Cover Story: Direct Marketer of the Year: Marisa Anne Edmund
At age 7, Marisa Anne Edmund was already an experienced direct mailer. Wearing roller skates while packing boxes of expensive optical components, she'd already started her career at her family's Barrington, N.J.-based optics, imaging and photonics technology company, Edmund Optics (EO).
"Yeah, so I've always lived here," says a laughing "Mari" Edmund, Target Marketing magazine's 2012 Direct Marketer of the Year. "I've always been a part of it. It just depended on the different department or what I was able to do."
Edmund has been able to do plenty—not only at EO, but in service to the direct marketing community as a whole.
At the moment, she's EO's executive vice president of marketing and communications and its vice president of human resources. And while the former roller-skating packing line worker is known for injecting a bit of fun into the otherwise serious world of engineers, what really sets her apart is her ability to see the big picture.
She's helped the 70-year-old, family-owned company evolve into a B-to-B-only enterprise that continues to rely on direct marketing to bring in its $125 million in annual sales. Her experience in international marketing is one of the primary reasons the private, New Jersey-based company expanded its presence in Asia and Europe.
That big picture mentality weighed into the choice she made during the Great Recession that set Edmund apart from other marketers—she stayed the course: "We marketed consistently throughout the whole recession. I didn't cut marketing expense during it."
The company also chose to keep inventory high, weathering a 6 percent dip in sales in 2009 while its competitors lowered stock levels. That way, customers always knew EO would be able to sell them whatever they wanted to buy.
The bet paid off. Edmund says, "We had [a] 30 percent increase in gross revenue coming out of the recession in 2010."
Yet Edmund alludes to her human resources experience as the real secret ingredient to her success.
"The people make the company," she says. "I really think any marketer can sell anything at any time. It's, 'Do you have the right people? Do you have the right mix, the right talents, the right skills and the passion, really, to be successful?' So I've always tried to surround myself with really exciting and invigorating, smart, creative, analytical types of people to make the whole thing work."
Blinded by Marketing Science
Edmund became an official employee of the family business in 1998, after graduating magna cum laude from Georgetown Uni-versity's McDonough School of Business.
In reality, though, she'd already been a part of several marketing campaigns. The first displayed her long, curly '80s hair in a way that can never be buried in a yearbook in the basement. Too many Edmund Scientific customers around the nation received the catalog.
In 1987, to save money on models, mother and then vice president of marketing Gwynne Edmund brought Marisa Edmund in among a gathering of employees' children.
"We went to the photo shoot and they actually put a fishing line behind me and tied my hair up," Marisa Edmund says of the resulting photo that is supposed to make her look physically and emotionally shocked by touching a Van de Graaff generator. "It took us about six hours to get the shot."
Looking back on it, she doesn't seem to mind having missed lunch that day and not being allowed to move for hours.
"That was my first campaign," Edmund says. "That's when the magic started to happen."
Still, it took two more events for the spell to be completely cast. First, she watched her mother lay out a more than 200-page catalog in PageMaker.
"We'd just figured out how to play Pac-Man," Marisa Edmund says of the era's children. "The fact that she was laying out a comprehensive digital print catalog in the late '80s, in Japanese, was a huge accomplishment."
The next enchantment occurred while watching her father, president and CEO Robert Edmund, spend two and three days examining reams of paper—files and reports spread out all over the conference room table—to find matchback data for catalog analysis. (A process that is now much quicker and involves fewer paper cuts.)
"When you ultimately couple that with the creative—to decide who got which cover, or what messages were going to work the best, or what message would you send to which rental file," she says, "I think it all started to come together for me."
Goodbye, Edmund Scientific
It's tempting to think Marisa Edmund had it easy walking into a job at the family business, but that ignores the obvious—the EO of today sits atop an entirely different marketing environment than that of 1942.
