In this series of Group Thinkers podcast episodes, our focus is on leadership. Throughout each episode, we’ll chat with leaders in the nonprofit and commercial space to learn more about their careers and the unique journeys that led them to where they are today.
On this episode, we sit down with Roger Hiyama, Executive Vice President of Solutions & Innovation at Wiland, to discuss:
- Three words he’d use to describe leadership (4:10)
- How today’s environment impacts his approach to leadership (8:16)
- How his past agency experience has shaped his current role at Wiland (9:43)
- Mentors who have served him throughout his career (17:40)
- The complexities of today’s fundraising landscape and how he’s navigating them (23:13)
Meet our guest
Executive Vice President, Solutions & Innovation at Wiland
“One of the things I've tried to do from college all the way through my career is, I've tried to have another piece of me helping the betterment of something else. And the one thing I've chosen to do is help our industry as it thrives and grows.”
Justin McCord: Ronnie, I know you ... I sense that you typically feel a certain amount of anxiety around how I open our conversations. Just because you don't know ...
Ronnie Richard: It's true. I don't know what question you're going to ask me or throw at me.
Ronnie: Justin, so the people listening know, this part's never rehearsed in any way. So, what you got?
Justin: Yeah, sometimes it’s not even that well thought out. But I was thinking today, just in anticipation of our guest today, that we’ve had the opportunity to visit with a lot of people who have accomplished quite a bit. I don’t know that we have had someone who is officially in a Hall. And today we get to welcome someone who is among the DMAW Hall of Leaders award recipients, and that’s Roger Hiyama.
Roger Hiyama: Thank you.
Justin: Roger, honestly, that is quite the accomplishment to be recognized among your peers and in such an elevated way.
Roger: Well, it is. And, you know, I think it hit me last year as I was preparing for the Hall of Leaders award ceremony. And, you know, you think of people in our industry, and I think of folks like Austin Kiplinger, think of folks like Richard Viguerie, Roger Craver. It's amazing that both Roger and Richard are still very active in the industry.
And, you know, when I first started, you know, close to 40 years ago, they were on pedestals at that time. And for me to be even mentioned in the same sentence or on the same listing as those three is pretty remarkable. But I'm very humbled by the honor. But hopefully it, you know, represents some of what I've tried to do in my career in trying to further not only our industry, but certainly the Direct Marketing Association of Washington as an organization. So, it is very humbling.
Justin: And I was already really excited for this conversation. And now I'm even more so. And so, welcome to Group Thinkers. I'm your host, Justin McCord. With me, as always, is a huge fan of Halls and that's Ronnie Richard, big Hall fan.
And so today, we have Roger Hiyama on the show. Roger is Executive Vice President of Solutions and Innovation at Wiland. If you're a regular listener, you know that part of what we do here is that we have chats with folks that think differently in the nonprofit space. Someone who's approaching something differently or has an alternate outlook and a way for us to constantly challenge ourselves. Iron sharpens iron through our discussions.
And so, excited today to continue our most recent focus, which is on leadership and lessons of leadership, with you, Roger. So, I want to start here with you. What one word would you use to describe leadership?
Roger: Well, I'm actually going to maybe try out a few words, and then I'll pick a word. How’s that? So, when I think of the one word that defines ... comes to mind when I think of leadership. Certainly, one is trust. Having the ability to have others trust in you because having a leader without trust is really not a leader.
The other one that comes to mind is, is courage, right? So, courage is the ability for one to step out of the shadows and want to make a difference or have a greater impact.
And then the other one that really comes to mind―and if I can use a hyphen―it's team building, right? So, within our work environment, nothing gets done by yourself. And so, when I think of leadership, at least in a work environment, it's somebody that's a team builder.
Justin: Those are all great words. They really are. Just now, before we hit record, we were talking about some of the ways that work looks different now than it has in the four decades that you've been a part of this business. Do any one of those words have a new or different meaning for you in this current work environment?
Roger: Well, I think certainly that the team building has changed. And even anything related to relationships.
So, relationships could have been another word as it relates to leadership. If anything, in our new kind of semi-remote hybrid work environment. It's become more difficult to build teams without direct face-to-face contact all the time. I mean, think of the way that we collaborate, right? It's in a room. There's a whiteboard. It's, you know, you can see body language. You know when somebody wants to add on to what you're saying, you know, and they're listening and not really quite agreeing, all of those things are lost in our Zoom world.
So certainly, you know, our remoteness is very different. And I commented that we don't travel like we used to. I used to be on an airplane, it seems like four or five times a month, about. And since March of 2020, I think I've been on maybe six different business trips.
