Cover Story: Direct Marketer of the Year: Pegg Nadler
Pegg Nadler loves the unknown. Where others see challenges, she sees opportunities. Where others fear change, she fears boredom.
These are some of the qualities that have driven her 30-year direct marketing career, the bulk of which she's spent advancing database marketing operations at commercial and nonprofit organizations and giving back to the direct marketing community. And they're why she's Target Marketing magazine's Direct Marketer of the Year.
Speaking over the telephone on a recent Friday evening from her New York office, the vice president of database marketing for magazine publishing empire Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S. (HFMUS) quotes a saying from Hungarian Nobel laureate Albert von Szent-Györgyi Nagyrapolt that has verbally captured her world view since she studied English and art history at the University at Albany, State University of New York: "Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought."
"My approach to problem solving has actually always been the same," Nadler says. "And it's interesting how some people will find this a good approach and others will find that it could be maddening. It has always been very important for me to see the total scope of business in order to come to a decision. And this is probably one of the reasons why I love database marketing—because it really provides that wide picture."
Falling Into Love
Nadler began fusing her left and right hemispheres early.
The English and art history major entered direct marketing in 1979 by selling art and gift books for Harry N. Abrams.
"I fell into direct marketing," Nadler says. "When I came to New York in the late '70s, I landed a job at Harry Abrams … and I was first their advertising manager and then moved into an area called special sales, which was selling books into areas other than bookstores. And … really it was direct marketing: catalogs, book clubs, continuity programs. That was my first exposure into direct marketing. And I thought that it was a little bit wacky, but that it was much more fun than selling books into bookstores. And it was something that I then stayed with for the rest of my life."
From 1979 to 1990, her direct marketing career progressed from moving art books to selling facsimile editions of ancient manuscripts from the Vatican Library, then to hawking furs in a mostly pre-Internet, fully mid-animal rights movement era. "So being able to sell through the mail and through the phone became very important," Nadler says of her 1988 to 1990 stint with Jindo Furs. Creatively working her way around the protester problem, she set up an 800 number for customers to call; secured accounts with the Home Shopping Network, Comp-U-Card, American Express and Diners Club; and mailed catalogs. Catering to the jet set, Jindo placed computer terminals at kiosks in airport waiting areas so passengers could click to buy minks before boarding.
But her first taste of database marketing, in 1990 at Metromail Corp. (now Experian), pulled her in to the direct marketing specialty. Within 18 months, she'd secured billings nearing $1 million for the marketing information, database and mail production company.
"I've certainly always been very systematic," Nadler says. "My attraction to English was that I think that speaking very clearly and getting your message across is an imperative. And probably what has attracted me to database marketing is that I've always … organized … I like to get projects done. And it probably is a very neat way of wrapping up the world."
The Problem Solver
Speaking of the global picture, Nadler's strengths include all aspects of database marketing—with the exception of in-depth statistical modeling, the implementation of which she supervises. So when she accepts a new challenge, which is usually "directing startup operations, restructuring business operations and overhauling marketing departments," she is either in charge of or overseeing every aspect of the solution.
"I've always been the person who can see the large business application and put the database together and then bring in the analytical people who will do the number crunching," she says. "So I'm really a marketer who moved into database marketing. … While I've spent all these years doing direct and database marketing, in my heart of hearts I'm a marketing, product-development, business-development person."
Since diving headfirst into database marketing in 1990, Nadler steadily has created and overhauled database systems and operations for some of the mightiest corporations and nonprofits in the country. Each situation is different and requires her to pull from her well-rounded direct marketing background as a vendor, consultant and client in the commercial and nonprofit worlds.
For instance, during the time she spent as a consultant at the Smithsonian Institution providing in-house database marketing expertise, Nadler managed operations first as a marketing database manager from 1992 to 1993, then as a marketing strategy director from 1993 to 1995. In that capacity, she analyzed the institution's varied constituencies, including current and lapsed audiences.
Identifying those high-value donor prospects, proposing a list revenue program to double sales within the first year for rented database names, developing database user training programs and establishing Smithsonian's database marketing conferences probably already sound overwhelming.
But wait. There's more.
"Smithsonian had been using the database, but not really to the best ability," Nadler says. "So I came in, made tweaks to the database, worked with all of the different parts of the Smithsonian Institution to really let them realize that they had a very good resource there. My one favorite story there at the Smithsonian, and this is really not unique to Smithsonian, is that Smithsonian had a database. It might've been 9 million [names] when I was there. And there were names which were not housed on the database, which were in each of the development offices, including the central development office. And divisions didn't want to share names. This is such a common occurrence. Not only in nonprofits, but in corporations: 'Don't want you to market to my names. Don't want you to contact my names. Want to keep these names suppressed.' And I really had to work, very carefully, to demonstrate that the names that were within these various development offices were most probably also on the main database.
