LIST ROUNDTABLE: Brokers vs. managers: Who wins?

List managers and list brokers have been known to complain about their relationship, whether it’s brokers accusing managers of misrepresenting their files, or managers accusing brokers of squeezing their profits.

But does this hurt or help their clients? This month’s forum reveals that some list experts believe mailers benefit from the natural competition between brokers and managers, while others say the discord between them leads to frustration, higher prices, and limited choices. But most also say that communication goes a long way toward smoothing the relationship.

Rich Leary is vice-president/national sales manager of list firm RMI Direct Marketing in Danbury, CT.

One would like to believe that list brokers and managers would be professional and set aside differences to focus on business. But that’s easier said than done. It may be difficult to set aside animosity, yet the good brokers and managers learn how to do it. The key is open, honest communication that builds longlasting trust. The good brokers and managers realize that they both want to do what’s best for their respective clients. These folks work together and strive to achieve the ultimate goal, a win-win situation. But some brokers and managers believe their client’s best interest is best served by playing hard ball relentlessly, never compromising, and constantly nickel and diming. Although this method may prove successful in the short term, as the saying goes, “What goes around comes around.”

In this small and unique industry, list brokers and managers deal with the same people over and over again – open and honest individuals who have long memories. In a short time, these open and honest people tire of strong-arm tactics and begin to stand their ground. As a result, the individuals who use this hard-nosed approach will find it more and more difficult to satisfy their client’s needs. I should know, I used to do it.

Paul Reulbach is general manager/chief operating officer of Ridgefield, CT-based list firm D-J Associates.

The list community is small and specialized. The majority of its business is transacted between brokers and managers who, in many cases, work for the same company. The broker relies on the manager to be a market expert and identify opportunities he can present to his clients. The manager relies on the broker to present appropriate targets for his clients’ mailing. So, they’re customers to each other, and occasionally coworkers.

But they’re also competitors – indirectly. In the managers’ efforts to maximize the list sales, they solicit orders from the entire broker community, including rival brokers. The brokers are responsible for finding the best lists and will search them out from competitive list managers. This situation is good for the clients and for the list business since it motivates the participants to improve service levels and be price competitive.

Elaine Wright (a former list manager) is circulation manager of Graphik Dimensions, a cataloger of framing supplies based in High Point, NC.

As a mailer, I haven’t experienced friction between brokers and managers. I’m always open with both and I share equal amounts of information with each. To me their positions are clear-cut; they have different areas of responsibility and they use the information I share with them in different ways. But I don’t treat either like they’re more important than the other. I’ve even dealt with more than one broker or manager at the same company, and I haven’t had a problem.

The information I share with them includes marketing plans for the year. I always give them circulation plans, mail dates, and information on our prospect audience. Often I’ll just write something and send the document to everyone – my brokers know who my managers are and vice versa.

Several years ago, I think brokers and managers were viewed differently by the industry, and it often led to conflicts. Brokers were considered more knowledgeable, while managers were merely order takers. Some list owners and even list company executives shared that attitude, too. It may have led to competition, and that probably did suppress costs. But I don’t know that it led to better service. I think in any client relationship, the client establishes the level of service. Some need more service, and they get it. It’s always been that way.

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