What does MMA CEO?s resignation mean for mobile marketing?

The Mobile Marketing Association announced that global president/CEO Mike Wehrs will resign effective Dec. 31 after having led the association for just one year. So where does this leave the industry?

Mr. Wehrs will take on the role of special advisor to the MMA global executive committee until June 30, 2010, to assist with the transition. MMA global chairman Federico Pisani Massamormile, CEO of aggregator Hanzo Inc., Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, will serve as interim CEO, while the MMA board and recruiting committee begins the search for a new global chief.

"Mike has resigned as president and CEO of the organization, and we respect his decision,? Mr. Pisani said. ?He will stay on until a proper transition is complete and will be working together for ongoing initiatives.

?We will start a search with the board as soon as possible,? he said. ?Mike did a lot of interesting things to help the organization move on to the next level, such as launching the local council initiative and the premium membership program.

?He built a tremendous staff, which is really prepared to take this forward.?

Wehrs Mike?
Many industry executives were shocked to find out Mr. Wehrs had resigned from the world?s leading mobile marketing trade association.

Anil Malhotra, senior vice president of marketing and alliances at mobile analytics and payments firm Bango, Cambridge, England, was surprised.

"This resignation is unexpected so soon after Mike took the reins," Mr. Malhotra said. "The MMA has made tremendous progress this year in new markets, notably South America, Asia, South Africa and Eastern Europe.

"However, its influence in North America has been less obvious recently," he said.

The MMA has made important contributions steering mobile marketing standards and continues to play a vital, cross-carrier role in best practices for premium mobile services. But it has not added much in key areas such as consumer privacy and driving open-market standards, per Mr. Malhotra.

The next CEO of this well-supported industry association needs to have ?grow business, reduce regulation? as their mantra, he said.

"What began life as a telecommunications marketing model is now very much a Web model and needs all the speed and efficiencies of the Internet to be attractive to developers and brands," Mr. Malhotra said.

Tim Miller, CEO of Sumotext Inc., Little Rock, AR, said that the MMA needs to do a better job policing its members. He said the MMA logo should really mean something?and right now it does not.

"Beyond proof of compliance with carrier guidelines and MMA best practices, a good first step would be to require that all MMA members sign an oath not to use the carrier's exposed SMTP gateways for sending SMS via email servers, Mr. Miller said.

"Another good step would be to monitor its members? use and claims of client names and references,? he said. ?Members should not be allowed to claim clients that aren't paying them or not paying them directly.

There are way too many re-sellers ? start-ups who have white-labeled an application provider's platform ? that claim the clients that use the same platform they are re-selling.

There are also a lot of companies that claim an entire brand as a client, when they actually only service as little as one franchisee.

The man from Ipanema?
As expected, the MMA downplayed the challenges that it will face in the wake of Mr. Wehrs? unexpected announcement.

?He felt comfortable with his achievement and we can take over from here?we?ll be fine,? Hanzo?s Mr. Pisani said. ?After a year on the nonprofit side he wants to be on the commercial side of the mobile business.?

Upon the announcement yesterday, there was speculation as to the logistics of running the New York-based organization from Brazil. However, Mr. Pisani stressed that it is a global organization with many regional chapters.

?This will take more of my time in the short term, but it will not be disruptive to the organization,? Mr. Pisani said. ?Mike built a tremendous team, and I?m excited about the MMA and its potential?we?ve set up plans and we?re looking forward to 2010.

?It will be challenging to manage everything from overseas, but on the other hand the MMA is a global organization with a presence in Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa [and] Asia-Pacific, as well as North America, and we?ve set up processes and procedures to let us manage remotely,? he said. ?Mike was on the plane all the time?this is not a local New York job.

?We have chapters in South America?I flew a lot already and I?ll do more as needed, as it is a global business, and I?ll be spending more time in New York, which I don?t mind at all.?

This year, MMA paid membership is said to have increased despite the economic conditions and the trends in many other trade associations.

The association claims that it increased membership for its regional chapters in Asia-Pacific, Europe, Middle East and Africa, North America and Latin America.

Within the past year, the MMA has conducted five Mobile Marketing Forums around the world, further established partnerships with CTIA - The Wireless Association, GSMA, Media Ratings Council, Direct Marketing Association and several other trade associations.

The MMA has helped to establish global guidelines for mobile advertising and the code of conduct. This year the lobby has worked regionally to get adopted consumer best practices, mobile ad guidelines and other educational documents and professional certifications of competence in the mobile marketing field.

Meanwhile, the next step is to form a search committee among board members.

?We?ll find a search committee on the board, which is not a job I want to do myself,? Mr. Pisani said. ?Since we?re a global organization?our goal is to make it more and more global?we?re looking for a senior representative of the board from each region to be on the search committee.

?We?ll look into the organization?s structure, as we need to make a couple of changes which we?ll announce immediately in the next couple of weeks,? he said. ?Myself and the executive committee of the board?we have the transition under control.

?Mike will be advising us during this time, and we have a senior team that is comfortable moving this forward, so there will be no disruption in terms of value creation to members.?

Show goes on
Maria Mandel, senior partner and executive director of digital innovation and the Digital Lab NA at Ogilvy, New York, and North American board chair for the MMA, said that the association has made great progress this year.

"We look forward to a great 2010, where we will strengthen our international presence through the local council initiative, and we will be in a position to better serve the local needs and, as a result, develop the industry globally," Ms. Mandel said.

For example, the MMA plans to expand the premium membership program and strengthen its public advocacy activities. Microsoft was announced as the first premium member at the Mobile Marketing Forum Nov. 17 in Los Angeles.

For now, the hand dealt must be played.

Paul Palmieri, president/CEO of Millennial Media, Baltimore, MD, pointed to the upside of this turn in events.

"As a board member within the Mobile Marketing Association both in the U.S. and globally, I congratulate Mike Wehrs on a solid year," Mr. Palmieri said. "I am as sad to see him go, as I was happy upon his arrival earlier this year.

"His presence and direction will be missed,? he said. ?However, we have a highly diverse and active board which will ensure the organization continues to support industry education and best practices in mobile advertising and mobile marketing until his replacement is named.?

Edited by Mickey Alam Khan and Giselle Tsirulnik