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Thriving … Surviving … but Always Leading

The Performance-Driven Marketing Institute celebrates its fifth anniversary in July. How did we get here? Where do we go next? PDMI council chairs and leaders of Founding Member companies share their thoughts.

By Thomas Haire

PDMI Turns 5

When the Performance-Driven Marketing Institute (PDMI) opened its doors in mid-July 2018 by sending an announcement of its formation and of a planned industry event only two months later — during a time of turmoil for the direct-to-consumer (D2C) marketing industry — the group’s leadership could only hope that its years of service to the business would help it find support from important initial stakeholders.

That September in Las Vegas, more than 800 industry leaders heard the call and attended the PDMI’s inaugural event. In November 2018, the 501(c)6 not-for-profit association began accepting members, and by late March 2019, nearly 90 companies had become Founding Members.

Yet, after a pair of successful (and growing) events in 2019 welcomed nearly 2,000 combined attendees (and membership grew to nearly 150 companies), the fledgling PDMI faced — like you — one of the greatest challenges of this century: the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020.

Forced to abandon in-person events for two years (PDMI East and West 2020 and PDMI East 2021 were scrapped), the association once again found itself in a familiar place: coming up with new concepts to connect members while relying on the good will the PDMI had built in hopes that membership would remain supportive of its efforts during the turmoil.

Maintaining its focus on service in four key areas — education, networking, advocacy, and marketing — helped the PDMI survive the pandemic. Creating a trio of multi-day, multi-webinar educational events gave members and other industry leaders a continued connection to what the PDMI could do for — and with — them. At the same time, with the help of its members, the PDMI built a pair of regularly scheduled webinar series — the Brand Response Council’s Take 20 and the Workshop/E-Commerce Councils’ Seasonal Seminar Series — that continue to educate and connect performance marketing executives at least three times a month.

Though membership dipped slightly in 2020, the PDMI rebuilt its base in 2021 and maintains a strong array of invested member companies. The PDMI has also hosted four successful in-person events since returning to the calendar in October 2021. Though attendance has not yet reached the organization’s pre-pandemic highs (an issue for all event organizers in post-COVID times), each of the four events has shown growth.

Who’s responsible for the PDMI’s initial success, ability to make it through the pandemic, and its opportunity to once again thrive as the 2020s move forward? It’s you: the PDMI membership, as well as its non-member followers and event attendees. More specifically, it’s our Founding Member companies — those who’ve been with us from the start — and the chairs of the six PDMI member councils, the backbone of industry support that is instrumental in allowing the association to execute on its plans and reach its goals.

As the PDMI closes in on this milestone event — five years in business — it turned to leaders of Founding Member companies as well as those council chairs with a set of questions about the PDMI: what have we accomplished together, where are our biggest opportunities looking ahead, and what steps should we take to get there. Read on to hear feedback from a half-dozen of the PDMI’s most invested members, as well as from CEO John Yarrington. Then, ask yourself: what can I do to make the PDMI a stronger organization that helps my company reach its own goals?

As the PDMI reaches its fifth anniversary, what would you consider its biggest success so far?

Nancy Arnold, chief marketing officer, Diray Media (founding member): We think the biggest success was keeping the community informed and connected. The trade show industry took a big hit during COVID, and PDMI faced its challenges by embracing the community through successful online sessions until in-person events came back.

Yeniseth Birrueta, executive vice president, Pacific Media Technologies (founding member; U.S. Hispanic Council; Women’s Leadership Council): Surviving and thriving during COVID.

Fern Lee, CEO, THOR Associates (founding member; E-Commerce Council; chair, Women’s Leadership Council): The biggest success is the strength of the commitment of John Yarrington and Tom Haire to continually provide a unified trust within our industry, allowing for growth, leadership, and collaboration. The pandemic could have destroyed the mission. It did not. Accolades to the team at the PDMI for leading us into the future.

Lucio Maramba, CEO and owner, Maramba Insights Inc. (founding member): Having a professional organization that companies can coalesce around is vital to the longevity and perpetuation of any industry. The PDMI has successfully created an environment of professionalism and comradery that had been missing for quite a while. Connections are king, and none of our companies can survive without an organizing body to help canvass and solidify our principles and encourage and foster growth and evolution in our industry.

Greg Sarnow, founder and CEO, Direct Response Academy/Allegro Response (founding member; U.S. Hispanic Council): Who would have imagined the degree to which a virus could disrupt the lives of everyone on the entire planet? Keeping the direct-to-consumer community engaged has been no small task. Yet the PDMI team managed to do it, and that is saying something. We are not just talking about a trade conference. The weekly events the PDMI offers and the PDMI website have played a huge role in fulfilling the objective the PDMI has of helping its members and the D2C community grow.

