At the Hudson Valley DMA: Pushing through tough times

(Direct Newsline) Mailers need to focus on reactivation and prospecting because the size of the average house file has decreased 10% over the last year, Kevin Green, president of Lillian Vernon said Wednesday during a Hudson Valley Direct Marketing Association luncheon.

Lillian Vernon, which tracks the size of house files, generates one third of its annual business from new customers. To help retain them, the firm crosssells its own products and long-distance service and membership programs during inbound calls. “If you have a captive audience, you can do a sales pitch,” Green said. “It’s important to tailor the right pitch to the right customer.”

Green and a panel of four other senior executives addressed 50 questions yesterday during the association’s luncheon, held in Rye, NY. The other panelists included Andy Goldberg, president/chief operating officer, Publishers Clearing House; Helen Hoart, president, Consumer Health Publishing Group; Neil Metviner, president, Pitney Bowes Small Business Solutions; and Martin Stein, president /CEO, RMI Direct Marketing.

All agreed that the end of last year was tough following Sept. 11, anthrax in the mail and falling consumer confidence in the face of a recession. While optimistic, the group cautioned that the challenges will last into next year.

“It’s a little scary,” Goldberg said. “Since Sept. 11, its been a roller-coaster ride for us, highly unpredictable.”

The panelists suggested a number of ways to control costs and continue growth:

*Work with a limited number of key vendors to increase buying power and improve margins.

*Utilize the Internet to reduce expenses, offer cross- sell promotions and improve retention and acquisition.

*Purchase DRTV spots at off hours for a reduced price to drive traffic to the Web.

*Launch new products to sell just to existing customers.

*Don’t overdo e-mail. Tests conducted by Lillian Vernon found that weekly promotional e-mails up to Christmas had good payback but fatigued quickly after the holidays.

*Exercise caution when marketing via the Internet to small businesses. Fewer than 40% of small firms have Internet connectivity, and many don’t want it, because of fears that their administrative staff will spend the day on Ebay.

*Take advantage of the fact that list owners are receptive to negotiations in this economic climate.

*Identify the moment when a customer’s value begins to decelerate and work to reactivate them at that point to save on retention costs.

*Bring new files to market by creative segmenting or enhancements.

*Do your homework before approaching a customer with a new product. Know the company and arrive with a product they truly need. Nobody has the time or dollars to waste on another variety of vanilla.

*Look closely at any open position before deciding to refill it.

In other news, HVDMA has launched a scholarship program in partnership with Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, NY. The scholarship will be awarded to a student enrolled in the college’s masters of science in direct marketing program who has a financial need and is not eligible for reimbursement by an employer, said Amy Altmann, production manager for Boardroom Lists.

The association plans to generate funds through raffles, membership dues fees, sponsorships, silent auctions and other means. The scholarship will be awarded at the organization’s holiday party, Dec. 6.

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