Now, certainly, living in the Washington area, we have a lot of in-person events with the association. So, you know, I go to a lot of those. But in terms of travel to meetings, I had a meeting last week where I was picked up at a train station, and we went to a coffee bar for an hour and a half because the person's working remotely separate and apart from the rest of the company. And there's only certain things you can do on Zoom. And when you need to have deeper, more important discussions, I always think it's great to have, you know, face to face.
Justin: Yeah, not only that, my Marriott rewards have fallen significantly. My loyalty has, not of my own accord, has fallen off. And that's an adjustment for us as well.
Ronnie: Roger, when you think about the environment that we're in now, as you were just kind of talking about meeting someone in person, to have those conversations as a leader, do you have to approach it differently? Do you have to be intentional about the way you interact with your coworkers and things like that in this, you know, Zoom virtual environment?
Roger: Well, I think it varies by situation, but, you know, I think one of the challenges with having meetings on Zoom is certain people can hide and/or they get lost because you don't have that body language, right? As in an in-person meeting. And I think, you know, what I've tried to do ... In fact, I just came off of a meeting with a volunteer committee on membership. And it's really important to reach out to individuals that haven't had a chance to speak. Some of the best ideas are the ideas that are never said. You know, I think I was moderating the meeting. I was among a group of industry leaders. But you really need to draw people into conversations when you're working just on screens.
Justin: Now you talk about building teams, and that is something that's a constant. Whether or not you're in a room together or not. You, you know, your career, you've built teams throughout your career. And so, when you reflect on that, you know, you've been at multiple different nonprofit marketing agencies and other nonprofit marketing partners, such as Wiland. You know, I'm curious what experiences through that time have shaped you to define the approach that you take now in your role at Wiland?
Roger: Yeah, so, I have a great job at Wiland. And I guess the reason why I'm in this role is I've had a varied career. You know, I'm one of the few persons in our company that has a lot of agency experience. I have had a career where I've been focused on full-service agency work. Needing to understand all the things of strategy, data, copy, creative production, listed media, human resources, all of that. But that's built on a foundation of how I got into the business, which was really all data and database and analytics.
And so, I'm, you know, one of the things people ask me, so why did you go back to Wiland? So, for those that don't know, I was at Wiland for about 7 and 1/2 years, right straight out of college, moved to the East Coast from Colorado and ended up leaving Wiland and went to work in a direct mail production company for about 10 months. I realized that I needed to ... my passion was really in data, so I went to work for another database service bureau, primarily focusing on what today's called CRM.
Back in the day it was database management services. And I left there and went to Merkle, which really started a real important part of my career, where I was able to really combine the data to drive strategy in an agency environment. And I did that with Merkle for, I guess, close to nine, 10 years and then joined the Moore Group, Barden Cotton CDR before eventually ending up with Russ Reid.
But the reason why I wanted to go back to Wiland was, I really missed the data aspect. And, you know, I'm one of those guys. When I see a wall of numbers, I like to try to understand what the most important numbers are and determine what are the significant, you know, takeaways from overall numbers. And my role in Wiland really allows me to do that, but with the knowledge of what the industry and the nonprofits are doing, but also our broker and agency partners are really needing to accomplish in their day-to-day jobs.
And so, certainly, having that broader perspective of the industry has really helped me try to drive solutions and different innovation to meet our clients' needs as a corporate database partner.
Ronnie: That's quite a long and incredible journey you've had in your career. I've heard Justin say this term before, when we have an employee leave and come back, calls it a boomerang employee. So that boomerang was out there with Wiland for a while and then came back.
So, I was curious, you know, you've had a lot of experience in data and analytics. And strategy in all these various roles. You've probably seen it change a whole lot over time. What is your impression of that? How does that look different now in the way data and strategy are used than it did, say, 20 years ago?
Roger: Yeah, it's an interesting question, Ronnie. There're certainly a lot more technology tools. And especially now with the advent of artificial intelligence and machine learning. Certainly, within our work here at Wiland, you know, the models we build today are very different than were the regression type models from yesteryear.
But I still think that, you know, that the models that we build are only as good as the data that's used to build those models. And I think, you know, when I look back 20, 30 years ago, the industry has changed, but it hasn't changed that much.
Yeah, my wife likes to shoot me sometimes because I'll collect all the direct mail pieces that I've received in a month or so, and I'll take them to the office, and I'll lay them out. And I look at packages, and it's hard to beat a control that's a great control. And you see many controls that have lasted 10 or 15 years.
I mean, the fact that we're still using name label stickers as a freemium, you know, that doesn't change much from the days where there was those little added stickers in an envelope. And so, you look back, you say, well, how much has really changed? And the reality is, I think one of the bigger changes in our industry has been about, gosh, it must have been 20 plus years ago when Target Analytics Group created their cooperative database in nonprofits. And really, that was a pretty significant change for the nonprofit industry, it had been going on certainly in catalog and for-profit direct to consumer business.