Gregory Silvano, CEO, Buyist (chair, E-Commerce Council): Adaptation to an ever-changing environment and keeping its members informed. Every year since 2018 has been unlike the previous year, without exception. And the differences have been industry-changing, not just incremental. Quarantine, global supply chain issues, inflation, privacy changes, and more.

John Yarrington, CEO/co-founder, The PDMI: The PDMI’s greatest success during our first five years has been the continual growth and development of the services and benefits the association offers its members. Since inception, the focus has been to build a platform for the industry that delivers meaningful services in four key categories: networking, education, advocacy, and marketing, while concurrently championing the voice of our members through a for-the-members and by-the-members philosophy.

By listening to the feedback of our community, the PDMI has launched six member councils, submitted four comments on behalf of our community to the FTC on industry-critical causes, started multiple webinar series, implemented a complimentary badge program to invite new attendees to our in-person events, and has shared valuable resources, such as our annual ad outlet directory. Plus, we are in the process of building a first-class educational program under the working name "PDMI University," a mentoring program in our Women’s Leadership Council where senior female executives mentor the future female leaders of tomorrow, and an ambassador program to help new members successfully navigate the industry — all this thanks to the assistance of industry veterans whom the PDMI calls members.

What’s been the key moment for your company as a member during the past five years?

Arnold: Having the opportunity to show PDMI support by being a founding member, sponsoring events, and participating in speaking sessions.

Birrueta: Joining the PDMI councils.

Lee: Giving birth to the Women’s Leadership Council. We are more than 60 members and growing — and our mission statement goal is to "Learn, Grow, and Connect."

Maramba: Like the PDMI, Maramba Insights Inc. was founded in 2018. It’s not an exaggeration to say that our company’s success and growth is inextricably tied to the quality networking opportunities and numerous resources provided by the PDMI. We are thrilled to be a Founding Member company and are excited again about the future of our industry!

Silvano: Buyist has grown up into a major DRTV brand in the past five years with a client base that includes nearly every major marketer in the industry. Quarantine really tested our ability to scale when traffic and sales through the Buyist platform increased more than 400 percent in just a matter of weeks.

What is the PDMI’s biggest strength? And where are its biggest opportunities?

Arnold: PDMI’s biggest strength is people! Its biggest opportunity is building more relationships in emerging categories and to expand relationships with more media measurement companies, i.e., VideoAmp, Innovid, Transunion, Nielsen One, Comscore, Flowcode, etc. It also must continue to support inventors and bring in digital and linear video production/creative content agencies.

Birrueta:  The people that run it — John, Tom, and Jessica Delich — love what they do, and it shows. They constantly reach out — especially Jessica — because they want you involved. They create opportunities for us to get promoted and network and get the best for our sponsorship.

Lee: PDMI’s biggest strength is the longevity of the relationships fostered over the years, whether new or seasoned members. Having the ability to cross over from the DRMA to the PDMI has been instrumental in brand and direct response initiatives.

Maramba: From the onset, the experience brought to the table by the PDMI team has been crucial in building trust and participation from member companies. I appreciate the efforts they have made to reengage with veteran DR companies, and to actively bring onboard newer companies to broaden the scope of our member companies. As our industry continues to evolve in digital areas like streaming, CTV, and virtual reality (VR), I’d like to see the PDMI continue to recruit more providers and stakeholders in those industries.

Silvano: The PDMI’s biggest strength is the willingness of its member base to share knowledge amongst each other. The PDMI isn’t a top-down dissemination of information. It’s peer-to-peer, and that’s a big deal.

There’s too much for any single person or company to know today to run an effective direct-to-consumer campaign. You’d need to know the production, creative, offers, television, radio, a dozen digital platforms (at least), e-commerce, fulfillment, credit card processing, and at least a dozen other things. It’s impossible to keep up with all of them because they’re each evolving quickly.

With experts in each of those verticals as PDMI members, who are all willing to freely share their expertise, it makes it much more likely you’ll succeed.

Yarrington: Our biggest strength is the goodwill and respect the leadership team has earned from our members, sponsors, and attendees for the countless years of dedication and service to the industry. Nothing is greater than a meaningful and genuine relationship, and nothing is more fulfilling than seeing those you’ve supported and championed succeed. We’ve been blessed with great partners — which are more like friends and family — and our mutual admiration for one another, coupled with our symbiotic desire to thrive, has helped all of us mitigate challenges and unforeseen hurdles while finding the pathways to our individual successes.

The biggest opportunities for the PDMI come in the form of technology. Whether it be digital media, OTT, CTV, or AI, the future is bright and plentiful for both the association and our membership. More transparency, more accountability, more access, and more creativity are coming, and, with this, more members will flock to the association — meaning our members will have more campaigns, customers, and profits.

What PDMI member benefits are you utilizing the most — and how effective are they for your business? What other member benefits would you like to see the PDMI offer?

