Posted by: Marty Fahncke | May 12, 2008

The DRTV industry still doesn’t get the internet

A few weeks ago, I watched a real life “Jerry Maguire” story unfold right before my eyes.

Except in place of the Sports Agent business, it was the DRTV (aka Direct Response / Infomercial / Electronic Retailing) business.  And instead of Tom Cruise as Jerry Maguire, it was a woman named Jolie O’Dell.

The moral of this story is how narrow-minded many people in the DRTV business can be.  This might be a long post, so if you don’t care about the DRTV business, stop reading now and get back to work. 

Otherwise…read on:

In January of 2008, I gave a speech about Social Media Marketing at an Electronic Retailer Magazine conference in Los Angeles. 

The speech went fantastic, judging by the number of people who came up to me afterward to thank me and ask questions.  Four hours after my presentation, just as I was packing up to leave, an energetic young woman named Jolie O’Dell came up to me and told me how much she enjoyed my presentation, and how inspired she was to use the information to help her company.  Turns out Jolie works for one of the top agencies in the DR business.  I won’t mention the agency name here, but suffice it to say they are an icon in the industry. 

When Jolie introduced herself, she  told me her job title was  “PR and New Media”.   As she explained it, her job was to help the company she worked for figure out the new media business, including blogging, social media, and all things internet. 

My first hint of a problem came when I heard her job title.  The internet is “New Media”?  It’s 2008 for crying out loud!  CompuServ started in 1969, and I had my first Prodigy email account in 1989.  That’s almost 20 years ago people…the internet is NOT “new media”.

OK, back to the story.  After we met, I connected with Jolie via LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, and I quickly realized she was a smart cookie, with a great perspective of the future of online business.

About two weeks ago, she posted to Twitter that she had been asked by her managers to stop publishing her own private blog.  Yikes!  Talk about “Big Brother”.  Several of us posted back that this was a big red flag, and perhaps she had better start looking for a new job.

Shortly after that, she posted a “Manifesto” which had been written and delivered to her company CEO.  (This is where the Jerry Maguire part comes in)

The manifesto had such scandalous and idealistic (said with tongue firmly in check) suggestions such as:

“Make sure key employees are using LinkedIn, social networks, chat, blogs and microblogs, industry networks and forums, and social video and music sites, both for personal enjoyment and for staying abreast of developments in social media. We need to be early adopters and testers of new media on an individual basis and develop a regular method of keeping one another informed and excited about social and other kinds of new media.”

“Work together within the agency and with clients to fundamentally change attitudes so we can all make progress, reach consumers in innovative ways, and continue to be a powerful marketing ally through the next decade of operation and those to follow. “

“Commit to research and development in meaningful ways. Rather than displaying sporadic interest in this technology or that, take the time to be informed about a wide range of technologies and possibilities.”

Read the entire manifesto here

NOTHING in this document was bad advice.  In fact, some of the tips looked suspiciously familiar, as I think they were taken from the aforementioned speech I gave.  🙂

What was the company reaction to Jolie’s manifesto? 

They FIRED her!

I’m actually not surprised.  Since 1999, I have been beating the drum of internet marketing to the DRTV industry.  It was been the s-l-o-w-e-s-t process imaginable. 

It’s only been in the past year or two that the official industry trade association (Electronic Retailing Association or ERA) has really paid attention to the impact of the internet on the TV business. 

In fact, I think the association has been dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century by their own trade magazine, Electronic Retailer Magazine, which is staffed by a group of visionaries who have been leading the charge of internet marketing information within DRTV.  (Disclaimer:  I’m a regularly featured writer for this publication)

Bottom line, when a “New Media” expert gets fired because they are trying to push their company into the “New Media” they’ve been hired to leverage, there is something REALLY wrong with the company, and the industry in which that company plays.

What do you think?



  1. Well, well, well! Thanks again for taking interest in the whole debacle.

    Between clients and agencies, there is, indeed, a great deal of resistance to new technology and media. (If getting my former employers interested in search marketing campaigns was impossible, can you imagine their reaction when I started bringing up mobile marketing?)