"And by being able to overlay data, bring all of these names together, we would probably have a much more effective development strategy if we were able to do that," she continues. "Because we actually showed that the names that were housed in all of these different museums were already on the central database. And once we understood what the total correlation was from one area to another, we were able to make a much better fundraising pitch."
Marketer for All Seasons
Of all the hats she's worn during her direct marketing career, Nadler does have a favorite.
"I love a startup," Nadler says. "And once the operation is going well, I'm bored. And that's when I really like to turn it over. … That's what I've done all along—startup, or revamp or overhaul. … And that's why the consultant role is really a very good role for me, because that's how I've always thought as I've gone into companies. And I've been with so many different companies that it really has provided me with a very good bird's-eye view. And it's so important to be able to step back and look at what's going on."
Pegg Nadler Associates Inc. of New York appeared from 1997 to 1999, disappearing when Nadler accepted the full-time job of re-energizing "the marketing face" of Hadassah, a nonprofit, pro-Israel Jewish women's organization. After a four-year stint as customer database services director for Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, it was back to the milliner in 2004 to get refitted for the consultant hat.
The list of companies seeking her advice as a consultant is so long and so filled with the "Who's Who" of brands and nonprofits that it simply reads alphabetically, in small type, on her résumé: AT&T, B'nai B'rith Youth Organization, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Discovery Channel, Hachette Filipacchi Media …
That's where, in 2005, she met Hachette's Philippe Guelton. The HFMUS executive vice president and COO had always wanted to build a database. "He had established a database when he was running Hachette's operations in Japan," Nadler explains.
Guelton hired Nadler as a consultant in 2005, and she worked on the Hachette project for two years, while mixing in other consulting projects and adjunct professorships at New York University and Baruch College, City University of New York. Finally, in 2007, Guelton successfully recruited her to work full time for Hachette so she could complete building and implementing the database operations.
"The last thing I wanted to do was give up my consulting," she says. "It's so much fun to be on the outside looking in and letting people tell you what really is troubling them. Because you're outside the whole political arena, and people will be very honest with you about what is truly making them unhappy and what their aspirations and dreams are. So, as I say, it was a big quantum leap to go from consulting back to working in a corporate environment [at Hachette]. But, as I said, it was certainly for a really good cause. And it's been hard. It's been challenging. And not for one day have I been bored."
Grabbing Nadler's attention for a few moments while she's implementing database operations in an environment she classifies as undergoing a revolution can feel like pulling a surgeon out of an operating room. (While headlines about the publishing industry have been less than flattering, reflecting widespread industry trauma—from editorial layoffs to magazines folding altogether—Nadler is energized about the future. She envisions a personalized multi- channel experience that's relevant to the consumer. More on that later.)
"We're in the process of putting together a very strong operation," she says during a quick call on a recent Monday, in between planning and budget meetings and searching for a director of analysis and modeling. Database operations, she says, are meant to determine "the new products, businesses and services Hachette should be offering. And that's the most fun."
"In today's environment, a rich and fully developed database is imperative," Guelton relates. "We are more effective in helping our advertisers target their prime audiences and ideal prospects and in providing our subscribers with new products and better services. Since joining us in 2005, Pegg Nadler has been key in leading our efforts to expand our database capabilities …"
More than just DMRS Group President Bernice Grossman's friendship and mentoring (see sidebar) and the wisdom of von Szent-Györgyi Nagyrapolt have provided inspiration to Nadler during her long direct marketing career.
Nadler says her other direct marketing influences include Jack Kliger, former president and CEO of Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S. (who, as of press time, was reportedly taking over as acting CEO of TV Guide). Chairman of the Magazine Publishers of America from 2005 to 2007, Kliger took the unpopular stance that circulation metrics needed to change and magazine publishers needed to embrace digital technology instead of fighting it. "It is essential, I believe, that our industry moves to a more timely system of readership measurement—a system that shows the connection between distribution and readership more effectively," according to a transcript of Kliger's "MPA Breakfast with a Leader" from Dec. 7, 2005.
"The whole notion of the measurable audience going beyond what had been the standard magazine circulation base is actually something that Jack Kliger … began talking about … years ago," Nadler says. "And I think when he first spoke about it, a lot of people thought that he was just off-base. And he really saw this years before a lot of other parts of media and ad agencies began to glean onto this. I think he was just aware that suddenly there was a movement away from print and that the circulation counts weren't really reflecting accurately how many people were involved with reading or being exposed to a certain product."
