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Mark Smelzer on Community in the Jewelry Industry

In episode #211 of the Joy Joya Jewelry Marketing Podcast, I share my interview with Mark Smelzer, the former publisher of JCK and the current Chief Content Executive at Jewelers Mutual Group. Mark started his career in magazine ad sales in Los Angeles when he became the publisher of a city magazine called Buzz. After that, he moved to Variety, the entertainment trade publication, but a corporate shake-up there propelled him to become the publisher of JCK magazine. At the time, 18 years ago, he knew very little about the jewelry industry, but he grew to love it and has seen it go through countless changes. In 2021, he shifted to an exciting new role at Jeweler’s Mutual, and he conceived of the event Conversations in Park City, which recently took place in mid-October. I’m really excited to have Mark on the podcast today to chat about his time in the industry as well as his experience of the unique retreat in Utah.

In this episode, we’ll be covering:

  • What’s it like to organize and execute on a major event for the jewelry industry?
  • Why are leadership development and networking events so important for this industry?
  • What are some of the most exciting and invigorating things happening in the industry today?
  • …and more!

Check out the episode files as well as the transcript below.

Laryssa Wirstiuk  00:08

Welcome to the Joy Joya Podcast, where jewelry is joy and everyone is encouraged to add more polish and sparkle to the world with topics ranging from marketing tips to business development, best practices and beyond. This is the go to podcast for ambitious jewelry industry dreamers like you.

Laryssa Wirstiuk  00:31

Hi, I’m your host Laryssa Wirstiuk. Through this podcast, I aim to empower and inspire jewelry entrepreneurs and professionals, so they can thrive while adding more beauty to the world. I’m passionate about digital marketing for jewelry brands, and I’m excited to share my passion with you. As we all know “jewelry is joy,” so I’ll gladly seize any opportunity to talk about it. 

Laryssa Wirstiuk  00:55

This is Episode 211. And today I’m gonna be sharing an interview with someone who’s a little bit of a celebrity in the jewelry industry, at least in my eyes. So in 2019, I spoke at the jewelry Ecomm live conference in Miami, and someone else who was there told me I had to meet this person who I’m going to have on my podcast today. When I heard the name, I kind of recognized it. And I got really excited. And I was like, “Yes, I want to meet this person.” So I was able to arrange a brief meeting with him outside the Centurion show floor. And I’ve been so happy and grateful that I’ve had the chance to connect with him a number of times since then. I’ll be sharing more about this guest in just a little bit. 

Laryssa Wirstiuk  01:43

But here’s a preview of what we’ll be discussing; What’s it like to organize and execute on a major event for the jewelry industry? Why are leadership development and networking events so important for industry? And what are some of the most exciting and invigorating things happening in the industry today, and much more. 

Laryssa Wirstiuk  02:05

But before we get to the solid gold of this episode, I’d like to take a moment to remind you that this podcast has both an audio and video component. So you can either listen on your favorite podcast platform, or watch on YouTube by searching Joy Joya. I love creating this content as my act of service to you, my awesome listeners and viewers. And you can always support the podcast for free by taking the time, not only to subscribe, but also to leave a rating and review on Apple podcasts, which helps other jewelry dreamers find it too. 

Laryssa Wirstiuk  02:37

I want to read my favorite review of the week. So, this is actually not a podcast review but feedback I got in an Instagram DM, “I’ve been hearing your podcast for a year now, and every time I do I learn something new. This is truly helpful and I want to acknowledge you for that.” Thank you! I really appreciate that. If you leave a review, send me a DM, leave a comment on YouTube, I might read it on a future episode. So, please let me know what you think about this one or any other major takeaways you’ve had recently. 

Laryssa Wirstiuk  03:12

In this segment of the podcast, I give out my Sparkle Award for the week. So during this segment, I highlight a jewelry brand that is impressing me with their marketing. This Sparkle Award is also interactive, so you can visit to nominate a jewelry brand that’s inspiring you too, and I might feature your submission on a future podcast episode. So this Sparkle Award comes from an article I saw in national jeweler called “The New Diamonds Do Good Bracelet has Launched.” So, this week’s Sparkle Award goes to “Diamonds Do Good,” which recently launched its latest bracelet ahead of the holiday season. If you’ve never heard of Diamonds Do Good, It’s a global nonprofit organization with a mission of supporting programs that develop and empower people in natural diamond communities. Their newest bracelet is the sleek, gender-neutral style. It was designed by Onirikka Fine Jewelry and was launched in partnership with model and entrepreneur Flaviana Matata, who was born and raised in Tanzania. This style features matte onyx beads accented with four black diamonds spaced evenly around as symbols of unity and equality. It also has some additional symbolism too. So there’s a tsavorite garnet on the pulse point, which represents life and rebirth. And there’s a single champagne diamond included as a symbol of the light within us all. 

