Mar 092015

The Value of a Break

The Value of a Break

I’ve written before about our sabbatical policy as well as my experience with my first sabbatical five years ago.

I just got back from another sabbatical. This one wasn’t 100% work-free, which breaks our rule, but after a few false starts with it, when I realized a few weeks before it started in January that I either needed to postpone it again or work on a couple of things while I was on a break, I opted for the latter.  The time off was great. Nothing special or too exotic. A couple short trips, and lots of quality time with Mariquita and the kids.

Re-reading my post from my last sabbatical now, I realize I have re-learned those same three lessons again — that I love my job, my colleagues, and what we are working on.

But I also recognized, in three different ways, the value of a break this time around maybe more than last time.  Maybe it’s that I’m five years older or that I’ve been doing the job for five more years.  Maybe it’s because the last couple of years at work have been incredibly intense and both physically and mentally taxing.  But regardless of cause, the outcome is the same — I return to work today rested, healthy, a little tanner, a few pounds lighter, and with more clarity, resolve, and ideas for work than I’ve had in a long time.

Not only did I recognize this with Return Path on my sabbatical, but during my sabbatical, I also reengaged with two organizations (Princeton and the Direct Marketing Association) where I sit on boards and used to be extremely active but have been pretty dormant for a couple of years. The perspective I gained from that dormant time not only gave me new energy for both, but I think very focused and creative energy that I hadn’t seen in a couple of years.

Even with a little work sprinkled in, 6 weeks off and disconnected from emails, the office, and regular meetings is a blessing that I hope everyone gets to experience at some point in his or her career.

Filed under: Return Path

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Oct 182012

Book Short: the Garage Workbench of the Future

Book Short:  the Garage Workbench of the Future

Makers:  The New Industrial Revolution, by Wired Magazine’s Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail (review, buy) and Free (review, buy) is just as mind expanding as his prior two books were at the time they were published. I had the pleasure of talking with Chris for a few minutes after he finished his keynote address at DMA2012 in Las Vegas this week, and I was inspired to read the book, which I did on the flight home.

 The short of it is that Anderson paints a very vivid picture of the future world where the Long Tail not only applies to digital goods but to physical goods as well. The seeds of this future world are well planted already in 3D printing, which I have been increasingly hearing about and will most likely be experimenting with come the holiday season (family – please take note!).

As someone who, like Anderson, tinkered with various forms of building as a kid in Shop at school and in the garage with my dad, it’s fascinating to think about a world where you can dream a physical product up, or download a design of it, or 3D scan it and modify it, and press a “make” button like you press a “print” button today on your computer, and have the product show up in your living room within minutes for almost nothing. This will change the world when the technology matures and gets cheaper and more ubiquitous. And this book is the blueprint for that change.

While we may look back on this book in 5 or 10 years, and say “DUH,” which is what many people would say now about The Long Tail or Free, for right now, this gets a WOW.

Jul 122012

Marketing Data: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

Marketers have blinders on when it comes to some aspects of data. We‘re so focused on using it to build relationships and businesses, that we don’t pay enough attention to data’s inherent risks. Those risks are real, though. Our brands are constantly under attack, and even trivial oversights in data handling can leave us—and our customers—unacceptably vulnerable. We need to better understand the risks. We need to know more.

If marketers don’t develop industrywide expertise in all aspects of data use, if we can’t demonstrate that we can be trusted stewards of information, we risk losing our rights to use it. The DMA is taking the lead to make sure that we, as an industry, gain the knowledge we need: It’s Institute for Data Governance and Certification  is a badly needed program that can make a real difference.

The Institute is a three-day intensive for marketers to learn how to protect their customers and their brands while using the power of data to connect with consumers—and ultimately to grow. The first course begins on July 18th in New York, with more scheduled across the country over the next year.

As many of you know, I chair the DMA’s board, so I’m not a neutral third party when I urge you to attend the Institute and get certified in marketing data governance. But if I’m biased it’s because I’m a passionate industry advocate and I believe that marketers should lead the global effort to champion intelligent, responsible data use. Before we can start, we all need to know what that means.

Please click here to learn more about how you can register for the DMA’s Institute for Data Governance and Certification.


Feb 252010

New Blog of Note in the Direct Marketing World

New Blog of Note in the Direct Marketing World

Gene Raitt, Chairman of the DMA, has launched a new blog today called DM Unplugged.  It’s not an official DMA property.  Gene won’t be the only contributor — over time, other DMA board members (including me) and thought leaders in the direct and interactive marketing communities at large — will contribute as well.

This is one small, though notable, development in a series of things the DMA is working on as it transforms itself.  Look for some truly “unplugged” commentary on this blog about both things happening in the industry and transparent views into things happening at the DMA as well as invitations to contribute to the discussion on both.

Filed under: Marketing, Uncategorized


Oct 212009

Why I joined the DMA Board, and what you can expect of me in that role

Why I joined the DMA Board, and what you can expect of me in that role

I don’t normally think of myself as a rebel. But one outcome of the DMA’s recent proxy fight with Board member Gerry Pike is that I’ve been appointed to the DMA’s Board and its Executive Committee and have been labeled “part of the reform movement” in the trade press. While I wasn’t actively leading the charge on DMA reform with Gerry, I am very enthusiastic about taking up my new role.

