CEO Q&A: Zev and Jeffrey Weiss, American Greetings

Zev and Jeffrey Weiss, co-CEOs at American Greetings, speak to Diana Bradley about privatization and how the company keeps evolving.

Zev, how has the company evolved since you became CEO in 2003?
Zev Weiss: We have evolved a lot in that time due to the economy, changes in the retail environment, and strategic choices and investments we made along the way.

For example, we increased the capabilities of our AG Interactive division to capture the way people were communicating with their mobile devices. We entered and then exited the photo-sharing and personal publishing business, and we sold our American Greetings card store business and focused on supplying products to more than 60,000 retail stores across the country.

In 2009, we increased the depth of our product offering by acquiring the Recycled Paper Greetings and Papyrus brands. In the last few years, we launched [online site] Cardstore for personalized paper greetings and also gained market share from the competition within the retail marketplace.

Explain American Greetings’ approach to communications.
Zev: We have a lean and efficient communications team consisting of five people, but we also work closely with our AOR Mullen and we work with Golin on a handful of projects. Every day, we are connecting with consumers through PR and social media. We have a steady drumbeat of PR activity to support new card innovations, seasonal, and everyday card-sending occasions such as birthdays, weddings, babies, and thank yous.

How does your social media team engage with consumers?
Jeffrey Weiss: Our social media team engages with consumers every day. Whether they are responding to content we post within social channels such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram; posting their own feedback, questions, or concerns on our social channels; or mentioning us elsewhere online, we pay attention and respond as appropriately and as quickly as possible. 

In July, we launched a social media campaign with the hashtag #BackToCleveland, which featured a 7-foot greeting card signed by more than 2,000 American Greetings fans and associates to welcome NBA superstar LeBron James’ return to the Cleveland Cavaliers in northeast Ohio, home of our world headquarters.

Through a series of social media posts, we invited fans to add their name to the card and gave them a place to share their excitement. The oversized card was delivered to the LeBron James Family Foundation’s #PromiseProject home renovation, which was featured on HGTV’s Rehab Addict.

The campaign generated thousands of likes, comments, and shares, connecting us in a relevant way to a timely event that generated national media attention.

Earlier this year, the Cardstore’s World’s Toughest Job campaign went viral.
Zev: The Mother’s Day campaign was a key awareness driver for us. We saw triple digit year-over-year improvements in social engagement, along with double-digit improvements in site visits, purchase conversion, new customers, and revenue.

Why did you decide to take the company private last year?
Zev: We believed, and still believe, privatization is a smart, long-term decision for the organization. As a privately held company, American Greetings no longer faces the pressures from the public markets to produce short-term and immediate returns.

Rather, we can continue to make crucial decisions based on what is in our best and long-term interests.

How are the company’s sales this year, in comparison to 2013?
Zev: Our fiscal year begins in March, so we only publicly reported results for our first fiscal quarter. Our consolidated revenue for Q1 is slightly up when compared to last year, about 1% or $6 million.

While our North American segment revenue for Q1 was essentially flat compared to the same period last year, sales in our international segment and retail operations segment were slightly up, driven in part by the positive impact of foreign currency exchange movements. [American Greetings declined to give further details.]

How do you engage staff and boost employee morale?
Jeffrey: The Chairman’s Award is our largest recognition event that spans three days and is celebrated by nearly all American Greetings associates.

The program, which has been running for 18 years, acknowledges success and recognizes those who put forth extraordinary effort for the year. Associates nominate their colleagues, a panel of judges reviews the nominations, and winners receive personal and professional development prizes.  

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