Laryssa Wirstiuk  04:42

I think that’s really beautiful and I love that there’s so much symbolism and meaning infused into this bracelet. So the designer said, “For me, everything is unified. The more love we give, the more good we do, the more light we project.” I love that! What’s the best part about this bracelet, though? For every one sold, Diamonds Do Good will donate to the Flaviana Matata Foundation (FMF), a nonprofit that aims to inspire, empower and support girls in Tanzania. Definitely check this out. It’s a good cause. I love the story behind it. I’m really inspired. 

Laryssa Wirstiuk  05:22

As I mentioned, you can visit to nominate a jewelry brand that’s inspiring you, and I might feature your submission on a future podcast episode.

Let’s discuss some recent news related to jewelry or marketing. Each week, I share my thoughts about three relevant articles, and you can get the links in the show notes. 

Laryssa Wirstiuk  05:43

The first article comes from, and it’s called, “Cookies Are Ruining Your Holiday Sales. Here’s Why Session-Based Personalization Is The Best Alternative.” No, they are not talking about the types of cookies that you leave for Santa Claus. This might sound a little bit complex and very marketing tech. But I’m going to try to bring it to the solopreneur small business owner and why this matters. So, this article is for brands that are maybe doing subsegmentation, especially with email, some personalization in their marketing and messaging. And it’s also for brands that want to take the excitement and momentum that they’re able to generate during Black Friday, Cyber Monday Weekend and extend that through Christmas, and even beyond. So that it doesn’t just end there, and then they never engage with those customers again. 

Laryssa Wirstiuk  06:45

So, one way you can get super-specific and personalized with your Christmas time-messaging is by tailoring that messaging based on what customers purchased, added to their carts or browsed on your website for any sort of Christmas message that you send them. So that’s better than just a blind guess at what you’re assuming they want based on their age, or gender or other sort of demographic information. If you’re able to, and you have the tools and data to quickly leverage insights that you glean from what you know about your customers when they shop on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Then, those follow up interactions right before Christmas can really be personalized, and draw shoppers back in. In practice, this could maybe look like a targeted email that you send mid September that highlights items that you recommend to those shoppers, again, based on their specific behavior. So this avoids what’s called a “cold start problem.” Cold start is when you’re just blasting all your customers with the same message. You’re like assuming things that they want, but as we know, for most brands, the holiday season is a very lucrative time. If you can get as specific as possible with your recommendations, and you can really base those recommendations on data, you are not approaching your marketing completely blind and you’re giving your business your best chance at success. 

Laryssa Wirstiuk  08:22

So my main takeaway from this is, just because someone purchased from you on Black Friday, Cyber Monday, doesn’t mean they won’t want or need another item before Christmas. Leverage that information that you know about your customers, and then make personalized recommendations. And not only just based on shopping behavior, but also leverage any sort of browsing or add-to-cart behavior if you’re able to do that as well. 

Laryssa Wirstiuk  08:52

The second article comes from JCK, and it’s called, “25% of Diamond Jewelry Sales in 2021 Were Made Online.” So, De Beers recently released their diamond insight report. And they gleaned a lot of findings about customer behavior related to jewelry purchases, specifically diamond jewelry purchases. So there were really two main points in here that I wanted to highlight that I think really well represent how consumer behavior is shifting when it comes to purchasing jewelry and what customers want. So the first thing is that branded diamond jewelry represented two-thirds of all diamond jewelry purchases in the US in 2021. That is more than double the percentage of what it was in 2015. It also comprised about 80% of all sales by value. So De Beers recently released their latest diamond insight report, which is a report that really tells us a lot of interesting data about how consumers are shopping for diamond jewelry today. How has behavior around shopping changed? What do consumers want now? What do they feel comfortable with when it comes to making a purchase of diamond jewelry? 