    Part of me thinks DRTV will “get it” as the new, social Internet and mobile devices take over and broadcast and cable shrink, both in terms of their reach and the ROI they are able to offer. And many DRTV agencies will sink like swiss cheese ironclads. But until a major shift occurs, the DR industry will be comprised of late-adopting individuals who hold back adoption at the agency level.

    On the other hand, between influencers, change agents, and socially responsible publications (such as what pay our bills from time to time ;), there is also a great deal of impetus toward new tech & media; eventually, we shall overcome. I have an MLK-like mentality about it, at this point. 😉

  2. What questions should you ask a prospective DRTV – Internet Marketing agency?

    As I am about to celebrate my 22nd year in the DRTV industry, I couldn’t agree more about how slow DRTV has been to pick up the internet, but really marketers have a difficult time of knowing who in the DR business understands how to maximize a full circle direct response marketing campaign (including every channel) and the scope of the relationship of TV and the internet and the relationship these two channels have on all channels. Many sound as if they do, but looking under the hood, who has full-scale experience in this arena? Not many!

    Most of the people I talk to are aware of this and have been for some time. There are a few executing some pretty amazing DR multi-channel marketing strategies at agencies that were founded and actually pioneered by DRTV marketing as we now know it and they have been discovering a few things along the way.

    I remember working with Fortune 500 companies that were realizing serious returns in DRTV back in the early 90’s. In fact the list of Fortune 500 companies involved in DRTV is probably more extensive than most realize and reaches back further than it appears Soltoff may be aware. Time-Life actually rolled out several big hits on TV in long form (infomercial format) as early as 1992 and Apple, Mattel, Braun, Toyota and many others all came to the party early as well. Other Fortune 500’s were utilizing short form DR even earlier than that.

    The effect DRTV has on other sales channels is magnified by the success a DRTV marketer has online and on TV. You can’t just throw up a DRTV spot for a few weeks or months and suddenly go running to the bank while watching an internet business take off before your very eyes! Some actually think you cant track internet response, so this “New” media apparently has some “New” techniques as well!

    You need to actually ROLL OUT with volume to be a success! Products that have been sold via DRTV and actually roll out to levels worth mentioning will generate 7-10X more sales volume at retail than they did on TV. This testament to the power of DRTV has been evident to many for some time now. Driven home not just by the lifting of boat or two, i.e.: print or radio, but the lifting of all boats (all sales channels) has been documented for well over a decade now (including the internet).

    I would like to ask a few questions that may help others be successful that may be considering DRTV. Use these when interviewing consultants and agencies OK?
    Do not be afraid to ask the hard questions either…they all count!

    When was the last DRTV campaign you created that your agency rolled out from less than $100K /mo in existing sales to over…

    Two million a month in product sales?

    Three million a month in product sales?


    How many DRTV campaigns have you produced and bought the media for to date?

    How many of those stayed on the air for more than one year consistently?

    What media volume did those campaigns achieve?

    What are the three most important components to a successful DRTV campaign?

    When testing a DRTV spot or infomercial do you utilize brokers to buy more media than your agency has direct access to? Why?

    What is a ballpark production budget with your company? (they should be able to give you a real answer within 50-75K)

    Do you participate in the deal as a production company (gross sales royalties) at a reduced rate? If so, how is it structured?

    Having worked with over thirty different DRTV shops in many capacities I am often left asking the question: “Where is the beef?” showing my age a bit in reference to the old Wendy’s commercial, but seriously will you please come out from behind the smoke and mirrors and show up now?

    Here are a few really penetrating questions for you!

    How many of your prospective agencies campaigns have ever reached the top 10 or top 20(on IMS or Jordan Whitney Report) long or short form? Can you list any of their productions that reached the top twenty on the Jordan Whitney report by name and date? Has your company ever had any legal proceedings with the FCC or any other state, or national governmental body? Why? Generating some leads for a few companies is one thing but what products have you rolled out that sell directly on TV that your company has produced and bought the media for? Did you have all the markets or just some? Who did you share the markets with? If multiple agencies were involved) Which agency ended up buying most of the time? Why?

