Meet the Masters - Max Hart
"Sometimes the best moves are the ones you don't make," counsels Max Hart, president of Disabled American Veterans. This advice becomes even more insightful when paired with Hart's background in direct marketing.
After putting in some time at Procter & Gamble learning the ins and outs of marketing, Hart fell into the direct marketing industry by landing a job at R.L. Polk where he marshalled the purchase and expedition of vehicle title information. During his years at the data compiler, he was lucky to run across not one but two mentors.
Tom Maloney, a vice president at R.L. Polk, hired him for this beginning post in what Hart believes was blind faith. He had no idea what the direct marketing business was and says he certainly was not qualified for the job. However, Maloney saw something in Hart that led him to believe he could do the work—and he did.
Hart progressed within the ranks, allowing him the opportunity to learn more about the industry and to meet his second mentor, Albert Kropf. As senior vice president and treasurer, Kropf instilled in Hart solid financial instincts and helped him understand that "every job should stand on its own two feet; you can't survive if you use loss leaders."
These guiding principles can be seen in the pragmatic view Hart brings to direct mail testing; every test at DAV is approached in the logical order of what makes sense and will yield the best results.
Hart's third mentor must have made a lasting impression; Fred Bristol hired him to work at DAV, and Hart has stayed on for 30 years so far. Interestingly enough, Hart didn't think he'd last a year at the fund-raising organization after coming over from the commercial side of the business.
Long before the popularity of catch phrases such as "customer management" or "relationship marketing," DAV gathered its donations by selling idento-tags to prospects. However, no one thought to save the donors' names and maintain them for future efforts. Hart brought to DAV his knowledge of leveraging data and in return, Bristol passed on his beliefs in networking to keep up a constant flow of ideas.
Some of the best new strategies DAV developed came from these Bristol alliances, Hart says. For example, the folks at Publishers Clearing House inspired DAV to start adding name and address labels (now stickers) to mailings to arouse emotions and boost response.
Another Bristol idea came from his connections with marketers at Look magazine. The practice of affixing multiple live stamps to BREs was invented to give appeals a human touch.
As Hart learned the power of networking with Bristol, today he continues to branch out and meet people via The Direct Marketing Association and other industry groups. Among the individuals he credits with providing support and inspiration are Jon Groman of Epsilon ("a brilliant strategist" who teaches people to think outside the box) and Alice Zea of AZ List Marketing (she doesn't always get the recognition that her brothers, Walter Karl and Arthur Karl, have received, but she's just as influential to the industry).