QVC’s Paul Capelli Talks Mobile, Community, Shopping and the Holidays

December 3, 2012

“We love the holiday season at QVC — so much, that we present our first holiday offerings starting in July,” says Paul Capelli, vice president of corporate communications and community affairs.

“You probably heard of ‘Christmas in July,’ and in large part, you have QVC to thank for it.  We have been doing a 24-hour sales event, featuring all holiday products, for many years and our customers love it.  This year’s event was the highest July Christmas sales day ever. Not many retailers can boast the ability to sell more than $40 million in Christmas merchandise in one day in July.  This year, a similar day in August was equally successful, but our core holiday shopping season kicks in around mid-October.”

Capelli — who has been a PRSA member since 1987 and was involved in PRSSA before that — is responsible for driving the overall communications strategy for the growing multi-channel, global organization, which specializes in televised home shopping.

Prior to this role, he served as the vice president of public relations of Staples and of CNBC Television. And in the 1990s, Capelli was a senior PR executive with as well as a senior vice president at Ketchum. He now lives in West Chester, Pa., with his wife and three children.
Here, he discusses the rise of mobile devices and what QVC is doing to keep up with the changing face of technology, as well as how the company embraces the holiday spirit.

How did you get your start in public relations?

I had the opportunity to study and earn a degree in public relations at Glassboro State College, now Rowan University. In the early 1980s, there were not a lot of universities focused on the profession as a major, but two professors — Don Bagin and  Tony Fulginiti — had a vision and put together a program that graduated many students who were trained, skilled and had internship experience that made them qualified entry level professionals. I was fortunate to be one of them. Soon after graduating, I was proud to submit the nomination that recognized Tony as the 1987 PRSA Educator of the Year.

As for my first paying job, I applied the old idiom “pound the pavement.” In pre-Internet days, the methods of job search were much more limited, so in addition to scanning the Sunday New York Times, making calls and sending letters and résumés via the mail — U.S. Post Office, not e-mail — I would take the bus from the woods of Sussex County, N.J. and walk the streets of New York City, knocking on doors with my portfolio.

One day, I walked into the Lincoln Building on 42 Street, and discovered a company called Ben Frank Promotions. A gentlemen standing at the fax machine in the lobby listened to my pitch as I presented my résumé. It was Ben Frank, and he hired me on the spot.

You’ve worked in public relations for major companies and networks like Staples, CNBC television and Amazon — what is the most important thing you’ve learned about public relations?

It can have a significant impact on the business success of an organization. Amazon is an example of how a brand can be built and thrive with public relations as the lead function, in terms of building brand, awareness and corporate reputation.

Each of the other organizations I have had the honor to be part of have valued and embraced public relations as a critical component of building a lasting company. I experienced CNBC becoming the most watched cable news channel, and at Staples, the company moved from No. 2 to becoming the world’s largest office products company.

What role does public relations play in building a multi-channel, global community like the QVC brand?

QVC is changing the way the world shops and is building a growing, global shopping community. We have come a long way from the days when shopping on TV was seen as something that was perhaps “out of the mainstream.” Now, shopping from a screen is a norm, with TV, iPads and smartphone adoption all contributing to our growing business.

Building customer relationships while creating and enabling a community to share content is all the rage — and it’s something QVC has been doing for 25 years. Along the way, QVC has built even richer experiences, beyond our original static, one-way TV feed and phone line for customers to interact with our hosts and each other. Technology is enabling our business model like never before, especially as people see their Facebook comments responded to live, in real-time on TV, or see their tweets scrolling across the screen as they watch a live broadcast. And they love how we respond, evolve and change our live programming, based on their interaction with us.

Our communication helps tell this robust and evolving QVC story, spotlights the breadth and quality of brands we offer and showcases the products you can’t find anywhere else. Storytelling is core to our brand, so our leadership team understands the power of what we can do in corporate communications to drive our business.

