Talking with Harmelin’s Mary Meder
President of Harmelin talks about how media has changed
March 5, 2013
Every industry changes over time. But sometimes it seems like media has seen bigger shifts than any of them. When Mary Meder began her career three decades ago, there were only five major forms of media: radio, TV, out-of-home, magazines or newspapers. Now, jokes the president of Harmelin Media, an agency located in Bala Cynwyd, Pa., there are more like 5,000 different forms. Keeping up with those changes has been one of the biggest challenges in her career, which includes 25 years at Harmelin, 13 as the agency’s president. She says that though the agency strives to make forecasts about the next few years, she never would have predicted many of the things she has seen, such as the advent of the digital video recorder. Of course, that’s also what keeps working in media interesting: It’s rarely predictable. Meder talks to Media Life about how she chose a career in media, why mentors matter, and what the biggest misconceptions are about media.
Why did you get into media?
I need to take you all the way back to my 11th grade psychology course. We were reading about careers that involved psychology, and there were two lines in my textbook that said that if you like psychology and business, advertising could be a good career for you.
I decided then and there that I would go into advertising. That was three decades ago.
Has psychology played any role in your media career?
It really has. Especially in the later years, where you truly have to understand your target audience. You have to understand the dayparts you’re using, the programs you’re recommending and the lifestyle media that’s now at our fingertips.
Where are they going, what are they doing, and how can we reach them in a relevant way?
What was your first job?
My first job was as a media coordinator for a mid-size agency in Philadelphia. I put block schedules together, placed insertion orders and handled the trafficking.
I learned a lot in my first job and it was my first boss, Alice Callahan, who taught me that nothing is a mistake until it leaves the department. We were a team and a team sticks together and helps each other out; we fix each other’s problems.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about the media business among young people coming in?
I think people think that media is all numbers. We just talked about the psychology of it—it’s more like a puzzle. The numbers are like a story, and you watch it unfold, and then you start putting the puzzle together, which is your media plan.
People think they will get overwhelmed by sheer numbers, and that’s just not the case.
Have you had any mentors? What did they teach you?
I have been lucky enough to have three mentors in my life.
First is my Aunt Millie. She stepped in after my mother passed away when I was 13. She has been there for me every step of the way.
Next is Joanne Harmelin. She was a media consultant at my very first job and as soon as she would come in, I would go talk to her. She gave me wonderful career advice and guidance. Today, I am running the company she founded.
My third mentor is Sue Paterno. I joined the board of Special Olympics of Pennsylvania 16 years ago and who was sitting next to me? Sue Paterno. As a PSU grad, I was thrilled. She showed me how to give back in a real way. Not just with money but with your time and energy.
Have you had any mentees? How do you find them, and what do you try to teach them?
I have mentored several people during my career. I am a firm believer that people’s personalities just connect, and I have a wonderful connection with several young people at Harmelin Media, on my non-profit boards and with my vendors.
I am a firm believer in leading by example, so I try to show them that being conscientious, fair, open-minded and trustworthy will pay off down the road.
Many younger people perceive that unscrupulous people are getting ahead. They may in the short term, but it is true character that endures and rises to the top. People quickly see who is actually doing the work not just talking about doing the work.
What are the most interesting changes in the industry that you’ve witnessed during your time in media?
The most interesting change in my industry during my career is the amount of choices we have as planners, which obviously means that consumers have a myriad of options on how they want to consume media.
When I first started, my choices were radio, TV, out-of-home, magazines or newspapers. Five choices! I think we have 5,000 choices now. Consumers are showing us what they want in media, how they want to use it and when they want to use it. Our job is to learn everything we can about consumers and then target them with media.
How do you help improve communications between clients and media buyers and planners?
What we have been doing lately is sending out a customer satisfaction survey. It asks a lot about the different areas we’re working in. We’ve scored very well overall, but there were areas where we could do better. That opened up a dialog between our account mangers and our clients.
One area [that could have used improvement] was just making sure that even though our plan is integrated, to present it in more an integrated way to the client. We were presenting it more in a siloed way instead of how all media play off each other. That was our thought process, but we needed to express it in a more converged way.
If there was one thing you could change about media, what would it be?
You know what, we’re not crazy about the DVRing in the sense that people can skip over commercials. We would like people who are consuming media where we advertise to get the full effect of the advertisements.
What’s your typical day like?
New business development.
Continually analyzing our corporate structure and implementing changes that will keep us cutting-edge.
[And] working with employees to make sure they have what they need to be successful in providing top-notch service to our clients.
I am an early riser and I am often the first one in the office. There is always something that wakes me up in the middle of the night. I like to spend my early morning figuring that out. The rest of the day falls into managing the three different areas.
What do you do for fun in your non-working time?
I spend a lot of my time with my family. We like to travel, go to sporting events, spend time at the shore or just sit around and watch TV. We have something we call the “Meder State Challenge”–who in our family can travel to as many of our 50 states as possible.
We have taken the kids on a lot of crazy, fun trips where we do whatever is the most popular thing to do in the state. We have skied in Montana, hiked the trails of West Virginia and eaten unbelievable blueberry pancakes with real maple syrup in Vermont.
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