BROKERAGE: Brokers: how many to use?

Opinions differ about the number of list brokers you really need

Following the conventional wisdom that two brokers will find more lists than one will, outdoor apparel cataloger Norm Thompson used to solicit mailing recommendations from as many as six brokers.

But in 1995, the Hillsboro, OR-based mailer decided to work with a single brokerage – Millard Group – for all its needs. Dealing with multiple brokers had become a logistical challenge, says Norm Thompson’s circulation manager, Patty Davis. “It was difficult to get recommendations from different brokers. They’d recommend the same lists, and then we’d have trouble coordinating the merge/purge on time. Now the process is invisible to us, and our broker is more a member of our team than just a supplier – something we didn’t have when we used different firms.”

Indeed, Robert Rickard, chairman of the board at Farmingdale, NY-based Rickard List Marketing, says that using multiple brokers is becoming unnecessary as the list industry takes advantage of technology. “With the advent of the computer, especially the ‘Net, everyone gets to the same lists pretty quickly.”

Although different points of view can be valuable, especially when a mailer is not happy with list performance, the differences among brokers is often a matter of specialty more than anything else. Because brokers tend to specialize in certain market segments or types of lists, “managers know who would be interested in their lists, and they go to brokers who serve those sorts of clients,” Rickard explains. “It’s no good taking your publishing lists to a broker who specializes in insurance lists.”

Exploring all the options

But some industry experts believe that two – or three – heads are better than one. Katie Muldoon, president of Sugar Loaf Key, FL-based consultancy Muldoon & Baer, thinks using multiple brokers often pays off for catalogers. “It depends on the size of the mailing, but when I need more than 1 million names, I like to involve multiple brokers – but never more than three. More than that and it gets confusing.”

As with any type of teamwork, Muldoon says, a group’s input typically generates better ideas. “And you get different perspectives. It’s the same relationship we have with our clients. We tell them to get opinions from other consultants, too.”

When more than one broker recommends the same list, Muldoon generally orders from the cataloger’s regular broker, but there are exceptions. “I also ask for information on continuations, how clean the list is, how used or overused it might be. If one broker provides more information to guide my decision, he or she gets the order.”

Brian Kurtz, vice president of marketing for Greenwich, CT-based book and newsletter marketer Boardroom, is another fan of multiple brokers. Boardroom routinely uses several brokers primarily to take advantage of their market specialties, but Kurtz has another reason to work with more than one broker: Different brokers excel at different types of service.

“One type of service is critical thinking and finding new recommendations; the other is getting tapes to merge/purge on time,” Kurtz says. “You’d like to think brokers are good at both, but usually they’re not, and sometimes when you need something quick and you know what you’re looking for, you go with the broker who’s good at that type of service.”

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