Laryssa Wirstiuk  10:11

So, there were two main takeaways that I got from this report, which was full of some really interesting statistics. The first one was that branded diamond jewelry represented two-thirds of all diamond jewelry purchases in the US in 2021. That’s more than double the percentage of what it was in 2015. It also comprised almost 80% of all sales by value. And so most surprisingly, younger consumers are embracing branded diamonds, more than some of the older generations. So my takeaway from this is that in order to be competitive this year, next year and beyond, you really need to have a brand because consumers are resonating with brands. You may think that they are shopping for price, that they are just looking for the best deal regardless of brand. I’m sure there’s consumers like that out there. But the data does not support that. The data says that more consumers than ever before are shopping for branded diamond jewelry. 

Laryssa Wirstiuk  11:21

The second takeaway that I had from this report was that De Beers found that online sales of diamond jewelry represented 25% of US sales by value and 31% by volume in 2021. And to give you some comparison, in 2015, online represented only 14% by value and 18% by volume. I’m sure that some of that growth in online sales of diamond jewelry was fueled by the pandemic. But I don’t anticipate this slowing down and I think it really is a sign of what’s to come, that customers are really that much more comfortable shopping for fine jewelry, diamond jewelry, online. So what is this all mean? One, as I mentioned, building a strong brand, as well as a user friendly ecommerce channel are important for anyone selling diamond jewelry, and I think fine jewelry as well, direct to consumer today. So that’s my main takeaway from this article. 

Laryssa Wirstiuk  12:29

And then, the last article comes from, and it’s called, “TikTok Launches TicTok Academy Marketing Education Program.” Are you interested in TikTok? Do you want to get your brand on there? Or do you want to optimize your brand’s presence on this social media platform? There’s good news for you. TikTok recently launched a new education program for marketers called, “TikTok Academy. It has free video courses on how to make the best use of TikTok for marketing. They also have research data and other information to help you expand your understanding of this app. Right now, there are two courses on offer. And they’re probably really well suited for more of like the beginner TikTok business users. So those are “TikTok 101” and “Small Business.” 

Laryssa Wirstiuk  13:20

Of course, it’s important to remember that when it comes to something like TicTok, there’s really no course that can substitute for the time you spend on the app, the understanding you have of the trends and how real users are engaging with it. It’s kind of like the difference between going to school to study business and like actually having a business. There are different things you’re going to learn from the education versus the experience. The same is true with something like TicTok. The Social Media Today article makes a great point, “The real skill in TicTok marketing is understanding key trends in aligning your content with the other videos in user feeds in order to keep people engaged, and there’s no course that can give you that insight.” But the courses are definitely supposed to have some great tips and takeaways that just from using the app you may have missed or can just enlighten you further maybe so that you gain confidence and feel comfortable diving into it for the first time. 

Laryssa Wirstiuk  14:24

So, my main takeaway from this is if you want a crash course in using TikTok as part of your social media marketing strategy, then this is definitely a great place to start. For more information about any of these articles, check out the links provided in the show notes. 

Laryssa Wirstiuk  14:40

So as I mentioned earlier in the episode, my guest today is kind of a rock star. Most people in the industry have at least heard of him. Mark Smelzer is the former publisher of JCK and the current Chief Content Executive at Jewelers Mutual Group. Mark started his career in magazine ad sales in Los Angeles when he became the publisher of a city magazine called Buzz. After that, he moved to Variety, the entertainment trade publication. But a corporate shakeup there propelled him to become the publisher of JCK magazine. At that time, 18 years ago, he knew very little about the jewelry industry. But of course, he grew to love it, and has seen it go through countless changes. 

Laryssa Wirstiuk  15:30

In 2021, he shifted to an exciting new role at Jeweler’s Mutual, and he conceived of the event Conversations in Park City, which recently took place in October. I’m so excited to have Mark on the podcast today to chat about his time in the industry, as well as his experience of the unique retreat he helped create in Utah. So without further delay, let’s get to my interview with Mark.

Laryssa Wirstiuk  16:02

Mark, thanks so much for coming on the podcast. I’m really excited to chat with you today. I’m happy to have you as a guest.

Mark Smelzer  16:08

My pleasure. Happy to be here.

Laryssa Wirstiuk  16:12

Yes, so please tell our listeners and viewers about your-I guess it’s like newish role as the Chief Content Executive at Jewelers Mutual Group. I’d love to know a little bit more about that. So can you give us some background information?

