An Icon Built for the Future

(As published in the May 2012 issue of Response Magazine)

Not many leaders in the direct response industry can call on more than a quarter-century of experience when making big decisions for their clients. But Nancy Lazkani, president and CEO of Icon Media Direct in Los Angeles, is one of them, notching 27 years in the DR space.

Lazkani’s agency is celebrating its 12th anniversary this month, but that celebration is more about what’s to come than what’s past. The Direct Response Marketing Alliance (DRMA) member company has seen its staff grow from an initial group of 10 employees to upwards of 90 staffers today. But the key, Lazkani says, for the DR agency that specializes in campaign management, media planning, and analytics, is to always be on the lookout for the emerging trends and technology.

“One area of growth for Icon Media Direct is in our Hispanic division,” Lazkani says. “We’ve invested a lot in staffing and technology in that area. There are 50 million Hispanics in the marketplace now. Five to 10 years ago, it was a very hard area to break into, but today we see a plethora of telemarketing agencies with the capability of taking on Hispanic operations. We see that the Hispanic population is growing on the Web. Having our finger on the pulse of that demographic is very important to the growth of our company.”

Lazkani also contends the expansion of opportunities to reach Hispanic consumers is driving this growth. “It used to be just Univision, Galavision and Telemundo,” she says. “Now, there are a lot of digital Hispanic networks out there, and its growing by leaps and bounds. That opens up a lot of opportunity for targeting the Hispanic marketplace. As with the domestic marketplace, we’re able to drive retail— and we can see growth at Wal-Mart and Target with a relatively amount of spend.”

While these newer networks may be in limited households, Lazkani say they allow for spectacular targeting opportunities for smart DR marketers. “If we’re buying a digital Hispanic network that’s only in 1.7 million homes— vs. the 12 million homes that Univision is in – we see an effect on that group,” she contends. “That’s a very effective 1.7 million homes. The efficiencies are going to be there, the choices are going to be there – and we’re there too.

A second area Icon Media Direct and Lazkani are capitalizing on is in DRTV-to-digital marketing. She contends clients including and are seeing great success in drive-to-Web DR campaigns thanks to Icon WebTraxx®, the company’s proprietary algorithmic technology that tracks responses.

But, Lazkani says, the roots of Icon Media Direct’s measurement technology track back to the company’s early days, when it created algorithms to measure response for a vanity telephone number for one of its first clients, Hooked on Phonics.

“In today’s environment, TV and digital are synergistic. They have to work together. However, like the vanity number we tracked for Hooked on Phonics – 1-800-ABCDEFG – we’re running on every cable network, on all dayparts which creates a flood of data,” Lazkani says. “There’s also a flood of the number of spots that run. What makes DR what it is today is being able to track and have accountability for the media expenditure and how consumers are responding to that expenditure.”

She says Icon WebTraxx harnesses where digital technology is moving direct response marketing. “Every client is different as far as its algorithms are concerned,” she says. “For instance, with  and, we’re looking at specific Web visits and unique visits against the media we’re running. How is Comedy Central doing vs. Spike? How is MTV doing vs. VH-1? We have to know what the lag time if for someone seeing the actual spot then visiting the website.”

While she says 100-percent accuracy is impossible to reach, Icon Media Direct is reaching 70-percent to 80-percent accuracy with Icon WebTraxx. “When you’re that accurate, you can optimize your media buy and understand the key data points to where and why consumers are responding,” Lazkani adds.

Another opportunity for DR marketers comes along with the digital video recorder (DVR)/ video-on-demand (VOD) era that has many in the DR business running scared. Lazkani says new digital TV technology should be seen as an incredible opportunity for DR marketers.

“TV is here to stay,” Lazkani says. “TV numbers are not dying; they’re just becoming more fragmented. What does that mean for the direct response industry? To me, it’s a good thing. If you have few choices— and you have demand on those few choices— there becomes a false sense of demand for pricing. And DR advertisers and general advertisers end up paying the price for that.”

But, Lazkani says, fragmentation both on TV and driven by the likes of YouTube, Hulu and other digital content options create more opportunity. “Content is king, whether it’s on TV, YouTube or Hulu. VOD is growing exponentially. We’re in that space with our advertisers. It’s not just about, ‘Let’s get a million impressions!’ It really is about the right impression— those impressions that are responding to the message. Direct response marketers know if those consumers are responding, because we’re seeing consumers picking up the phone or going online,” she says.

Lazkani believes in VOD and other digital opportunities for DR advertisers, she says, because she’s seen it work. “One of the reasons that’s working so well is because it’s a space where we’re not crowded in with a bunch of other advertising messages in a pod. With TV, you’ve got two- or three- minute breaks of advertising messages. If you’ve got a two-minute spot, you’re not as crowded with other advertisers, and maybe that’s why the two-minute format works so well in TV. But then you narrow it down to a 60- second or a 30- second— or even a 15- second— spot and your message is not as impactful when shared with other ad messages. With VOD or online digital, your placement will be on the pre-roll, the mid-roll or the post-roll. Consumers are engaged in that ad because it’s not a long, crowded message space.”

Direct Response is the Word!

As Icon Media Direct reaches its 12th anniversary, Lazkani, has a message for direct response marketers: “Direct Response is not an ugly word!” She says the image of DR has changed, thanks to the success of the method and the trust placed in it by powerful brand marketers. “Fifteen years ago, when you said it, you almost covered your mouth, because we weren’t treated as legitimate advertisers. Now, DR means so many things to so many companies,” Lazkani says.

She says all of the new technological advances affecting the marketing world, from the Web to digital TV, can trace their effectiveness as marketing outlets to the original tenets of direct response marketing. “All the newfound technologies coming our way are about direct response,” Lazkani adds. “It’s part of this evolution. It’s accountability advertising, and that’s where the future is going. I love being in the direct response business. Icon Media Direct is here to stay. In the next 12 years, we’re going to be very involved in this revolution. And we’re going to be right there in front.”


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