Marisa Edmund's grandfather, the late Norman W. Edmund, majored in accounting at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. But that wasn't a lifelong passion for the amateur photographer who liked to tinker with lenses. In 1942, he started selling surplus optics to fellow hobbyists, and he was a direct marketer by 1943—sending out the first Edmund Scientific catalog.
In 1984, Robert Edmund separated Edmund Scientific—the B-to-C division—from what was then called Edmund Industrial Optics.
By the late '90s, it was clear the B-to-B division was driving most of the revenue.
In 2001, the company sold the Edmund Scientific name to Science Kit & Boreal Labs in Tonawanda, N.Y. Edmund Optics then concentrated on B-to-B optics sales.
"The roots of our company really [are in] direct marketing," Marisa Edmund says. "We just happen to be a direct marketing company that now specializes in B-to-B industrial optical components."
That's where Marisa Edmund's talents shine. She thinks it's fun to figure out how to market more than 26,000 components to engineers in biotech, energy, government and industry research and development, manufacturing, military and aerospace, photonics and testing, raw materials and processing, retail and wholesale, semiconductors, telecommunications, transportation and construction, university labs and more.
"Where do you start in a B-to-B marketing environment where you're selling a component-level item that goes into multiple markets?" she asks. "You have to start by segmenting the database that you have. So, say, if I have close to 200,000 records around the world, I have to figure out how to market to each segment differently, based on their buyer behavior, their customer value and then, likewise, by what market or industry they're in. So it gets very complicated very quickly in our particular space."
She adds that segment targeting only increases the complexity. "Once you can segment it, you have to then break it down into, 'OK, well. What are all the campaigns going to look like and does this all work with your corporate vision and your overall sales and marketing objectives?' So that's a rather big challenge, as well."
For instance, Edmund says she could advertise in more than 100 publications and still not reach everyone she needs to reach. "The challenge, then, is figuring out where the heck to advertise and how deep into these industries do you go?"
The Big Picture Can Be Amusing
Edmund takes her campaigns into all channels. The company creates engineer-focused videos, such as the "2010 Holiday Rube Goldberg" creation that has more than 24,000 views on YouTube, and engineer-focused Twitter chats, such as #TechTuesday and #GeekyFriday.
QR Codes in the catalog link to mobile videos with calls to action. After 30 seconds on the site, visitors see chat boxes with questions related to what they're viewing such as, "Would you like to talk more about imaging components and your application?" More than 60 percent of queried visitors accept the chats.
However, the bulk of EO's campaigns cross from catalog to Web to email to print ads.
"I think everyone is really getting into this mode of multichannel marketing," she says, "where you're taking a campaign and … putting all sorts of things on your website, you obviously have multiple print campaigns, you're including everything from a catalog to a newsletter to a case study. You're then making that into emails and then, of course, leveraging it in any PR/editorial circles that you have at your fingertips."
That's what she did for a 2011-2012 imaging campaign titled "Want Better Performance?" (The campaign's Web and email components also linked to EO on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.)
"In this one, I'm able to track the performance very specifically," Edmund says of the imaging campaign. "I think that's a key ingredient, because you're creating and developing and executing campaigns as you constantly monitor, test [and] look back at your results."
The 2011-2012 "Want Better Performance?" campaign resulted in 20 percent more imaging optics sales for EO vs. an overall industry increase of 4 percent, according to figures from the Automated Imaging Association (AIA). So the campaign performed "phenomenally," Edmund says.
"Sometimes, you can make engineering fun. There'll be people that argue with me, don't get me wrong," Edmund says, giggling. "So we do some fun, creative stuff that no one in our industry would even touch. Or even think about."
Enter "Optics Woman" and "TECHSPEC Man"—two superheroes who fearlessly fly through the EO website and catalog, through print ads and onto the EO Facebook Page to offer "Super Service" to customers. And the caped comic book characters look surprisingly like Birgit Heinz, EO's global trade show director, and Ken Barber, an EO optical engineer and project manager.