But for nonprofits, that was really kind of a defining point, and since that point in time, you look, you know, Target Analytics Group closed its doors in December, but there are six to eight different cooperative databases, of which Wiland is one, that have really taken what TAG started and created a pretty significant footprint on the data side in our business.
Justin: Yeah, it's interesting because, to your point, identifying patterns in numbers hasn't changed, but it's how you identify them, right, that has, and in many cases, what numbers we're looking at, those, you know, the inputs in the way that we get there has changed.
You know, when you reflect on your time, Roger, both in agency and at, you know, cooperative data partners, like Wiland, et cetera, you mentioned at the outset, you know, the likes of a Roger Craver or, you know, Richard Viguerie, who were a handful of people who have mentored you over your career. And what lessons did you learn from them?
Roger: Yeah, so let me go back to the very first lesson that I probably recall, and it was actually from my mother. And it was in college, and I was a freshman in college. It was right around mid-October, November of my freshman year. And I was kind of disgruntled, you know, my gosh, am I in the right place? Am I doing what I should be doing? Did I go to the right school? And she said, you know what your problem is? You need to get both feet in. You need to commit to something. And if you don't like the way things are going, then only you can change it. And that was a great bit of advice. And it carried with me throughout my life. It was really important.
From a professional perspective, the prior three, maybe three people that have had a significant impact. One is Phil Wiland. There's no surprise why I went to work for Phil Wiland. For me, he embodies the real things that are important in business. It's honesty, it's integrity. It's doing the right thing. You know, he has a lot of Phil Wiland-isms that I just take to heart. One of them is our faith, family and work in that order. So that's pretty cool, right?
Another one is, only do things that benefit the customer. Like, if your heart's in the right place, you're going to benefit in the long term. And we're in business to serve customers. You know, whether you've got a lemonade stand or whether you have a database cooperative business, you need to do the right thing and be that. But, so Wiland to me is all about honesty, integrity, being kind, caring. And that's really served me a lot. And so, when I went back to Wiland, I knew I was drawing back into that culture, right, and that's really important, especially as you get closer towards the end of your career.
A second person was a gentleman by the name of Fielding Yost, and Fielding is CEO of Saturn Corporation. Saturn was really one of the larger database organizations serving nonprofits back in the early ‘90s. And what Fielding taught me was to think bigger. And Fielding was also a very good relationship person. But he really taught me that there's something beyond the little world that we work at. He was the first to really start doing CRM work for nonprofits in Europe from the U.S. And I learned a ton about business, about people, about developing and innovating and going outside of your box, if you will.
And then the last person I would mention is David Williams. David Williams was our CEO at Merkle. David was just a really smart businessperson and a great leader. I look back to the things that we learned at Merkle and some of the constructs of the way we approach numbers, analytics and strategy. Those are real key things. But also, in the way that you manage your business and from the, you know, how do you look at your staff? How do you develop your staff? What are the key attributes that you should look for as you’re recruiting people for your team? I never forget, you know, curiosity was a big one. And I think that, especially in the analytics and data side of the world, if you're not curious, you won't learn much.
And I think curiosity is a big attribute that is sometimes overlooked but certainly very important. Does that help answer the question a little bit, Ronnie?
Ronnie: Absolutely, those are some incredible lessons, especially the curious one. I’ve personally always tried to use that in my career, and I started as a journalist. So, kind of being curious and asking questions is sort of natural to me.
Thinking about, you know, just kind of thinking about some of those lessons you learned about integrity and thinking bigger and curiosity and things like that. When you look at the state of the nonprofit industry today and marketing today, it's incredibly complex. You know, you talked about numbers haven't changed, but there're a lot more numbers now and a lot more tools out there to look at them. But then you also are dealing with the post-pandemic world we’re in ... the supply chain issues, you know, changing results, kind of regressing to the mean for some nonprofits. All these things kind of converging at once. As you look at all of these things, how do you apply those lessons that you've learned over the years to what's happening today?
Roger: Yeah, good question. You know, our world has gotten more complicated. Our marketing has become not only more challenging, but surely has more opportunities. For so many years, we focused primarily on single channels or maybe one or two channels. And I'm not sure that I'm a proponent of the word omnichannel because I don't know that anybody's really doing omnichannel marketing, but certainly integrated multi marketing, multi-channel marketing is happening all around us.
And I think, you know, as I look at the industry, there are more and more opportunities to spend your marketing dollars. I think one of the challenges is still that from a measurement perspective, we're not great yet at attributing impact to the dollars that get mapped. I think that's one of the things that's going to hold back marketers in the future is not being able to measure the impact as a multi-channel touch versus a single touch. And there's always reluctance, I think, to make changes.