Mark Smelzer  16:28

Yes, absolutely. So, I was the publisher of JCK for-Oh my heavens!-2004 to 2021. So it’s for 17 years. But as the print world, the magazine world, writ large, not JCK. But, as the whole world of magazine started to die out, we had to quickly hustle and try to figure out ways to backfill revenue, and also to create content that could be on new platforms, new ways that people were approaching the content. So, I pretty early on started dabbling in content marketing. On my side of the equation, that really manifested in advertisers engaging with us to create that didn’t promote their brands, specifically, but that was related to what they offered. And it was content that would be of interest to the JCK readers. So I started engaging in a lot of cool content marketing that way. 

Mark Smelzer  17:34

And then, when things really started to go south, in print, I actually raised my hand and said to the folks that read, “Look, it’s obvious you’re not going to be able to afford me at a fraction of the revenue. So, rather than one day, suddenly, be told that things had to change, I would much rather launch a consultancy and have you as half my time.” So I did that. It made it much more affordable and made a lot more sense for them. And then, I started pursuing other projects, and one of them was Gem & Jewel, she is the basis project. And I helped her bring Gem & Jewel to Jewelers Mutual, who, sidebar, they did, eventually by Jeff and Jill. So we’re all family now. But in the process, I really got my first chance to sit down with Mike Alexander, who’s recently been promoted to CEO of George Mitchell. And about a year later, I guess, it wonderfully came back to me that they were looking for their first ever Content Executive, and would I be interested. Of course, I was thrilled at the idea. So that’s the little backstory. 

Mark Smelzer  18:45

Then, what I’m doing in that role is I’m creating content that promotes their brand or brands, because there are sub brands now in Jewelrys Mutual, that helps communicate, specifically what they’re doing through written content. But also, like I was saying, with those advertisers, in a secondary way, by them creating content that goes out and talks about the industry and celebrates the industry, it reflects well on the JM brand. So, it’s not a direct content saying JM does this and that, it’s more like, “Wow, look at Jewelers Mutual and all that they’re bringing to the table.” So, the very first thing that I did was hire Emery Veselidn from JCK and so she is-I’m Chief Content Executive-she’s Senior Content Editor. So, she’s fingers on keyboard and also working with the writers that we bring in. But together we launched this new publication online b2b publication called the Zing Report

Mark Smelzer  19:49

And zing, of course, is Jewelry’s Mutual’s platform that they created as part of a larger strategy to enhance everything to do with data at the company. But out of that came, “Hey, with all of this data and with all these products in one central location, we could give retailers a sort of a central hub where they can come on a daily basis, and get all the services that we provide customized for them, plus news and information and content.” So, Chris did the Zing Report, the tagline is celebrating our industry. And that’s exactly what we do on a weekly basis. So that’s been really cool. And then, I started without really deliberation, sort of become an in house consultant at Jewelry’s Mutual, because I do have 20 years of relationships. So that’s been really fun. And then, I don’t know about you get together all your questions, but then the latest iteration of content was this conference that we just did in Park City. So that’s basically what I’m doing, creating content that helps the brand.

Laryssa Wirstiuk  20:56

I love that. And this is not any sort of sponsored plug for Jeweler’s Mutual or anything like that. But one thing I so admire about this company is that they had the four thoughts, the idea to even have a content division of their business. I am so immensely impressed by that.

Mark Smelzer  21:16

Yes, no doubt, as designed, because I think they’re the first one that I’ve heard of in our space to do so. But no surprise me, Scott Murphy came on board just shy of eight years ago, and brought Mike Alexander and some other executives, Mark Devereaux, and others along with him, and they’ve just done nothing but innovate. And, I said this to them in my initial conversations with them from my very first jewelers for children dinner at Vegas, where I saw the giant Jewelry’s Mutual banner. I’ve seen them as an organization or company of corporate lobbiest. They give back to the industry, they care about the industry, and that had been done in all these very traditional ways. Well, now it’s like 2.0. And they’re just doing it in all these other ways. Some of which benefit the company financially, like the shipping service that we have now. But others that don’t benefit, don’t generate revenue for the company, that are indeed expenses, but that help position them as this organization that knows that, as goes the industry as the tide rises in the industry, so eventually Jewelry’s Mutual do well. So yes, it’s very, very dynamic company these days. It’s very cool.

Laryssa Wirstiuk  22:45

So, I want to hear about this conference that you basically envisioned and put together, called Conversations in Park City. Let’s hear what it’s all about, what was this event?