Edmund has found other ways to introduce joviality, too. At previously staid engineering conferences, she's added a comedian performing magic, a candy buffet and quiz show giveaways to EO's booth offerings. Convention leads doubled to 1,000 in 2006—the first year with the changes in place.
When the Best Path Isn't a Straight One
Marisa Edmund has known since she was 10 that she wanted her paychecks to come from a marketing career. To reach that goal, she double-majored in marketing and management at Georgetown. She even spent a semester studying international marketing at the Chinese University of Hong Kong—during the summer of 1997 that saw the British leave, the Chinese take over and Edmund kicked out of her dorm room to accommodate dignitaries involved in the transfer of sovereignty. But before that happened, she completed work at Chinese University—adding in knowledge from her internships at investment bank Friedman, Billings, Ramsey (FBR) and The Four Seasons hotel, which earned her the International Marketing Award from McDonough School of Business in 1998.
Then she entered the family business in another capacity.
"I came in doing human resources, because my dad [Robert Edmund] said, 'If you can manage people effectively, you can do anything.'" Marisa Edmund recalls.
Robert Edmund explains: "I asked Mari to start in HR because it was my first position when I joined EO after college. HR gives you an opportunity to value the people who make your company successful. It also exposes you to the many different problems that impact every expertise group within the company. You cannot lead people unless you have a ground-level appreciation for their ambitions, fears, motivations, concerns, etc. Mari is a natural leader, but the HR experience put her in tune with the real people of our company. These were not her high school or college chums! Marketing, likewise, is all about understanding your customers."
As HR director, she saw a critical need for a company that needed to sell to engineers. So she started an engineering recruiting program with universities and increased the technical staff by more than 20 percent in five years. She still thinks that choice was invaluable to EO's marketing.
"Our people are the voice of the company," Marisa Edmund says. "And you know the biggest voice of our company is our technical support lines. So these are our youngest engineers—right out of school—and typically they come in and learn all of the products on our website and in our catalog and are helping customers immediately solve problems and applications. And they're the lifeblood of the company, because they talk to customers and to the engineers at the first step of a project and have the ability to really get that first win and to get our part into a prototype that might ultimately result in a volume opportunity for us.
"And so we try to keep that particular group of application engineers involved in everything we do as a company, and empower them to be the voice of the company and to help us with things like the social media," she continues. "They're oftentimes the people that are going to tradeshows and working directly with customers, and then they might be the folks, too, that are going out on customer visits."
Even while she built up this engineering force, Marisa Edmund kept one hand directly in the marketing mix. She earned a master's degree in 2002 in business studies, emphasizing marketing and information systems, from the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. Then, while she was learning another discipline at EO from 2002 to 2004 as the director of the major account sales team, she worked as an adjunct professor of management and marketing at Richard Stockton College.
She also signed EO up for memberships in trade organizations beginning in 1998, including the Optical Society of America (OSA), where EO sponsors chapters in Asia so EO can get to know talented students; and SPIE, the now full name of the organization once known as the Society of Photo-optical Instrumentation Engineers. Then, from October 2009 to October 2011, she served on the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation (DMEF) Board of Trustees.
Marisa Edmund says membership in the organizations—such as SPIE, where she is on the exhibitor committee, and will be chairwoman of that committee next year—is about more than volunteerism.
"That's an effort to ensure that these associations understand what we need, from a marketing perspective, to make a trade show successful," she says. "Or to create opportunities for us to better coordinate, network and liaise with entities like universities and schools who are involved."
Edmund entered her role as marketing director in 2004 gung-ho and changed "the creative direction of the company to include eye-catching catalog covers, informative advertisements and editorials in trade publications, a user-friendly and cutting-edge website, social media engagement and countless other projects," according to the company timeline.
Now the executive vice president of marketing and communications, a title she earned in spring 2011, is in charge of EO's global marketing plan.
