HPM in the Press & News

Ask Not What Technology Can Do, But How It Can Work for You - 1222927260

Attending an industrywide conference and trade show is akin to volunteering for sensory overload. You want to take advantage of all the opportunities – exhibits, presentations, networking opportunities and social events – but there is so much to absorb that it can be downright exhausting.

So, following the recent Response Expo 2008 in San Diego, I took a few moments to sit down and digest what I had absorbed concerning the state of our industry.

As I thought about what might lie ahead, a few trends became clear.

We face a paradox as technology takes an ever-increasing role in measuring performance. While the Internet speeds the communication of results, this very speed distracts us from the underlying reasons for a campaign’s apparent success or failure. There is more focus on the quantitative results than on gaining a qualitative understanding of “how” and “why.”

I certainly embrace the use of technology; my own per-inquiry (PI) advertising agency is the only one I know of to have its entire roster of advertisers, in every medium we handle, online for our media partners to review and even order commercials.

But we don’t stand for the use of technology simply because it exists. Just because we can do something does not mean we should. Instead, we must preserve the human element in our planning, actively discouraging clients and media partners from getting carried away with the false belief that they need instantaneous measures of results.

Faster is not always better, only faster.

Speed is meaningless in the context of how and why results are achieved. We should use technology to help us better understand the underpinnings of our results rather than simply to deliver a snapshot of the moment.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

More prospective clients are coming to direct-response marketing than ever before, putting a lot of pressure on available resources at agencies and in the media. This tends to drive scarcity of media and yield poorer results as we dilute the pool of clients with mediocre offers. Agencies need to become more guarded about what clients they accept and which they’re willing to place in media – especially on a per-inquiry basis.

My company has a policy of handling no more than three clients in a category. This effectively prevents us from defeating ourselves with our media partners, and it allows us to give each client unparalleled service and confidentiality. And we actively turn away business from companies that are in it only to make a buck. We evaluate every prospective client based upon how well we perceive they help their end consumer, our media partner and ourselves. If they don’t create a win-win-win, we typically decline the business, suggesting they’ll find success in other quarters.

Yes, it sounds heavy-handed – like we’re taking a “holier than thou” approach – yet we’ve found during the past nine years that we have few regrets about clients we’ve brought on board. Moreover, I sleep better at night at ease that we aren’t doing something harmful to others.

Don’t Fear the Moment

At this year’s Response Expo, I sensed a second type of sensory overload: panic. As economic growth slows, I’ve noticed desperation from clients and media to generate leads, leads, leads. There is a life-and-death mentality that has become almost palpable in the past year.

That’s simply not healthy – for the direct response industry or those of us working in it. Everyone needs to pause, take a breath and reflect that work is just one facet of a well-rounded life.

Remember that speed is not always a virtue. While technology offers us the opportunity to market more directly, and more efficiently, to an ever-larger audience, it’s still just a means to an end. With apologies to Marshall McLuhan, the medium is not the message our clients need to send.

We need to keep the focus where it belongs: on what our clients can do for prospective customers and what we can do for our clients and media.