    And if you have info from a former client about why they don’t work with a particular agency, so get the info and ask away

    Reporting that Fortune 500 companies are now utilizing DRTV with success is like reporting you can now get power steering on your new car! Everyone knows about DRTV and everyone knows about the internet! Who knows how to drive the new car? Who will win the race for you? The first trick is to actually identify whether your product or service is suitable for DRTV and HOW it is suitable for internet marketing. From ensuring your price-point is appropriate relative to market conditions and your cost of goods, to FCC compliance and offer creation are just a few very important components to creating a DRTV- Internet hit. Also successful DRTV – Internet marketers ensure their campaign is employing proper media buying and management strategy and oh boy what I hear from media buyers today…some of it will make you just a little queasy if you know the business!

    As we know, DRTV is not for everyone, but there are a handful of good people who have actually rolled out DRTV campaigns that not only generated leads, but also truly generate direct sales profitably through TV. These very few ethical and competent people will take the time to review your product or service and with a successful track record of rolling out hundreds of multi million dollar campaigns generating billions in revenue for their clients through DRTV alone. Oh and guess what? When you put something on TV, not only does it lift all sales channel activity, but search activity increases for not only your product but also the entire category of that product! Did you know your competition can benefit from your DRTV campaign via search engine marketing? Want to find out how to minimize that effect and divert the majority of that sales activity to your company? So, yes when you fire up a DRTV campaign all of your sales channels will be affected…something you probably already knew, but how is each channel affected and what are all the effects in the market?

    Call me and we can discuss some ideas you may not have explored that will give you the best shot at success in DRTV-Internet marketing and I can refer you to some good people too! Worst case: you get some free consulting from someone who has been intimately involved with almost all the “Players” and even has worked on several major hits in the business. 425-495-2844 – Michael Huskey –

  3. @jolieodell – Keep on with the dream. And thanks for letting me share your personal story as an example in my rant!

  4. @Michael Huskey – Thanks for stopping by my blog, and for your informative comment. It seems to be a bit of a “manifesto” in itself, doesn’t it?

    Great concepts though, and excellent questions for anyone to ask of a potential agency or DRTV partner.

    Keep up the good work!

  5. […] Marty Fahncke, a gentleman whose skills with guiding business people toward social media adoption I greatly admire, writes about my getting-fired experience. […]

  6. Im not sure manifesto is the word for Michael Huskey’s post, maybe novella? At any rate, Jolie, was kicked to the curb because she rocked the boat of an institution that is fighting change. Hell, the whole industry is fightiing change. The days of calling the 800 number are dwindling and the days of Digital Response Marketing are upon us.

    Those that refuse to get on board will be left behind and will be left scratching their heads and collectively saying, “maybe we should have listened”.

    Jolie, to paraphrase the kid who got cut from the team, “they sucked anyway and you’re better off now because of it”. I think that’s what I would have said to myself as well. Of course after a couple of appropriately placed f-bombs. But then again, I’m all about the new school and that bridge might have had to be burned…

    How bout you create a Youtube video and start a little viral campaign about what happened so that they can appreciate the blend of new media, viral marketing and social media marketing? Then they can watch all the hits to their site of people who wanted to see what kind of A!@#hole would fire someone over trying to pull their company into the 21st century.

    and so he vented…

    Thanks Marty!


  7. @emersondirect
    Thanks Marc for stopping by, and for your insightful comments.

    Love your idea of a viral campaign, but we’ll invite Jolie to respond whether or not she wants to publicly name the biz in question.

    Frankly, I’m hoping they come by and post a rebuttal themselves.

    Anyone want to contact the company and invite them to tell their side of the story?

  8. Interesting comment on this subject just posted by Stephen Kelley at Hawthorne Direct:

    One thing I can say about Hawthorne…Tim, Karla, Gene, and the rest of the team there do NOT fit into the “clueless” category of DRTV marketers when it comes to new technology.

