LIST ROUNDTABLE: On brokers’ changing roles

Most industry observers agree that the relationship between list brokers and their clients has changed in recent years. But when we asked four brokers to explain those changes and their magnitude, their answers differed dramatically. Still, whether they simply work harder to deliver traditional client services, or whether their services now include a range of new activities and areas of expertise, by and large, participants feel that their business will continue to evolve rapidly.

Katie Gordon is director of brokerage services at Greenwich, CT-based list firm Walter Karl.

It used to be that list brokers only placed rental orders, but six or seven years ago, that started to change. First, brokers researched individual markets, then they got into refining selections and going beyond traditional RFM. Now a list broker is typically involved in analyzing results and thinking about seasonality, product mix, items per page, and the number of remails per season. List brokers are also more likely to recommend marketing strategies in addition to list recommendations and negotiating prices.

On top of that, list brokers are now more involved in Internet marketing. They need to keep their clients updated on policies surrounding spam and privacy. A good list broker leads mailers to use the Internet as an effective means of marketing.

For example, most e-mail marketing programs involve sending text files and links to Websites, but one company I know is actually e-mailing a catalog rather than just a link. When recipients open their e-mail, they’re opening actual catalog pages. Keeping clients informed of these offers and options is another way a broker becomes a part of a mailer’s circulation team, and not just an outside vendor.

Jay Schwedelson is corporate vice president of Boca Raton, FL-based list firm Worldata.

The broker’s role has expanded a great deal. We are no longer handling just the traditional postal lists – we now handle e-mail lists, e-mail sponsorships, banner ads, and all the other emerging forms of new media. And we need to be savvier than anyone else out there about these new types of marketing. Our role as brokers is to be experts – the people mailers can rely on for information about all aspects of marketing.

Brokers who think of themselves as simply list brokers are becoming dinosaurs. The broker is now more of an information agent, and it’s true that we are becoming more inculcated into our clients’ marketing departments. But it is not because we know more than they do about lists; it is because we know more about general media.

Patricia A. Fasano is the owner of Los Angeles-based list firm Fasano and Associates.

Our mission used to be to perform list research for clients and handle transactions between owners and mailers, with occasional marketing consulting added to the mix. But progressive list brokers and managers have grown to be media professionals who address the complete spectrum of marketing and management applications in both traditional and nontraditional integrated environments. As marketing partners to clients, the new breed of media professionals offers infrastructure services, from business and circulation planning to creative services to management of the entire marketing process.

The successful broker now handles or directs house file circulation and prospecting, lifetime value analysis of customers, rejuvenation strategies for internal databases, development of new and unconventional market niches – domestic and foreign – development of predictive models and forecasts, e-commerce management, and development of targeted multimedia database concepts.

Ralph Palmer is vice president, brokerage of Schaumburg, IL-based Rubin Response Systems.

I don’t believe the role of the broker has changed, although I will say that electronic transactions have forced us to respond quicker to client requests. The required time to ship orders has speeded up considerably, so marketers are reducing the time between ordering a list and expecting it to be at their mail houses.

But it’s still all about easing the burden for the client. I was a marketer myself, so I’m aware of what the marketing department is interested in getting. And if the client needs recommendations quickly, or needs someone to write merge/ purge instructions or to check outputs, that’s the role of the broker. The more you can do for the client, the more important you become to him. The role of the broker has always been to participate as a member of the client’s marketing team. Unless you’re part of the team and you know what the client is trying to achieve, how can you make recommendations?

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