By  on March 1, 1994

NEW YORK -- As new entries in the home shopping field try to redefine the medium, they're confounding headhunters in their quest for "hybrid" executives.

Without an established job pool, TV shopping concerns have tapped retailers, producers and catalogers, hoping this melting pot of talent will gel to produce a successful home shopping team. Most often, home shopping networks are defining the job qualifications of their senior executives as they go along.

"There is a lot of jury-rigging of talent," said R. Fulton Macdonald, president of International Business Development, a retail consulting firm.. "A lot of the people being put in front-line positions are really a stretch, but there is not a body of expertise to tap yet. There is not an established core of proven winners."

Time Warner, which hired Gordon Cooke as president of interactive merchandising, is solidly staffed in the areas of technology and programming. Cooke, who was chairman of Bloomingdale's By Mail, brings a knowledge of cataloging and contacts with manufacturers.

"Having people that have a direct-response background is somewhat more advantageous to having someone who has had a retailing background," Cooke said. "They are used to projecting and maintaining high-inventory levels of key items. That's a different skill set."

Keith Halford, chief executive officer of RSTV, a home shopping network based in Knoxville, Tenn., agreed.

"We focus on direct response professionals because they have more of a single-item orientation rather than a complete-line orientation," he said. "TV shopping tends to offer more depth in selective items, but not lots of breadth." Candice Carpenter, the former president of Time-Life Video and Television, who was hired by QVC Inc. to run Q2, has surrounded herself with an eclectic staff that includes former senior executives of Barneys New York, Go Silk, Reebok International and Fox Television.

According to sources, the staff, while highly energetic and creative, has had some trouble homing in on a concept.

"The Q2 staff is small and they haven't defined their focus yet," Macdonald said. "Carpenter's style is that of modest chaos. It's a little freewheeling."

Carpenter said having broadcasters and retailers on the same staff is working well. The structure of the office, which is totally open, has encouraged collaboration."I could see where it could conceivably go the other way, but for us, it has been very positive," Carpenter said. "I tried to pick people who were very collaborative by their nature and it's really paid off.

"Back in the fall when we first started, the merchants would come up with something they'd like to see on screen and the broadcasters would tell them it wouldn't work," she continued. "Everyone developed a way to say, 'Maybe that will work.' The retailers also developed more realism."

Macdonald said TV in its present form -- without interactive technology -- has trouble attracting upscale customers. "Upscale consumers are not at home at 4 p.m. or 8 p.m.," he said, pointing out that they are working during the day and socializing in the evening.

Carpenter dismissed that argument, saying that interactive assumes that people know exactly what they want, which is not always the case.

She said the network's painstaking development has been a result of the scope of the project.

"We are creating, in essence, a brand new store and at the same time translating that into an electronic language," Carpenter said. "We have had to define our merchandising philosophy from the bottom up in addition to what we want to look and feel like. It's a longer, more complicated task and harder to accomplish. That is the reason it has taken us longer to go from the beginning of the process to on air."

The few forays by television networks into home shopping have been hampered by a balance of power skewed toward broadcasting.

"The failures were a result of people being hired with 100 percent broadcast backgrounds," Cooke said. "ABC and NBC have not been able to produce a show that delivers ratings and sales. The formula for making it happen hasn't occurred yet."

"Can We Shop?" a syndicated home shopping and entertainment program hosted by Joan Rivers, is trying to make that happen.

"We are really the only [home shopping] show that's Nielson-rated," said Gail Gordon Channer, the program's merchandising director, who previously worked at Bloomingdale's. Channer said the show's programmers and merchandisers have been on the same wavelength so far. However, there may be conflicts ahead if ratings sag and producers see the need for more talk and less hard sell.At this point, the new medium is still groping as it tries to determine the right ingredients for its talent pool. And for now, say some observers, that's the only way.

"The people who are responsible for the bottom line have to be ready to make changes pretty quickly," Macdonald said. "They also have to give these people enough latitude to make some mistakes and learn."

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