Mark Smelzer  22:57

So, this goes back-for me, it goes back, Oh, my heavens, I don’t even know the first time I had the idea. It might have been 15 years ago. But I started living the circuit, and I realized that there was this opportunity. And I, at the time, I’m working for ReEd Exhibitions out in Norwalk. And I kept going to them and saying like, “Hey, there is an opportunity for a thought leader retreat. And, not to get ahead of ourselves, but like Davos for the jewelry industry, or Allen and company in Jackson Hall every year or Aspen Institute.” 

Mark Smelzer  23:41

And I grew up in Utah. So I envisioned it being in the mountains. And I also knew just how convenient Park City is for everybody. But a lot of people don’t know that Park City is like a 45 minute drive from an airport that you can fly directly from Paris, it’s really convenient to get to. So, I would always say, “We should do this, we should do this.” And they just, “There’s no way it would be profitable.” So they said no. And then, about six months into the job last August, actually, I tossed the idea out here, almost as an aside, and immediately Scott Murphy said, “Yeah, let’s investigate it.” So yes, the term of the idea was mine, but then immediately, it was this incredible team effort at Julius Mitchell to actually make it happen, including this young woman, Emily Pon Kratz, who came on board, who on her first day, her first one-on-one with me, I said, “Oh, by the way, we’re sort of hitting that in Park City next year.” And she just did a phenomenal job. So, there were all kinds of smart people in marketing, production, communication, emails, a group effort to pull together the list of attendees. And yes, it all came together. And it just happened. So we’re all floating. We’re all on cloud nine, right?

Laryssa Wirstiuk  25:14

That’s awesome. I love hearing that this vision-I didn’t even realize that you’ve had this idea for so long, and you were finally able to realize it. That must have been so exciting for you to finally get there and be there and see it all come to life.

Mark Smelzer  25:29

Yes, I got on stage the very first time-so it was Jewelry’s Mutual’s event and Scott Murphy kicked it off and actually just gave a really rousing speech. But I know, he’s already been invited by some folks to speak at their company retreats, which is really exciting. But yes, I was the MC, and that first time I got on stage was emotional. I got a little verklempt, as they say, because really, just to see something that I had daydreamed about in broad strokes. But then once we knew where the hotel was, and once we knew what the room looked like, and the daydreams were really quite specific, and then to actually see it happen, was just amazing. 

Mark Smelzer  26:14

And part of the joy of it was that everybody who came this first year, it was a real leap of faith. It wasn’t inexpensive, although we got to stay at the hotel for like, 90% off ski season rates. So we got this wonderful five star experience at a two star, three star price. But, everyone really took a leap of faith, nobody really knew exactly what it was gonna be. And so that was part of the magic, was everybody going like, “Oh, it’s this! Oh, wow! Oh, wow!” Yes, it was really cool.

Laryssa Wirstiuk  26:52

How many people ended up attending? And what areas of the industry did they represent?

Mark Smelzer  27:00

Yes, so in the final analysis, I think it was 120 guests. So I wasn’t the first and only one to draw the comparison, size of a wedding, which is a nice size, it was very intimate. And, in fact, early feedback from people was, “Do not make this larger.” Part of the magic of it was its intimacy. And, while so many people did so much work, I am excited about the guest list that we pulled together, because that was really something that I was focusing on. And I was trying very hard to have it be a group of people who’ve never been in the same room together. So you have retailers, for lack of a better description, retailers who are more like in the couture world, right? Retailers who are more in the JCK camp, you had manufacturers, you had all their associations there. Jeweler’s Mutual annually hosts the leaders of the associations. They christened themselves, The Jewelry Leadership Forum, sort of the Association of associations, so JVC, JSA, JA, all those great groups. 

Mark Smelzer  28:21

And by annually we hosted them in Neenah and give them a conference room and a speaker. So we thought, well, let’s bring them all to Park City. Why not? So, they were all there in force, which was just great. We had diversity. I worked with The Black in Jewelry Coalition. They have a group of designers who they’re promoting called the Black in Jewelry Collective. And we work to get five of them there, which was just fantastic. 

