doesn't really get at the essence of all the channels out there.

My biggest challenge is to figure out what our [current] members want, and what they need, and secondly what our potential members want and need so we can draw them into the association. And that is changing by the minute. We are going to look at all of our offerings and see if they are hitting the marks.

CM: You've started speaking with people who have reached out to you, as well as the board and executive committee members. What are some of the themes people have brought up?

WOOLLEY: Among the common themes is DMA events. The number of events this past year shrank. There is a real question about whether to resurrect some of those events or have new events. Events in general, or at any association, are really important networking things.

I've been thinking a lot about our biggest event of the year—the annual conference in Las Vegas in October. We are the only organization that does an entire integrated event that is not channel specific. It really focuses on coordinating between the different market segments. No marketer at this point can ignore integration. Every marketer has to think very globally about how they reach and serve customers.

We're doing a lot of thinking around the pieces that surround the annual conference and how we can make sure the individual attending gets a great experience. One of the things we were talking about this morning during an internal meeting is something I've participated in: Individual town meetings on the exhibit floor. The one I did was a panel on privacy. It was amazing. It got such a great amount of buzz. I thought people would listen for 10 to 15 minutes, and move on. People stayed for the whole hour. They wanted to continue the conversation when dispersing.

CM: How are you going to balance running day-to-day operations in New York and lobbying activities in DC?

WOOLLEY: I intend to spend a lot of time here in New York, but my official residence is in DC. Jonah [Gitlitz, who was the DMA's president from 1985 to 1996] is a great, wonderful man. Jonah had exactly the same career path I do. He headed the Washington office, and has schooled me that this can be done. He spent three to four days up here, a day down there.

CM: Will Jonah Gitlitz have a more active role in the DMA?

WOOLLEY: Oh, I hope so! I joke with him–sometimes I overhear him saying "I am the retired president of DMA." And he is still an adjunct staff of the Washington office. Jonah helps me out in all sorts of ways. Jonah always comes and we are happy to have him. But we haven't talked about him having an official role.

CM: How does your background in government affairs give you a different take on DMA priorities?

WOOLLEY: Advocacy is a main reason a trade association exists. Think back 100 years when DMA came into existence. My guess is that all of these people in the nascent industry knew each other, so they didn't need a conference or networking opportunities. The reason the association formed [was some marketers started saying] "What is the post office doing to us – we have to stop this!"

This is the reason any trade association comes into being. There is always a public policy issue that gets people to band together and form a trade association. Advocacy is core to our mission. That's applicable to any trade organization. They have two core missions. One, advocacy. Two, the care and feeding of members. There could be lots of things that fall into that second bucket. Our job is to figure out what those things are. Ask me in six months.

CM: Are you a candidate for the permanent position?

WOOLLEY: Clearly that is a board decision, but there is not a search going on right now. [Laughing] I've already had 45 headhunters call me!

CM: What should people know about you professionally?

WOOLLEY: I am a lawyer. Definitely comes up in advocacy world. Lawyers are trained advocates. In the pro bono world I practiced family law, but I have not practiced law professionally. I'm also a trained divorce mediator. That gives me certain skills that may be applicable.

CM: What message do you have for the marketing community?

WOOLLEY: DMA is a great trade association–our sweet spot is how companies use and collect data. And as a result of that, frankly, these days any company in the country if not the world could be a member of DMA. If companies are using data and subjecting it to analytics, we are and should be their home.

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