A Canadian star makes the catalog business shine, May 1989 By Karen Gillick Direct Marketing Magazine

Barbara 1989, Direct Marketing MagazineEvery now and then, the fruits of a writer’s efforts are rewarded with fan mail.  When Charles de Gruchy from Goodis & Sharbura, Inc., Toronto, Ontario, wrote, he opened with the following statement.

“As a faithful reader of Direct Marketing magazine and of your column, I am surprised not to see a change of perspective.”

Well, it was sort of fan mail!  What did he mean by this?

What Charles was suggesting specifically was that I cast my eyes across the lake to some of the bright young stars in the Canadian direct marketing industry.

In checking out the Canadian stars, Barbara Canning Brown’s name rose to the top.

When she was approached, she graciously agreed to the interview.  She bubbled over the fact that this has been a particularly good year for her and that she had just been promoted to director of marketing for Regal Greetings & Gifts, she was just starting as chairman of the newly formed Canadian Catalog Council and she was about to take a trip to Guadeloupe.

As the interview began to roll, she described her life as a child, growing up on a 400-acre farm in Orillia, Ontario.  Her father raised beef cattle and in the spring, eh made maple syrup from the trees in their maple forest.

She has fond memories of gazing at the starts, enjoying the country life and loving her pets. She chuckles about a picture of herself in a lace dress surrounded by 14 cats.

During grade school, she was a member of a church organization called “Canadian Girls in Training” (CGIT).  She and her friends said t really stood for “Cutest Girls in Town!”  As a member of this group, she received her early training in arts and crafts, piano and organ.  Her leadership qualities surfaced during this period when she was elected president of the organization.

Because she lived in such an isolated area, her extracurricular activities in high school and college were limited.  Heavy emphasis was placed on education. As a result, she was the recipient of numerous awards in history, French, Spanish and public speaking. When she graduated from grade 13, she received the high honor of Ontario Scholar.

It was so refreshing to hear about Barbara’s hobbies during her school years.  They weren’t, as we so often hear, jogging, aerobics and bodybuilding, but back to the basics.  She wrote poetry and painted.  She attended the Royal Conservatory of Music.

As she was about to graduate from McMaster University with honors in English and fine arts, she wondered what she would do with her “non-useful studies.”

She picked copywriting and answered an ad for a junior copywriter position at Sears.  She was tested and hired.  A large portion of our industry’s superstars started in Sears’ school of copywriting and role to the top.  She is no exception.

Her first stop was soft goods.  She wrote about children’s bedspreads with ballerina and another with jungle scenes.  Her headline was “How to Tell the Girls from The Boys.”  When she got to fashion she described knee socks as “soxy”.  When writing about brightly colored suede shoes with chunky soles, she name them “the Rebels.”  This method certainly wasn’t the norm for Sears, and she constantly had to justify her style.  The advantage she had was that she knew the current market, and her customers and she usually won the battle.

She quickly progressed from junior writer to senior writer in merchandise and direct mail merchandise promotions.  Because of her constant thirst for challenge and development she was able to convince Sears to let her go forward.  A promotion out of the copy department after one year was a major breakthrough.

Her new position was sales promotion coordinator.  In this role, she was responsible for design and execution of monthly sales promotion packages to all of Sears’ national outlets.

After two years, she was promoted to creative group director of fashion and special projects.  She had a staff of six.

During her free time, she picked up some free-lance assignments.  One led her to a catalog showroom company in Montreal called Cardinal Distributors.  She like the company and decided to accept their offer to join them as assistant advertising manager.

In this position, she was responsible for all catalog execution and sales promotion.  She was the liaison with the advertising agency and also became involved in producing Eastern Canada TV spots. She loved her responsibilities, despite the difficulties of moving to another province with French as their first language.

A little over a year went by when Cardinal was bought out by Consumer Distributing.  There wasn’t a fit for her at Consumers so she took the opportunity to move back to Toronto and form Barbican Advertising.

Barbican was a creative boutique offering services in creative development, media placement and strategic development and planning for packaged goods marketers, as well as retail.  The company was also involved in POP direct mail solicitation and public relations projects.

Thirteen months into Barbican, she had to make a choice.  Consumers Distributing came after her, offering position as sales promotion manager. Her decision was whether or not to return to corporate life.  In the final analysis, the answer was ‘yes’.  She wanted to return to her true love, the catalog business.  Her new position at Consumers gave her invaluable experience in administrative responsibilities and corporate communications.

During this time, she was instrumental in bringing in on-line typesetting system whereby copywriters worked on terminals with telephone lines that went directly to an off=site typesetting service.  This allowed the writers to control the typesetting process and they would get the copy back within minutes.  This was extremely innovative for the time.

Her four years at Consumers were enjoyable, but she didn’t see any room to grow.

In 1984, she seized on an opportunity with lots of potential for growth.  She had her hands full when she came to Regal Greetings & Gifts as catalog advertising manager.

Her department desperately needed systems, reorganization and credibility. There were schedules, but no one followed them.  What systems there were, they were not used.  There were outstanding bills from suppliers, but no one knew what they were for.

Their production system was to take a catalog page and have everyone take a run at it.

After she fixed those problems, she was promoted to marketing manager, where she was responsible for media advertising, promotions and sweepstakes, new customers, catalog creative, production and mailings.

Most recently, our subject was promoted to director of marketing…no small challenge in a $64 million company.

She is thrilled with her promotion and extremely proud of how the company has turned around and grown. She attributes this success to Tony Keenan, who came on board three years ago as president.

When she retires, among other plans, she wants to return to astronomy and know the names of all the stars.  When you get there, Barbara, look up, your name will be there.


Karen Gillick, 1989 Direct Magazine who wrote about Barbara

Karen Gillick is president of Karen Gillick & Associates, a national executive search  firm specializing in direct marketing.  Her knowledge of direct marketing comes to her through her father, Bob Stone. Gillick may be reached at 980 N. Michigan Ave., Ste. 1060, Chicago, IL 60611 – 312/337-0345

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