To that end, Nadler says nonprofits were the first organizations to take methodical approaches to understanding their audiences, or members. During the '60s, nonprofits were trouncing commercial enterprises with the exception of those like American Express and Reader's Digest.
"What were nonprofits doing early on?" Nadler asks. "They were writing down all their donor information on index cards—the earliest form of database marketing. They got it so soon. … Survival. That was the only way that they were going to be able to keep the funding coming in."
Commercial entities caught on to the retention concept later, she says, when aggressive acquisition campaigns no longer worked as easily. Nonprofits, which had been cultivating their existing donor bases all along and moving them up the giving pyramid one step at a time, served as a lesson to corporate America, Nadler says.
Enter the next set of visionaries Nadler cites: Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, the founding partners of Norwalk, Conn.-based customer-centric marketing strategy consultancy Peppers & Rogers Group. Nadler says the duo talks incessantly about one-to-one marketing. Or, as the group's Web site attests, "treating different customers differently" by using data to keep and grow customer relationships.
That creative rather than facts-only approach to database marketing points to the last influencer Nadler mentions: Arthur Middleton Hughes. Hughes is the founder of the Database Marketing Institute of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and a senior strategist with Burlington, Mass.-based e-mail marketing firm e-Dialog. She interprets his stance as saying that there are two types of database marketers—constructors, who assemble lists and successfully build the database, and creators, who take those names and turn them into loyal, returning customers.
Finally, in Grossman's case, the admiration is clearly mutual. Grossman describes Nadler as a politically savvy "overachiever" who has no use for "fluff" and will work as hard as she makes anyone else work.
"Pegg is a continual learner," Grossman says. "She is always asking questions. And so, when she's faced with whatever today's surprise is, business surprise, she can go back to that knowledge store of hers and pull from it. Also, she's a really good manager. People work for her for extended periods of time. I think that there's something to be said for being a good manager; I don't think it's all that easy.
"I also think that in the competitive world of database marketing … she's done extremely well because she earned it," Grossman adds. "… She has this … strategic ability, as opposed to a tactical functionality. She's able to look at the big picture. [The] big picture is, 'What I want to accomplish.' And then she can go down and look at all of the different issues she has to address to see whether or not she can accomplish it. … I certainly think it's helped her move forward."
What It Is, What It Was and What It Shall Be
Nadler is called on to speak to industry leaders and college students alike, and often gives them the same introduction to the craft.
"Direct really demanded a response," Nadler says of the historical difference between direct marketing and generic advertising. "Because you could actually track who was buying what and when. And, of course, database marketing then allowed us to ramp this up a notch, because we could be tracking what that individual customer was buying over time.
"I just feel that we've made a quantum leap, and I actually talk about database marketing being the great leap backward," she says of the current state of database marketing. "Because I've always said that database marketing has allowed us to get to that personal level, which, of course, is how all business transactions started years ago. [The transactions like] mom and pop shops knowing what color you liked and when you went out to buy a dress and what your favorite ice cream flavor was. But, as I said, with the lowering of processing and technology costs, we are finally able to really improve our marketing to where everything is going to be measurable and really everything's going to morph into direct. Which is why we're calling it integrated marketing. I mean, even NYU, in their advanced program for direct marketing, they changed the name to integrated marketing to really reflect what was going on."
Measurement and ROI are now paramount to marketers, no matter what channel they use, instead of following nebulous metrics like Web site page views and clicks, she says. "It means that we're not talking nonsense anymore. We're truly talking sense and dollars." And advancing technology will only make that more important, she predicts. Direct mail will survive and be more relevant, mobile marketing will grow exponentially, and e-mail marketing will be more targeted—but not before consumers receive a lot more spam. Web sites will load instantly, and online video will load faster and be more fun.
Moving from the future of direct marketing to its specific future, as married to publishing, Nadler's excited tone doesn't change much.
"This is the most amazing time to be in what we like to say is publishing media, because it is changing dramatically," she says. "We're not talking about evolution anymore; this is revolution. And no one knows which species is going to make it in this catastrophic collision. Will the industry collapse? I don't think so. I think that what we're going to be left with will be a publishing medium that is so dynamic and so important that it's going to go be that much better."
So after accomplishing what she set out to do at Hachette—when database operations are running smoothly—what will the next decade bring for adventure-seeking Nadler? With a full-throated laugh, she answers: "I wish I could tell you. I wish I could tell you that.