Mark Smelzer  28:51

We had young folks, Troy Underwood from Underwood Jewelers, we had all the Sissy’s Log Cabin brought the entire families, they were like five folks from that retailer. We had just other younger leaders in the business, which is so key. I met, of course, we had a lot of established, we had great CEOs there. And so it was a really wonderful collection. But several people came up to me and said, “It’s been forever since I was at an event where I came in, and there were people I hadn’t met before.” So that was really cool. And a really, really focused objective.

Laryssa Wirstiuk  29:36

That’s amazing. I know that you and your team spent a lot of time on the programming and the speakers and the event round up. So what were some of the highlights? What types of content did people consume when they were there?

Mark Smelzer  29:51

Yes, so thank you Vasquez. That was really another very exciting part about it. So Emily Veselind and the content team at JM, and that was entirely in our lap. We literally started with a sheet of blank paper. And one of the very first conversations Emily said-because we were saying we wanted to think about this to be different, because we don’t want to compete with the other industry events. And Jewelry’s Mutual, for example, is the biggest supporter financially of AGS conclave. We love Conclave, but we didn’t want to compete, content wise, we wanted to be different. 

Mark Smelzer  30:27

So, as we were thinking, “What can we do that hasn’t been done before?” We were thinking maybe we focus on futuristic stuff. And Emily immediately say, “Well, there’s this group in New York called PSFK, and every year during the National Retail Federation, the NRF Convention at the Javits, they do a satellite event called The Future of Retail. And she had been a couple of times, so they were our very first phone call. And that was its own interesting story of how that morphed from the path that it took. 

Mark Smelzer  31:00

But we ended up working with this gentleman, Jeff Wiener, who’s really fantastic. He’s a great presenter, and he with psfk. And he also put the content together. He was the bulk of the first day. And it was Metaverse, NFT’s clienteling, all this sort of next gem tech. And some of it is stuff that you can embrace right away. We all learned what a poll app was. And in fact, we just sent to everyone who attended their poll app that can’t-remember, it’s an acronym for-but it’s basically an NFT. It’s a non fungible token that you get that says, “You came to this event.” So it almost sort of be like a plaque in the IRL world that you got to hang up on your wall. But instead, you’ve got a poll app. And with that poll app, you have access to certain things. So for example, we’re analyzing right now the return on investment, and are we going to do this again, in the exact same format? Or what are we thinking for next year? But, should we do it next year? We intend to say to everyone as a poll app, “Hey, your first right of refusal to some to attend next year,” and that’s what we’ll do it on. 

Mark Smelzer  32:18

So a lot of that was, at the closest, it was like next step. But, a lot of it was sort of 15 years out. And then, what was really cool about that was that Jeff brought in some amazing folks. And he had four different topics, on each of those topics it was two chairs on the stage casual conversations we had to Ralph Kamdar from eBay, he was really terrific. 

Mark Smelzer  32:44

This wonderful woman named Liz Basler from Estee Lauder was there. She made it very clear that she was there representing herself not representing Estee. But her presentation, and what she said to the audience was just-she was just really terrific. So we got Paul Schneider from Twist, the digital-actually they come across as digital native, but they’re not they’ve got two stores in Portland and Seattle. But, Paul is just so on it in terms of back to content marketing. He does videos on all of his designers. Everything seamlessly goes in and out of IRL, and digital. He was really inspirational. It was just great. And then we rounded that off with three panels on topics that are here and now, but also sort of forward thinking. So we tried to try to shy away from how do I get a bench jeweler. As important as that is, and it’s essential, we know that that’s a key thing in the world right now. 

Mark Smelzer  33:51

We focus more on what is the journey of the trend in social media these days. We focused on sustainability. We focused on storytelling, and getting back to the emotional connection that jewelry has with its owners that other consumer products don’t have. But yes, so those are the topics and it was a very short-and this again was by design, it was really short, it was a day and a half. But we we wanted it to be a day and a half because we wanted everyone to sort of get this sense that they were on an island together for a short time. That’s what we did.

Laryssa Wirstiuk  34:32

I love all the topics you just describe. I think a lot of people feel that the jewelry industry can be a little bit slow to adapt new technologies or even be open to them. So, it’s exciting to me that it sounds like you guys were pushing the envelope a little bit and trying to think like 15 years out. How would you say the reception was to some of these conceptual things?

Mark Smelzer  34:56

Yes, it was great. We had videographers there, and photographers, part of the whole production, which we worked with this amazing organization out of Dallas called Pro planet. I cannot recommend them more highly, but they brought their AV team. And among other things, we produced this video. And among other things, there were like beauty shots and glamour shots and group shots and all of that. 

