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Out of the Blue

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  • | 3:07 p.m. January 14, 2011
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Greg Bicket was president of Cox Target Media for only two years, but a lot of transition has occurred in that short span.

The provider of Valpak's familiar blue envelopes has met the competition for online coupons head on by introducing its own brand of digital discounts, called Valpak Deals, and is rolling out a “daily deal” product as well.

Going digital is becoming a necessity more than a novelty as more consumers seek to dial up coupons on their smart phones rather than carry around clipped paper. But Bicket doesn't foresee one product cannibalizing the other in years to come.

Bicket, 59, retired to North Carolina at the end of last year after spending three decades in media, having run cable TV operations in New Orleans for Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises Inc. prior to taking charge of Valpak's 950-employee operations in Pinellas County. His successor at the Largo headquarters is Michael Vivio, publisher of the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman.

The following is an edited version of Bicket's comments to the Business Review from a recent interview.

How has the recession affected Valpak?

It has made things easier for us. Franchisees are seeing growth in their local markets and we're seeing growth in our national advertising as well.

Our own research suggests this is a formative time for a lot of consumers. Not only are they redeeming more coupons but a much greater number, 75%, expect to be value shoppers and using coupons for the rest of their lives.

It bodes well for us because we've really worked very hard to be Valpak to the consumer and not get hung up by the media that delivers it. We think we're doing a good job balancing our traditional blue envelope with delivering deals electronically.

What effect have online coupons had on Valpak's traditional business?

We saw just a fraction of the downturn that other companies saw on the paper side, but saw explosive growth on the digital side. We think the just-in-time timing of our digital product has helped sustain our paper product.

Some of our Valpak franchisees, particularly in the Midwest, are reporting their best year in any of the last 20. Consumers are turning to smarter buying and more value-focused purchasing, and the values Valpak delivers are proving to be a perfect match.

Is the rush to digital happening too fast or too soon?

Everybody has talked about it for a long time, but a lot of direct-mail companies have not been as quick to market as I think they would be if they had to do it over again. It's certainly something we've engaged here and the new products we're offering are enjoying some very good market acceptance.

We're part of a direct-mail industry that lends itself to transition quickly and easily to digital. There's not a lot of disconnection as consumers go from engaging the blue Valpak envelope to getting Valpak-branded offers on their smart phones and in their email.

What are your thoughts on Vivio?

I think he's good news for Valpak. He has been very aggressive in leading his newspaper into the digital age and he's the right guy at the right time for this position.

Do you have any immediate retirement plans?

I'm taking a sabbatical after working steadily for 49 years, starting as a paperboy in Tampa. I'm kind of looking forward to not having to be anywhere and nobody counting on me.



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