    In fact, the very first presentation I ever gave in public was an internet panel moderated by Tim Hawthorne many years ago.

    I’m honored that such a progressive company took note of my little ol’ blog.

  9. …the internet is NOT “new media”

    Your profound, and true, statement has touched off a flood of thought for me. Most DRTV companies are struggling to incorporate web, PPC, banner and SEO into their services in a meaningful and profitable way and I would definitely agree that this can no longer justify being called new media.

    I have to restrain myself from playing with things like Twitter, Seesmic, Facebook, Oovoo, reading blogs and watching vlogs and overloading my coworkers talking about the amazing opportunities out there 24×7. There is SO much fascinating innovation. Oh yeah, and in my spare time we need to keep all the desktops and servers running that support our existing services.

    Many industries experience similar times when the incumbents are at a disadvantage because of legacy systems and practices. There’s always a choice: evolve quickly or having the new kids on the block eat your lunch.

    I appreciate both sides: sticking with the tried and true profit generators and trying new things. I like trying new things, but I’d rather get paid. I dream of getting paid entirely for trying new things and not just when I can squeeze it in.

    It’s already an interesting time to be in advertising and think we haven’t seen anything yet!

  10. @Stephen Kelley – Thank you for your insightful and balanced comments. This post was never meant to be about one person or one company, but about an industry as a whole.

    The key word I see in your comments is “evolve”. So many DRTV companies are resistant to ANY change, let alone the massive amount of change it’s really going to take to compete in the future.

    You are right…it is an interesting time to be in advertising!

  11. Hey there, Stephen and Marc!

    So, THIS is why CEO-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named called me yesterday! [Awesome comments section, Marty.]

    As for the identity of my former employer, it’s not too tough to figure out. It still comes up in Google when you search for me. And the agency still hasn’t taken down the online press release about hiring me!

    They’re known for being fairly conservative with a firm foundation in DRTV. In retrospect, it was probably one of the worst places for a new media evangelist to work, but I was determined to be the bull in that china shop. I wanted to push and push until some kind of progress was made for the clients.

    I begin to wonder whether real change in marketers and agencies is possible or should be expected. What do you think, Marty? Can bad habits be broken? Can the gap be bridged between tech-smart and tech-stupid shops? Will clients ever get the creative digital response marketing they deserve? Or are you and I spitting into the wind when we ask for an industry-wide digital awakening?

  12. @jolieodell – No, I don’t believe we are spitting into the wind. The good ones will come around eventually.

    As recent as 2002-2003, I recall getting into arguments with fellow panel members during the educational sessions at ERA Annual Conference about the use of URL’s on DRTV ads. People were actually arguing that displaying a URL would hurt their business!

    No one belives that now.

    I was also one of the first to use video clips of spots and infomercials on an e-commerce website.

    Now, everyone does it.

    The industy WILL get it eventually, it’s just frustratingly slow.

    On the bright side, the slow-to-adopt companies just make it easier, more fun, and more profitable for the quick and agile ones.

    Lots of business out there for us!

  13. w00t! Us FTW!

    In other news, seems as though the watchdogs saw my comment here and pulled _the entire website_ from the server. As of right now, there IS no site. Ouch. So much for that portfolio entry! Now I gots to wait for the Wayback Machine to index it!

    Too bad my LinkedIn profile still states the agency name… Dang.

  14. […] The DRTV industry still doesn’t get the internet […]

  15. This is one of the best exchanges I’ve read regarding the un-adaptive old gaurd DRTV companies and the new, quick and agile digitally savi that are merging with them at this point in time. Jolie you have nothing to worry about, your personal brand is going through the roof! Soon every agency will be demanding that they get a Jolie on staff ASAP. You’re consulting business should be heating up shortly.

    • @Dave M – Thanks for stopping by the blog and commenting! This an old post, and I think most of the DRTV industry is finally on board…but I have to admit that going back and reading all of this two years later was pretty fun!

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