So, many people will continue down the single or spend most of their money on a single channel when, in effect, if they had the ability to measure the impact, it would certainly split up their expenditure in more meaningful, more impactful and in an optimized fashion. And I think that's one of the challenges.
You'd mentioned earlier about data and analytics. And certainly, one of the areas, even as we do our modeling at Wiland, is, you know, it's interesting to think that the same principles we use in developing response models for direct mail, we can also now use those same principles in building response models for impression level data. You know, I can map the digital display impression through our identity graph back to an individual person. I can map the responders either through click through data or platform attribution or even through a match back attribution to identify the responders.
And as such, I can build a much more sophisticated model similar to the response models we build for other channels. And I think, you know, that's been enlightening to me, that there's just a tremendous amount of data. There are all kinds of different modeling techniques, and there's a world beyond look-alike modeling, which is the way most platforms work. Right? And we know from our work on the co-op side that our response models are more predictive and more robust than look-alike profile models.
And I just think, as we move forward into the next 15, 20 years, it's going to be the ability to harness all of that data and then make heads or tails out of it, to determine what's working and what's not working, right? And I think that's always been the challenge. In a world where you're getting a 1% response rate, you know, what happened to the other 99%? Well, the people that are going to win at this game, we're going to really harness the data available to them and do it in ways where they can determine the effectiveness of each dollar spent.
Justin: If I were to, if I were to summarize, Roger, what I'm hearing from you, and we really are, we're so thankful for the chance to have this conversation, it's something in the neighborhood of keep the main things the main thing and keep being curious. Like, it's those things together … they’re things that you have exemplified. But there also are things that we need to carry forward so that we can be successful in helping nonprofits deliver on their mission.
Roger: Yeah, absolutely. I think that sums it up pretty well.
The other thing that, you know, as I look to mentor people, even within our own company, work is certainly very important. But from my personal perspective, I've been able to supplement my work experience with getting involved in other things. And whether you're getting involved as a coach on your little league, your son’s or daughter’s youth sports team, or if you're volunteering at the local food pantry, or if you're volunteering, Justin, as you do as well, and in this case, this year, you're very, very involved as the co-chair of the 2023 Bridge Conference.
Those are things that help you not only personally because they provide a lot of satisfaction and enrichment, but the work that you're doing is really furthering our industry. And, you know, one of the things that I tried to do from college all the way through my work life is, I've tried to have another piece of me helping the betterment of something else. And the one thing that I've chosen to do is to help our industry as it thrives and grows and evolves into the future.
And Justin, thank you for the work that you're doing as well.
Justin: Wow, Roger, that’s very, very kind of. I agree with you. I think that, you know, we all need to think about the nonprofit marketing space as something that we’re holding and that it’s our responsibility to carry forward and to always leave a place better than the way that you found it. And certainly, you've done that. I hope that I'm able to do that much, and Ronnie, and everyone who works in the sphere, I mean that's, I think that without fail, everyone that we talk to when you talk about, you know, how they ended up in this strange land that we work in, none of them set out to do it, but everyone finds they have a greater sense of purpose by doing so. And we would be foolish to not care for that sense of purpose for those that come behind us.
Roger: Absolutely, yeah.
Justin: Well, Roger, you know, we could certainly take all of your time today while you're in office and continue the chat. But we're very thankful for the chance to visit with you to learn a little bit about your path and the lessons that you've learned over time and are excited to see how you continue to make an impact, both at Wiland and in the broader nonprofit marketing industry. So, thank you for joining us for this conversation.
Roger: Yeah, thanks, Ronnie, and thanks, Justin. Appreciate it. And I love the work that you're doing here, and I'm just glad to have been able to participate. Thank you.
Justin: No, absolutely. So that's going to wrap it up for this conversation. You can find all of our episodes of Group Thinkers on wherever you listen to podcasts. Also, if you like to watch them, be sure to check those out. We also have other resources available on RKD's website at rkdgroup.com. And so, until next time. Ronnie, any final Hall-related words?
Ronnie: I have several halls in my house.
Justin: That’s very poignant, very poignant. Thank you. It was a long walk to get there. All right. Thanks, y'all. We'll see you next time. See you down the road.
Roger: Thank you very much.
Justin: Group Thinkers is a production of RKD Group. For more information, visit rkdgroup.com/podcast. Special thanks to our production team, including the talented Ryan Mellinger for his work on mixing every episode. Also, a shout out to the content team that helps pull together research and guests, puts the marketing efforts behind Group Thinkers, Suzanne, Ronnie and others for their work on this and every episode of Group Thinkers.