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DRTV HERO: EDITORS

BY RICK PATRY

ELECTRONIC RETAILER

July 10th, 2000

ERA INTERVIEW

Electronic Retailing Association (ERA) Interviews

This week ERA interviews Jeff Meltzer, President of Meltzer Media Productions. Read Jeff’s comments on the most important production changes of the past ten years as well as how the infiltration of technologies like PVRs will change the direct response industry’s landscape.
If you are interested in being considered for an upcoming e-newsletter interview or know someone who should be interviewed by ERA, please contact Molly Alton at malton@retailing.org or at 703.908.1020.

ERA Interviews…Jeff Meltzer

ERA: Jeff, you indicated to me that you have been involved in the direct response business for some time, having produced your first infomercial in 1985. How did you get started and why?

Meltzer: I was a mainstream commercial film editor looking for new advertising mediums that I could explore. Tom Fenton (one of the founders of NIMA and owners of Synchronal) approached me about a radical new concept called infomercials. He had done one infomercial up to that point and now wanted to explore beauty and skin care. In addition to Tom and myself, he recruited Tom Peckenham to write and produce the first before/after testimonial driven show which I believe was also the first skin care infomercial. After shooting the “befores,” we went back four weeks later for the “afters” and magic happened. Women cried about how beautiful they felt after using the system and the phones never stopped ringing. The show eventually grossed around $100 million over a five year period and we were off to the races after that to create as much as we could. Since that time, I have been involved in the production of 150 infomercials and over 2,000 short form spots.

ERA: What are the biggest changes you have seen to the production of direct response campaigns in the past ten years?

Meltzer: Truthfully, most of the biggest changes have come from the technical side. Shooting Beta, DVCAM, Mini DV or even Digibeta has become very easy. As far as post-production goes, the only thing you could do on an AVID (non-linear editing system) back in the early 1990s was to cut and dissolve at a video resolution that gave you serious eyesore after eight hours. And to make matters worse, graphics were virtually nonexistent on a computer. Now, I call our editing suites mini-studios in a box. You can edit, create 2D and 3D graphics and animation, mix sound, create special effects, input flat art, slides or any other form of pictures or video and even color-correct it. At the end of the process, you’ve created a customized broadcast master ready for air. This change, however, is in addition to what I think is the most important change in editing ever–the creation of instant variations of a spot or show. The enormous amount of time and money saved by the speed of these editing systems is amazing and continues to improve. These functions give the show’s creator tremendous decision-making power and makes for a better end product.

ERA: How is your company planning for additional industry evolution, including the infiltration of new technologies like PVRs?

Meltzer: My company is constantly exploring new technologies and marketing avenues for all products and services. As one example, we produce and send tens of thousands of V-Grams TM (video mail consisting of DVDs, CDs and VHSs authored at MMP) that contain mini-infomercials for targeted lists of potential buyers. The buyer then can order the demonstrated product or service by three convenient methods: phone, Internet or bounce back card. The response rate, most of the time, is staggering and the cost to make a V-Gram is incredibly low. However, I think the most important thing that any responsible DRTV producer can tell a client is not to put all their eggs in the DRTV basket. A diversified campaign that includes DRTV, a commerce ready website, home shopping, catalog, insert mail and international distribution is critical to the success of any DRTV campaign today.

ERA: Having known ERA since the days it was NIMA, what are the biggest changes you have seen within the organization itself?

Meltzer: NIMA was originally created to self-regulate the fledgling infomercial industry and I think ERA has done a very good job of that. There will always be loopholes that disreputable suppliers exploit because that is the nature of this industry—those who always trying to push the envelope a little further to get the phones ring. Unfortunately, some of membership changes I have seen have not been to the benefit of the smaller direct response company. In my opinion, I think ERA’s membership would increase substantially if they structured their fees at a level that would entice small businesses to join. I think a special rate (like a special TV offer) would attract a lot of new, as well as old, companies to ERA.

ERA: And lastly, what are some of the major hurdles that direct response professionals need to overcome to continue to maintain profitability in this industry?

Meltzer: As a small business owner, keeping your overhead at a sustainable level is important, especially in an industry that is filled with up and down cycles. None of us, whether you are a supplier or marketer, know when the next hit product will arrive. Until it does, you need to pace your company’s growth. And, as I stated earlier, you need to be creative and utilize new marketing and distribution methods that are available. This way, you end up with varied infomercial formats (like Informats) they help drive product. The combination of these formats increases your chance of success dramatically and thus can improve your profit margins as well.

For more information on Jeff or Meltzer Media Productions,
please contact 212.868.4600 or visit www.meltzermedia.com.

Information provided in the line of questioning and responses in this interview have not been substantiated by ERA, are strictly the opinions of the company being interviewed, and do not necessarily reflect an official position of the Electronic Retailing Association or its members. Please note that no portion of ERA’s newsletter may be replicated in part or in its entirety without the prior written consent of ERA.