Meet the Masters: Lois Geller
Before entering the agency business, Target Marketing magazine's monthly "Creative Corner" columnist Lois Geller was a publishing executive, serving as marketing director for Meredith Corporation's Better Homes & Gardens and Boardroom Reports' book division. In 1992 Geller founded the Lois K. Geller Co., and merged it with Mason & Madison Advertising in 1997 to form Mason & Geller Direct Marketing. Prior to 1992, she headed AC&R Direct, a Saatchi & Saatchi agency, and Geller Direct, a TBWA subsidiary. She has written and edited a number of books, including "Response! The Complete Guide to Profitable Direct Marketing." She now pauses to reflect on her days as a scribe at Laboratory Management, selling Olympic coins direct and the great Larry Chait.
Q: What was your first job?
A: After graduating from Boston University, I started at United Business Publications, in New York. I was an editorial assistant, which means that I did everything from type memos (yes, there were typewriters then), bring the boss his coffee and write the "new product news" column. I would re-write press releases into a short paragraph or two, eliminating the sales pitches. The magazine was Laboratory Management.
Q: What made you begin a career in the advertising/marketing industry?
A: I couldn't get a job teaching elementary school, so I went to an employment agency, Career Blazers, and asked what was available. They sent me to United Business Publications, where I learned about circulation and advertisingthe fascinating part of the job.
Q: What has been your most successful or memorable campaign?
A: I worked on a great program selling Olympic coins with the profits going to the U.S. Mint and our Olympic Team. That stands out because I had to choreograph so many different programs: direct mail, DRTV, inserts at the post office and a massive radio effort.
I didn't sleep much during that year and a half, and yet I always remember feeling so energetic. It was great fun. I got to work with so many wonderful people. And we had great results, which is probably why it was memorable.
We used many Olympians in our spots, and since I know zero about sports, I was always tripping up, mixing them up ... and yet it all worked out. It was fun, and since then I've tried to keep things "light" at work.
Q: What is the most challenging aspect of your job in today's rough economic climate?
A: Being as smart as possible for our clients. Their budgets are smaller, with fewer people to implement work, and they come to us for the answers. So, I guess I spend most of my time thinking about their businesses, innovative programs they might do, and how to make them stand out from the competition.
Q: Which advertising or marketing icon, dead or alive, do you admire most?
A: I've always admired Larry Chait. Larry was a genius at marketing and was my mentor. He taught me to always talk directly to customers as real people. He was a big thinker, and said that clients can always talk a program down, so start with a huge idea. Most of all, he was great to all of us who worked with himmy favorite boss.
Q: If you could choose another line of work, what would it be?
A: I would never choose another line of work. I love direct marketing and all the excitement it brings every day, as we wait for response rates to come in, both front and back end. I'm lucky that I have other DM-related lines of work. I do a lot of teaching at New York University (this season is my first with an online course), and in corporations with my Direct Marketing Boot Camp program. I also write a lot of books and articles (in Target Marketing and Fortune Small Business). So, any other line of work would be a big bore for me! I love direct marketing and every day I spent working in this field for more than 30 years!
Q: What kind of importance do you place on testing in this economic climate?
A: As Howard Ruff wrote: "It wasn't raining when Noah built the ark." Testing is very high on our priority list. If we're not testing, then how will we know next season what will work? The companies that continue to test will be way ahead of others who hold back.