'No Job Is More Noble Than Another'
EO has a company mantra that Marisa Edmund internalizes: "No job is more noble than another."
Moving from human resources (a department she still oversees) to sales and then to marketing, she's still willing to be the person who has her curly hair tied to fishing lines. Edmund donned a "bunny suit," or an all-white outfit associated with high-tech labs, to pose for EO's 2011 catalog to be distributed in Asia, Europe and the U.S. (EO uses staff members for images representing the company, but no one was willing to wear the bunny suit.)
"It was just my eyeballs," Edmund says of what shows in the photo. "So no problem. … It's a very team-based culture here. Obviously, I live to proliferate that team-based culture. And I think this is an example where no job is more noble. While some days I'm writing copy and designing ads, there's other days where you jump in and help in whatever way possible. And, in this case, it was getting on a bunny suit."
That sense of humor shows up in her daily life, too. Adding a Lucille Ball quote to the mix, Edmund embodies the saying, "If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it." When she's not teaching "Body Blast," a cardio and core workout at Royal Fitness in Barrington, she's juggling the sports and activity schedules for her children—aged 3, 7 and 10.
Kirsten Bjork-Jones, EO's director of global marketing communications, comments to Edmund that, for most people, the expression is "One, two, three—go!" But for Edmund, it's "One, two, three—run!"
Gretchen Morris, EO's director of global catalog production seconds that sentiment by using one word to describe what it's like to work with Edmund: "Intense. But not in a bad way. Mari is not one to put anything off. Everything gets her immediate attention, and with equal weight. Whether it is a new global marketing campaign or an HR issue, she deals with issues head on. And she is an excellent communicator. Good or bad news, she does not keep us in the dark."
Getting back to talking about busy people handling multiple tasks, sometimes aspects of Edmund's life do end up crossing over.
For example, in 2009, Ruth P. Stevens recalls happily holding Edmund's 8-day-old daughter, Wynnie Anne Ay, in her arms "for a few hours during a board meeting. (She abstained from voting on issues.)"
That environment and level of trust may come from the culture Edmund helps foster in the family business that just earned a "Top Workplaces 2012" spot in the Philadelphia area (bit.ly/MVdeGB).
"We've created a family business culture," Edmund says. "And I think even though I'm part of the family, that we've also brought other key managers and staff in as shareholders, and they, too, feel like the family. So it's not that I am unique. I think we're all treated, to some end, as family shareholders."
Perhaps that's why Edmund trusts Stevens, a New York-based e-marketing strategy consultant who sits on the EO board of directors. And, clearly, the respect goes both ways—Edmund names Stevens as one of her professional mentors and Stevens, a Target Marketing contributor, nominated Edmund for the DMOY award. (As did Elizabeth Kislik of Liz Kislik Associates, a Target Marketing editorial board member who is also one of Edmund's mentors.)
"[Marisa Edmund will] never expect more from someone else than she expects from herself," Kislik says. "She cares a lot about fairness. She's also very much a team player, fiercely loyal and appreciative of others' commitment."
One of Marisa Edmund's original mentors, Robert Edmund, adds a closing thought: "I was always directed by my parents to plan to be a part of the family business … no options. Thus, we were sensitive to allowing all our children to choose their career. Mari's decision, as such, was very rewarding to both parents working in the business. Like the little girl on roller skates, she brought energy and fun to the company. I have watched Mari suffer the frustration and disappointment of a problem and then, within seconds, turn around and motivate everyone to learn and move on to success."
Maybe it comes from starting her marketing career on roller skates. Fun and fast. Or maybe the energy comes from the soundtrack to her life that she could just as easily have been humming on the packing line, bobbing her fluffy, '80s hair to the beat.
And maybe it's just as easy to imagine her singing it now, motivating herself and the EO team to market B-to-B industrial optical components to the words of Pat Benatar: "It's a do or die situation—we will be invincible."