QVC is very involved in social media. How do you work with the on-air personalities to develop their brands and communities?

Our hosts’ social pages account for a significant amount of customer traffic to, which is now nearly 40 percent of our overall business — with TV and phone ordering representing the remaining 60 percent. Social media has enabled our customers to do what they love — engage with QVC, our hosts and guests, and other customers who share their interests. QVC is deeply engaged with our customers via our own Community Boards, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. Our ratings and reviews are 14 times greater than the average number of reviews most retailers receive, according to Bazaarvoice, the leading social commerce company for the world’s best global brands. We like to say that QVC has the world’s most technology savvy and engaged shopping community.

How has QVC viewership fared with the popularity of smartphones and apps, and consumer access to shopping at any time and place?

Last month Internet Retailer ranked QVC U.S. as the fifth largest in mobile sales across all industries. And among multi-category retailers, QVC U.S. had the second largest mobile business, behind Amazon. We see these strong results as clear confirmation that our strategy to create digital shopping experiences with strong integration across TV, PC, tablet and mobile platforms is not only succeeding, but also significantly outpacing the industry.

What challenges do you face in your day-to-day job as a communicator?

Like many organizations, QVC is a growing global company, and that evolution brings a host of challenges and complexities. We just launched a China joint venture and our Italy business just marked its two-year anniversary. Fortunately, the QVC model is proving to be highly desirable across all of our six countries to date, with more to come.

QVC sits at the intersection of media, retail, technology and entertainment, so there are many fast-moving pieces to always stay plugged into. We produce more live television than anyone — 24 hours a day, 364 days a year. People are coming and going around the clock — with 60 guests a day arriving to sell their products and tell their story to 100 million households.

Technology fuels our business, but it also creates challenges that didn’t exist early on. The tools now exist for individuals to share their opinions and observations like never before.

The engagement model is shifting from mass communications to a more individual approach, as people’s behaviors and motivations become clear through sharing of information. Education and empowerment are at the heart of rising social media, and it’s drastically changed how each of us in the profession go about our jobs each day. It’s an exciting and demanding time, and one that’s prime for great communications professionals to demonstrate how to lead and contribute to organizations.

You’ve been a member of PRSA since 1987. Why is it important to be involved in organizations that focus on advancing the profession and continuing education?

I was a member of PRSSA while in school and rolled that into a PRSA membership, soon after starting my career in the agency world. Early on, I was fortunate to work at organizations like Creamer Dickson Basford and Ketchum that embraced continuing education, skill building, and helping people evolve both the strategic planning and creative development work we did for clients. Core to this were the ongoing educational programs, conferences and awards that PRSA offered.

I remember winning my first Bronze Anvil for developing a website for Miller Brewing in the early days of the Internet — before there were search engines in place — and earning a Silver Anvil for the 1996 Olympic Torch Relay.  Those honors came from learning and embracing the fundamentals of great programs that deliver results and helped me learn how to create value for organizations through public relations.

What advice do you have for someone hoping to enter the communications field?

Some people are guided to do what they love and others by what they are good at.  To be successful in public relations, you need both.

You can’t teach passion, and I find the best people in our industry not only have superior communication skills, but also are driven by a love and belief in the profession, are curious and extremely resourceful. I’d suggest young people do a gut check on these areas, and if they personally apply, they are prime for a wonderful communications career.

Managing editor Amy Jacques interviewed Paul Capelli for this month’s member profile.

Getting to Know… Paul Capelli

Best place to travel to? 
Cape May, N.J., and Napa, Calif. 

Favorite leisure-time activity
Fun and interesting things to keep three kids under 10 engaged and happy

Amy Jacques

Amy Jacques is the managing editor of publications for PRSA. A native of Greenville, S.C., she holds a master’s degree in arts journalism from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in advertising from the University of Georgia’s Grady College and a certificate in magazine and website publishing from New York University.


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