I gave Gerry my proxy and support for a number of reasons, and those reasons will form the basis of my agenda as a DMA Board member. As a DMA member, and one who used to be fairly active, I have grown increasingly frustrated with the DMA over the past few years.

1. The DMA could be stronger in fighting for consumers’ interests. Why? Because what’s good for consumers is great for direct marketers. Marketing is not what it used to be, the lines between good and bad actors have been blurred, and the consumer is now in charge. The DMA needs to more emphatically embrace that and lead change among its membership to do the same. The DMA’s ethics operation seems to work well, but the DMA can’t and shouldn’t become a police state and catch every violation of every member company. Its best practices and guidelines take too long to produce and usually end up too watered down to be meaningful in a world where the organization is promoting industry self-regulation. By aggressively fighting for consumers, the DMA can show the world that a real direct marketer is an honest marketer that consumers want to hear from and buy from.

2. Despite a number of very good ideas, the DMA’s execution around interactive marketing has been lacking. The DMA needs to accept that interactive marketing IS direct marketing – not a subset, not a weird little niche. It’s the heart and soul of the direct marketing industry. It’s our future. The acquisition of the EEC has been one bright spot, but the DMA could do much more to make the EEC more impactful, grow its membership, and replicate it to extend the DMA’s reach into other areas of interactive marketing, from search to display advertising to lead generation. The DMA’s staff still has extremely limited experience in interactive marketing, they haven’t had a thought leader around interactive on staff for several years, and their own interactive marketing efforts are far from best practice. Finally, the DMA’s government affairs group, perhaps its greatest strength, still seems disproportionately focused on direct mail issues. The DMA should maintain its staunch support of traditional direct marketers while investing in the future, making interactive marketing an equal or larger priority than traditional direct marketing. We have to invest in the future.

3. Finally, I think the DMA suffers from a lack of transparency that doesn’t serve it well in the hyper-connected world we live in here in 2009 – that’s a nice way of saying the organization has a big PR problem. The organization does a lot of great work that never gets adequately publicized. This whole proxy fight episode is another example, both in the weak response from the DMA and also in a lot of the complaints Gerry lodged against the organization, many of which the organization says are untrue or misleading. Senior DMA execs or Board members should be blogging. They should be active thought leaders in the community. They should be much more engaged with their members to both understand member needs and requirements and more aggressively promote their agenda.

In short, I will be an independent voice who advocates for progress and change in the areas that I consider to be most important, and I will be transparent and open about expressing my views. I’ve already been clear with the existing DMA Board and management that I do have this agenda, and that I hope the organization will embrace it. If they do, even if only in part, I think it will be to the DMA’s benefit as well as the benefit of its members. If they reject it wholesale, my interest in long-term involvement will be fairly low.

That’s the story. As I said up front, I am taking up this new role with enthusiasm and with the belief that the DMA is open to change and progress. We’ll see how it goes, and I will blog about it as often as I can.

Do you have thoughts on the future of the DMA? I’d love to hear from you. You can leave a comment below or email me directly at matt at returnpath dot net.

Filed under: Business, Email, Marketing


Dec 072005

The Rumors of Email’s Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated, Part V

The Rumors of Email’s Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated, Part V

Thank goodness I can finally write a positive piece under this headline, and not a rebuttal like I did here, here, here, and here.

It seems like there are signs of an email marketing renaissance left, right, and center these days.  First, the industry has enjoyed significant growth this year.  Every vendor I speak with in the space except for one or two is posting record numbers — whether they sell data, technology, or services.  And lots of vendors have been swallowed up by larger multi-channel CRM or DM companies for nice prices.  Every marketer or publisher I speak with is investing more money into their email programs, and they are seeing stellar returns.  In fact, their most persistent complaint is that they can’t get enough good names on their lists fast enough.

But beyond those signs, the much-maligned email channel has finally garnered some positive press of late.  First, as, Ellen Byron wrote on November 23 in her Wall Street Journal article entitled “Email Ads Grow Up – Department Stores Discover Devoted Fashion Fans Read Messages in Their Inboxes,” consumers are beginning to much more easily separate spam from commercial email they want, one consumer even going so far as to call emails she receives from retailers “like a quick shopping trip…a guilty pleasure.”

Byron also went on to quantify what some mailers are doing to tilt the balance of their marketing spend ever so slightly in the direction of email.  For example, The Gap is diverting over $26mm that they spent last holiday season on TV towards online and magazine.  And analysts point out that no matter how much marketers spend on their email programs, it’s still a small fraction of what it costs to create and insert a big print or broadcast spot.  I couldn’t even find the full article to link to, but it wouldn’t matter, as you have to be a Journal subscriber to read it (annoying).

And today, email industry guru Bill McCloskey wrote an admittedly self/industry-serving piece about how he is seeing the signs of this email renaissance moving into 2006 as well, starting with the fact that trade associations like the ESPC and the DMA are doing more to step up to the plate in terms of defending and promoting the email channel with the press and consumers.  He also cites the fact that consumers are getting more used to spam and mentally separating out good email from bad email as a reason for the comeback.  Bill even goes so far as to say that “email will surpass search in the battle for marketers’ hearts and minds.”  The full article is here, but warning again, you have to be a Mediapost subscriber to read it (free but still annoying).

It’s nice to see the media tide turning here towards a more rational, balanced position on email.  It’s not just about spam and scams — it’s about the power, customization, and intimacy of the channel!