Arnold: Clients need more help managing today’s challenging retail landscape. They are asking for more data to support recommendations, and we think PDMI members would benefit from more research tools or reports to help guide and educate them.

We think it would be helpful to categorize online member list like past magazine directories were set up.

Birrueta: Attending the conventions. More networking events.

Lee: Access to membership by writing articles for Results Magazine, being interviewed for feature stories, being involved with the numerous councils offered, meeting colleagues and new business partners at PDMI East and West — all have been instrumental during the past five years. THOR Associates has been fortunate in utilizing all that PDMI has to offer and appreciates how hard PDMI works to provide a diversified member organization, which is key for business growth and partnerships. Other member benefits we would like to see offered are the expansion of outside experts in various fields — whether through the output of webinars or Ted -style talks at PDMI East and West. The ability to bring in thought leaders beyond our member organization is key in fostering growth among our membership and beyond.

Maramba:  Large in-person gatherings like PDMI West and East are cornerstones of our networking and marketing efforts during the year. In addition, I’d love to see more in-person, regional networking events.

Sarnow: Being on the Hispanic Council. Meeting new people that are both marketers and vendors that participate at events.

Silvano: For Buyist, it’s the conferences. We live in an ever-increasing Zoom world so it’s nice to get a few days a year where we’re all in the same room.

If you’re involved, what’s the most effective part of serving on a PDMI member council? And where could these councils improve?

Lee: Both Lori Zeller and I serve on different councils. I joined the E-Commerce Council to expand my relationships and understanding of the e-commerce, digital, and affiliate genres. Lori has shared her enthusiasm being involved with the Workshop Council. The members of the Workshop Council are expansive and diligent at opening educational and networking opportunities for PDMI members.

Silvano: I’m involved but could certainly do a better job leading the E-Commerce Council. I’m "there" and provide input, mostly. I know my overall ideas tend to influence the topics we discuss in webinars and conferences, but I don’t take action to get the other council members more involved.

Which is how the councils can improve: more involvement from the members of the councils. I think 80 percent of the members are simply present and just show up to the Zoom. To fix that, we must have something for them to do. But I’m not exactly sure what that would be.

Yarrington: While I don’t serve in a voluntary capacity on a PDMI member council, I have the great privilege of participating monthly in six very special council meetings as PDMI staff. My primary purpose is to serve as a liaison between the membership and the association and to ensure the councils have the necessary information, resources, and access to fulfill their agendas. Through this process, I have had the opportunity to listen to some incredibly thoughtful and intelligent people who are not only masters at their crafts, but legitimately care about the current state and future of our business. My involvement with these councils has helped me grow and mature as both a student of our industry and as a professional. And, most importantly, my involvement with these councils has broadened my perspective and has helped me become a better version of myself.

While I’m hard-pressed to find ways to enhance the value generated by each council, I can think of one thing that will improve the outcome of the great work these volunteers do: get involved! Adding more voices, more thoughts, and more diversity to the mix will only add value. If you’re not currently serving on a council, give me a call so we can discuss where you can best fit.

Where would you like to see the PDMI be five years from now? How can the association most effectively reach that goal?

Arnold: Our agency would like to see PDMI recruit more members from other sectors. Placing more focus on digital subscriber-based channels, measurement companies, CPG companies, and DTC brands to join the community would benefit everyone.

Birrueta: Twice the size! Think out of the box like back at the beginning when this started.

Lee: It is of the utmost import to have a diversified membership. By creating new councils, we can expand on the genres that we need to become more inclusive. The way to keep diversifying and growing is through touch, touch, and touching: word of mouth and businesses bringing in their clientele is key to the PDMI’s growth. Showing the value of our trade shows is a strong initiative!

Maramba: As long as the frequency and quality of educational and networking opportunities remain consistent, I can see the PDMI surpass and eclipse the success of the previous DR Industry organizations. Diversity of member marketers, agencies, vendors, and outlets as our industry evolves in the Streaming Era is crucial to keeping the PDMI current and relevant.

Silvano: Much. Bigger. Conferences. Start back at square one and re-invent the show. Use the history of the DRMA and PDMI to get street cred and spend the next 18 months making the October 2024 show the biggest you’ve ever had. More products, more experts, more everything.

Yarrington: In the next five years, I’d like to see the association servicing triple the number of members and positively affecting all aspects of online and offline performance marketing. To accomplish this goal, I’d like to encourage our members to refer their clients, prospects, and partners to get involved in the association. I’d also like to encourage all members to get actively engaged in the benefits of the association by serving on councils, contributing articles, volunteering to participate in webinars, being involved in our mentoring, ambassador, and university programs, and sponsoring our in-person events. As the old saying goes, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." I can’t wait to go on this journey with all of you!


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