The New Direct Marketers

Posted on by Chief Marketer Staff

MICHAEL COHEN IS manager of direct marketing operations for Showtime Networks Inc. in New York. Cohen’s job is pretty narrowly defined; a major part is coordinating mail campaigns with cable operators, since the premium channel has to sell itself through them. He wanted a broader picture of direct marketing, so in January he became a student again, at New York University’s new DM master’s program.

“I wanted to fill out my experience-plus, I obviously wanted the credentials,” he says. He also hopes the sheepskin will help cement his job at Showtime, which is owned by Viacom Inc.

Cohen, a University of Rochester political science major, fell into direct marketing 10 years ago when he began working at Showtime as a temp. He learned the job on the job. In that and in going for his graduate degree, he personifies both the old and the new approach to DM know-how. Years ago direct marketers were mentored, not matriculated. But today, young people actively pursue DM as a career-and school programs for them are popping up like new mailing lists.

Direct marketing has come of age and so has direct marketing education. More and more schools are integrating DM into their curriculums, either offering specific courses or making it part of their general marketing classes.

And it’s not just formal education. DM training programs are more popular than ever. Attendance at the Direct Marketing Association’s seminars is up 20% in the last year, the biggest jump ever, according to Anne Schaeffer, vice president of professional development and training. Schaeffer says the classes are drawing more entry-level people too, possibly because of today’s labor shortage; companies are forced to hire inexperienced people who need tutoring.

This upsurge in education and training stems from the popularity of direct marketing, now commonplace even among Fortune 500 companies. “When we started 18 years ago, you could count the number of direct marketing courses [that were offered] on one badly deformed hand,” says Richard Montesi, president of the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation, which promotes DM education in colleges and universities. The DMEF is working with the Medill/Integrated Marketing Communications Program at Northwestern University to develop a model direct marketing curriculum.

“We’re recognizing that marketing is shifting its emphasis from traditional advertising to direct because of its accountability,” says Pamela Kiecker, chair of the marketing department at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Business in Richmond. In May, Kiecker started a graduate-level DM certification course through the school’s new Interactive Marketing Institute.

Employment recruiters who specialize in DM confirm that the last two years have been the hottest ever (though companies aren’t specifically requesting people with master’s degrees). “The demand has just continued to grow beyond the ability to supply the talent-and that wasn’t always the case,” says Tom Collinger, associate professor and director of direct marketing at Medill, in Evanston, IL.

Salaries on the Rise One result, of course, is that salaries are being jacked up. “Some people are getting promoted a bit too quickly, some with maybe three or four years’ experience in non-sales roles making six figures,” says Neil Mason, of Neil Mason Executive Search in Princeton, NJ.

The 1996 Medill graduates who landed direct marketing jobs (the latest figures available) earned between $45,000 and $70,000 a year. Richard Hamilton, associate professor of direct marketing at the University of Missouri, says grads with no experience are starting in the high $30s to low $40s, a very decent salary in the Kansas City area.

Another result of the tight labor market is that companies are forced to hire people with little knowledge of DM. “Because of the way the market is today we are hiring people with marketing- and communications-related experience but not necessarily direct marketing experience,” says Ron Jacobs, president of Chicago DM agency Jacobs & Clevenger and a senior lecturer at Medill. So companies like Jacobs’ are having to develop formal in-house training programs.

Obstacles to DM Education Promoting DM education is not without its hurdles. DMers say a big problem is getting general marketing teachers and program administrators to understand and respect direct marketing.

“Students in traditional marketing programs think direct marketing is direct mail, and direct mail is just flooding the market,” says Hamilton of the University of Missouri, whose MBA program includes a specialization in direct marketing (the school also offers a DM certification).

Adriel Sanchez, a 21-year-old senior at New York’s Baruch College, says he had no interest in direct marketing until he (somewhat reluctantly) took an internship at the DMA. Now he is working part-time there and is certain his career will be in direct response. “I’ve really come to see what direct marketing is,” he says.

NYU has offered DM courses for decades but, says Pierre Passavant, director of its Center for Direct Marketing, “The direct marketing businesses, as represented by the [school’s] board of advisers, kept telling the school that there was an urgent need for a higher level of direct marketing education than existed anywhere in the New York area at that time. Some basic noncredit courses were not really filling the need for well-trained professionals who could step into midlevel management jobs.”

Because Medill has changed its master’s from “direct marketing” to “integrated marketing” (with a concentration in direct marketing, public relations or advertising), NYU is the only school in the country to offer a master’s degree in direct marketing. The 38-credit curriculum includes a master’s project and such required courses as “Fundamentals of Direct and Database Marketing,” “Consumer Behavior and Market Research” and “Statistics for Direct Marketing.” The first class started in September 1997 with 47 students; in January an additional 22 enrolled and this fall 29 more signed up.

“The people who are already in it at the junior levels sense that this is an area where they can really advance in the organization if they have broad direct marketing training,” Passavant says.

One reason for the growth in classes is that-partly because of technology-direct marketing has become so sophisticated and specialized that it can’t be learned on the job.

“You go to seminars now and people are debating the formula for calculating lifetime value,” says Medill’s Collinger. “They’re debating something that a couple years ago no one even thought of.”

At the same time, those interested in management careers must be able to see the big picture. So DM education has become more theoretical.

“Previously what we taught was the nuts and bolts of how to do a direct mail letter,” Passavant says. “It’s become much more strategically focused. You will learn how to do that, but more importantly you will learn how to apply direct marketing principles. We’re not just teaching Database 101 but how the existence of a database changes the way a company will try to approach a customer in order to develop a lifetime value for that customer.”

DM Classes on the Net Another change: This year, Susan K. Jones, associate professor of marketing at Ferris State University in Grand Rapids, MI, taught the first-ever direct marketing course over the Internet. She had 28 students-the furthest away was from Vancouver, British Columbia-mostly from agencies and companies.

Heather Wilt, a media buyer at advertising and public relations agency Ira Thomas Associates in Youngstown, OH, said she took the class to help her career and her shop, which does a lot of direct work.

“When I was in school we didn’t talk a lot about direct,” she says.

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