Mark Smelzer  35:27

But then we also set some folks down for one-on-one interviews to displace within. Anny Tereska from both, JA and Black in Jewelry, she was just, “Wow,” she said, This is like a TED talk for the jewelry industry.” And I don’t want to infringe on TED talks, zero copyrights or whatever. But we couldn’t have gotten a better compliment than that, because that’s exactly the-we hadn’t actually put TED Talk in our head, but we were trying to have elevated conversations that were a little bit different from what you normally hear in the industry. So that was the reaction to it. And we were thrilled.

Laryssa Wirstiuk  36:11

So you touched upon how you were analyzing whether or not you guys were gonna do this next year. So, what do you think about that?

Mark Smelzer  36:23

So, you know, obviously, it’s a big investment on Jeweler Mutual’s part. So it’s not to be taken lightly. And, yes, the main thing that we got out of this was-the main return on investment was in marketing terms, you would call a halo effect, right? People coming away saying, “Wow, Jewelry’s Mutual really cares.” And Jewelry’s Mutual really put on an incredible event that was elevated on every level. And people appreciated that we didn’t have sponsors. So it was very relaxed. No one was selling you everything. 

Mark Smelzer  37:05

Scott Murphy, in his opening presentation was adamant to say, “This event is not about Jewelry’s Mutual.” And in fact, he did not go on to list things that Jewelry’s Mutual does. This event was about bettering the industry. So it’s really a nuts and bolts review of what does this do for the brand? I guess, I don’t think I’m talking out of bounds. Because it’s obvious, any marketer would know this. So you had the expense for that. What did that produce versus, let’s say, an advertising campaign, and what would that produce. So those are the benchmarks that you use to measure. Is the return on investment worth it? And then we also were interviewed. We’re in the process, right now, of getting feedback in a formal way from attendees to say, “Do you think it should be this way every year? Or should we do it the same location every year? Would it be better to do it every other year?” Because every year is a lot for people to add to their calendar. So, we’ll see. But that’s the postmortem stage that we’re in right now.

Laryssa Wirstiuk  38:24

Yes, and I can imagine it would be so difficult to measure a return on something like that, because as you said, the primary result is the halo and how do you measure a halo?

Mark Smelzer  38:37

It is hard. It is hard. But, there wasn’t a single conversation that didn’t take place. There’s not a single email that I’ve received after the event or note or whatever that doesn’t say, in one way or the other, “Thank you, Jewelry’s Mutual for this. Thank you.” So, it definitely has some halo effect. It’s just hard to measure, as you say.

Laryssa Wirstiuk  39:03

Is there anything else about the event that you were really excited about that we haven’t touched upon yet that you want to share?

Mark Smelzer  39:09

At the start, in my opening speech, I shared an anecdote. On the way to the Philly Airport on a-that would have been Wednesday, I was just listening in on a zoom call with Michelle Ormen from Couture and — Communications. And she had all about the people that she was going to have on her panel on Saturday afternoon on the call, and we were going back-this was the one about storytelling and the emotion behind jewelry and stuff. And Bill Jones himself, Sissy’s Log Cabin was on it. And he’s just great. Talking about a storyteller, he’s the best. And so afterward I sent him just a quick text saying, “So glad you’re on the panel. Thank you so much.” And he wrote back this response and it was four words and I shared those four words with everyone on the stage, and they were, “We Love Our Industry.” And I said to everyone, “That needs to be the bedrock of this weekend. And that needs to be the thing that we all fall back on moving forward is that we do love our industry.” 

Mark Smelzer  40:19

For me, personally, I had a whole career before fate pushed me into being the publisher of JCK. It was a corporate mixup one day, or shake up one day. But the very first event that I went to, someone came up to me and said, “We want to know you. You’re the publisher of JFK, we want to know you.” And I thought, “Wow, no one ever wanted to know me in any of my other roles.” And that was in this immediate sense of, “Oh, okay. There’s a community in this industry, and they’re engaged, and they care about it, and they love it.” And so that’s what it was. That was the most exciting thing. 

