Meet the Masters: Brian Kurtz
Boardroom's executive vice president Brian Kurtz once jokingly told Target Marketing magazine that he was fortunate enough to be voted "Most Likely to Become a List Manager" in high school. Well, in 2000 he far exceeded his schoolyard chums' expectations when he was named List Leader of the Year by the Direct Marketing Association's (The DMA) List & Database Council, an award given to an individual who exhibits excellence as a list professional. In the same year, Kurtz was inducted into the DMA Circulation Hall of Fame at the 14th Annual Circulation Day. He was then credited with helping Boardroomwhich publishes newsletters and books about business, healthcare and retirementachieve yearly revenues of more then $90 million. He now takes a moment to reflect on the great Marty Edelston, the importance of testing, and the online retailer that is doing everything right.
Q: What was your first job?
A: My first job was with the largest play publisher in the world, Samuel French Inc., doing amateur leasing. I arranged for the royalty rights of certain productions that high schools were putting on throughout the country.
Q: What made you begin a career in the advertising/marketing industry?
A: Basically I came out of school wanting to be in publishing. But at the same time, there was a particular head-hunter who supplied a lot of people to this little company called Boardroom, which had started in 1971. So my first job after Samuel French was an entry-level job at Boardroom, processing list orders in its in-house list management division.
When I got there and was working on the list side of things, a job opened up in the editorial department at Bottom Line Personal. In that first year though, I really felt that I had a nose for marketing, and I also saw a lot of editors sitting behind closed doors with headphones on just to keep the noise out. It occurred to me, "Is that what I really want?" I knew I would be able to use my talent much better in marketing and sales.
Q: What is the most challenging aspect of your job in today's climate?
A: If I had to chalk it up to one thing, I would say consumer distraction. The average consumer is bombarded by so many more messages and so many more things today than ever beforein addition to an economy that's slow. The other huge challenge is figuring out how you're going to find the new product that's going to get the consumer jazzed in light of their 401K being half the size it was a year ago.
Q: In this market, what is one thing circulation directors can do to maintain their circulation?
A: Not slit their wrists, because if they don't slit their wrists, they'll keep their circulation flowing! On a serious note, I think partnerships is one of the key things; we've been getting a lot of knocks on our door from companies who have synergistic products that could mail to our file and from companies who have databases suited for our products. The idea of partnering using one anothers' strengths, brands, name recognition, credibility, databases, creative techniques and so on, is an effective way to market. You take one plus one and get three.
Q: What kind of importance do you place on testing in this climate?
A: Direct marketing guru Dick Benson often said: "You could never test too much. Testing is the lifeblood of our business." It's just as important today, if not more important. If you are not going to be aggressive and prospect and test during tough economic times, you're not going to be in a position to cash in when things do turn around.
Q: Any direct marketing snafus over the course of your career?
A: One time we did a book mailing that went out with a typo in the price of $10 more than it was supposed be. It became the control. It taught us how to test higher prices.
Q: Which companies do you find market best one-to-one?
A: I'm feeling very good about what Amazon is doing. I buy a lot from them. They've done a fantastic job of delivering me products and notices of products that I want when I want them. That's a real one-to-one.
Q: Which advertising or marketing icon, dead or alive, do you admire most?
A: Marty Edelston: I admire him on so many levels. Not just for building Boardroom from the ground up, but for his ingenuity, creative abilities, integrity, fairness, and having a mission early on in life and always being focused on it.
Dick Benson: From Dick I've learned some of the down-and-dirty techniques of direct mail that have stayed with me my entire career.