Mark Smelzer  40:57

So we had set up with this company called Offseasons Adventures. We had set up our current activities like fly fishing, skying, shooting, hiking, mountain biking. And one of my very specific daydreams was that people would say, years from now, “You remember we met fly fishing on that first Park City.” And that was happening, people were coming back from fly fishing and there were these, can’t remember exactly, there were these two women like, “Okay, now we’re new best friends.” And so, that was the most exciting thing about it. And again, talk about not easy to quantify, but qualitatively, it was just a lot of people who’d care about this industry, who loved this industry, and who care and love of each other. And so, there were hugs and reunions and new friendships made. And so, that was a really, really cool part of the event.

Laryssa Wirstiuk  41:57

Which of those little activities did you participate in, Mark?

Mark Smelzer  42:03

I did a hike and it was glorious. It was really, really glorious. Listen, I grew up in Utah. The whole time I was like, “Why did I never hike in the Aspen’s when I lived here?” So, Park City is at the Aspen level, which you know, you get different Flora at different altitudes. And, eventually you get above the treeline, but this 7,000 foot-range is where most of the resorts have Park City and our hotel, and blah, blah, blah, and that’s right in the thick of the Aspen’s. And they were gloriously bright yellow. 

Mark Smelzer  42:41

Several people said to us, “You guys hit the weekend. This is THE weekend,” and so there were just these moments on the hike where we were literally in a cathedral of hundreds of golden Aspen’s and that was beautiful. I think, part of what made the weekend magic was we did get an opportunity to connect with nature and that’s always very soothing. Good for the soul. 

Laryssa Wirstiuk  43:13

It sounds so beautiful!

Mark Smelzer  43:15

Yes, it was really, really great. But next year I want to fly fish.

Laryssa Wirstiuk  43:26

So what else do you have coming up on the horizon with Jeweler’s Mutual or just other things you’re working on? I’d love to know what’s in the future for you?

Mark Smelzer  43:35

Yes, so we’re looking into a lot of different things. I’ve got one exciting project that like in two weeks I’ll be able to talk about, but I can’t really talk about right now. But, it suffice to say that Jewelry’s Mutual-I didn’t realize this upon coming aboard, I always just knew them on the b2b or what at JM we call the commercial line side, the insuring of stores, basically, in jewelry businesses. But, we have over a million policy holders on the consumer side. 

Mark Smelzer  44:07

And so really, as a content guy, as a magazine guy, as a website guy, I thrill to the thought of what can we do to communicate to them. They’re proven jewelry enthusiast. So, exploring ideas there, working on a redesign of-just a refresh of the Zing Report as we go into year two of that. And then I’m getting excited because I’ve already got hotels booked for Arizona, for New York City, ———-, I hit a couple next month, AGS, I’ve already got my hotel booked, you guys. So I’m also just excited to be back on the circuit and be out there talking and seeing and learning and doing and then having the Zing Report cover.

Laryssa Wirstiuk  45:05

You’re way more prepared than I am. I haven’t thought about…

Mark Smelzer  45:12

If you’re going to—-, book it now. Everything is booked up, which is such a great sign. I think it’s a sign that it’s going to be a fantastic jewelry rock. I don’t know if we call it jewelry week or loose stone week or whatever but you know that Tucson week is going to be great, but genuinely like, everything’s booked up. So…[inaudible].

Laryssa Wirstiuk  45:42

Well, thank you, Mark. It was really cool to hear about this event. I’m so happy to hear about how well it went for you, and for all the attendees. Thanks for your time today.

Mark Smelzer  45:52

Wow! Thank you. And obviously, I’m still on a high, which is why I am like, “bah, bah, bah, bah.” But it was great. And sincerely though, we do hope connections were made, conversations were had. We hope it feels business, and we hope it continues to fuel the need for us to focus on the challenges that the industry faces. They’re big, right? Those other disposable income items like travel and restaurants, they’re back. So now we need to focus on what makes jewelry unique and what makes jewelry exciting, and how do we promote that to consumers? And so, we got challenges ahead, but we’ll do it.

Laryssa Wirstiuk  46:43

What did you think about my interview with Mark? To learn more about him, connect with him on LinkedIn and I’ll put the link to his profile in the show notes. You can also always email me Laryssa that’s If you love this podcast, please share it with a friend who’d appreciate it. And don’t forget to subscribe as well as leave a review on Apple podcasts. To purchase a signed copy of my book Jewelry Marketing Joy, visit for more information. Thanks for listening. Remember to subscribe so you never miss an episode. For more information about working with JoyJoya, visit joy where you can sign up to download our free eBooks about various topics in jewelry marketing.