Lists and Prospecting: From Mag Tapes to Deliverability Software

Preparing for a catalog mailing 20 years ago was in many ways far simpler than it is today. When it came to renting lists, catalogers had far fewer selects to choose from, virtually no enhancements, and no cooperative databases to work with. Nor could catalogers run their lists against the National Change of Address (NCOA) database or other list hygiene tools, because they didn’t exist.

Just because the process was simpler didn’t mean it was faster, however. In the days before the fax machine, the Internet, and e-mail, catalogers mailed their list orders to their brokers and then had to wait at least a week for the lists, on magnetic tapes, to be mailed back to them.

Likewise, other advancements, such as the advent of net-name arrangements and the increasing usage of list exchanges, have further complicated the process even as they’ve made it more effective and equitable.

How do the catalogers and list professionals who’ve been in the industry during the past two decades view the progress of the lists portion of the business? Catalog Age asked a number of them to reflect on some of the industry’s most noteworthy changes and advancements. While the first thought that pops into most peoples’ minds is the 1990 founding of the Abacus Alliance co-op database, much changed between 1983 and 1990.

PAUL IMBIEROWICZ was a circulation and marketing executive with catalogers Gardener’s Supply Co. and The Orvis Co. from 1988 to 1997; he’s currently vice president of product management for Broomfield, CA-based cooperative database provider Abacus:

I recall having to take a mag tape and drive to some place to meet my list processor, Direct Marketing Technology, halfway. I’d drive from Orvis and we’d meet at a 7-Eleven and I’d be up against a deadline. Today with e-mail attachments, that’s all been cut out of the cycle time.

When you think of it, spreadsheets were an amazing development for the list business. Now with the whole computerized technology of spreadsheet analysis, you can play around very easily with stuff. Can you really imagine doing circulation plans on greenbar [paper pads] and erasing?

DON MOKRYNSKI is president/CEO of Hackensack, NJ-based list firm Mokrynski & Associates, which he cofounded in 1978:

The increased sophistication provided by computers has allowed greater list collection and updating capabilities and selectivity. So that allows catalogers to manipulate vast amounts of data and more amounts of selectivity.

At one time, the most selectivity catalogers would have would be total file, which could be three-year-old names, then it went to 12-month-old names, to six-month, then one- to three-month names. Over a period of time, other pieces of information became selectable in addition to greater recency; you had greater dollar select capability — also frequency capability, product capability, gender.

Greater selectivity allowed catalogers to grow their business faster and in turn, produced large numbers of specific and targeted names to rent and exchange with other mailers. It allowed catalogers to increase their circulation. By the mid-’80s, the 12-month buyers didn’t work as well as they once did. That meant catalogers had to stop using particular lists. But because of increased database enhancement capabilities, they could now slice and dice those lists and rather than having to step away from them, they could use the same lists — as well as others that they hadn’t been able to use before.

ANDY OSTROY is chairman/CEO of list firm ALC of New York:

Although the overall list fulfillment process hasn’t changed much, the time frame has improved dramatically, from mail to PCs to fax machine, to e-mail. You can potentially get a list 10-15 minutes after you order it, whereas in the past you had to allow five to seven days to receive your mag tapes. We were working in a vacuum back then.

When I started in the business in 1983 there wasn’t even merge/purge. The level of sophistication with regard to merge/purges and identifying names that shouldn’t be mailed and improving the integrity of the list has been a big breakthrough.

JON MEDVED is president/CEO of Colorado Springs, CO-based gifts cataloger Walter Drake:

Even by the end of the ’80s, when you could start faxing orders more quickly, the broker would have to set up the list, run it, then mail it, and it would take two to three days. But nowadays, the immediacy of e-mail and the Internet have all but eliminated lag times for list use. To get a list now, it only takes a few hours, because they just push a few buttons and bingo, it’s there.

Co-op databases from Abacus, Z-24, and three or four others significantly changed the way we get lists. They’ve clearly contributed to the growth of our business by providing us access to new prospect universes.

Internet buyers make it harder to measure individual lists. You get a lot of names on lists that you don’t get key codes for. You know they’ve been prompted by your catalog mailings, but it’s tough to track.

As a result, catalogers have to interpolate and draw assumptions that certain Web-based orders come from certain lists. It’s what we have to do right now. Hopefully we’ll have better tools in the future. For now, we ask for key codes on our site, but a lot of people don’t put them down.

DAVE FLORENCE is chairman/CEO of Greenwich, CT-based list firm Direct Media, which he founded in 1969:

With dozens of attributes now available from enhancements, catalogers have been able to make better selections, opening new universes.

For instance, in the past, an apparel cataloger rented primarily apparel lists. But catalogers of different product lines are now able to find tremendous correlations between their and other products lines. Now we can go to a catalog list, and by enhancing it, we can identify a particular type of buyer and buying behavior.

With all the attributes from enhancements, such as age, presence of children, income, and lifestyle interests such as golf, crafts, music, pets, fishing, hunting, gardening, and so forth, the modeler has dozens more things to build the model on. The more information you have the better the model can be.

The more than 1,000 consumer catalogs participating in databases such as Abacus account for a significant percentage of all catalogs being mailed. My best guess is about 20% of the campaigns of co-op database members comes from the database.

JOHN WIRTH JR., PH.D. is president of Casper, WY-based tool cataloger Woodworker’s Supply, which he cofounded in 1972:

The mere development of the PC has enabled us to stratify our mailing results in hundreds — if not thousands — of list segments. We couldn’t do that 20 years ago without a prohibitive expense. Now, however, the PC enables us to analyze list segments, helping us make mailing decisions going forward.

Before Abacus came along, we couldn’t identify who all our inactive customers were among those who had been on our house file the longest. So the most powerful thing that the Abacus co-op has done for us over the years is to take customers who have been ours the longest — longer than, say, six years — and let us match that file against the Abacus file and see if these customers are dead or alive and whether they still have an affinity for our brand.

NCOA [the National Change of Address system launched by the U.S. Postal Service in 1986], as well as the other list hygiene methods, has helped our deliverability over the years. In recent times, however, we’ve used NCOA deliverability software provided by Donnelley Marketing to target customers identified as “undeliverable,” and in some cases, response has exceeded that of those considered deliverable. So when a catalog does wind up at an allegedly undeliverable address, these people buy because they’re getting so little mail.

ALLEN ABBOTT is senior vice president of marketing for Fleetwood, PA, apparel mailer Paul Fredrick Menswear:

Abacus was revolutionary. That people would share their mailing lists in that kind of cooperative environment was almost unthinkable. It took catalogers awhile to grow into it and get the models right, but for specialty businesses like Paul Fredrick, where there’s a scarcity of vertical consumer lists that make sense, it was a godsend.

Back then and now, the individual lists didn’t necessarily work. So cooperative databases provided you with an ability to get to names you couldn’t reach before. We’re involved with Abacus as well as a number of other database cooperatives, including Prefer Network and I-Behavior.

PAULETTE SCHLOTMAN is senior vice president of White Plains, NY-based list firm MeritDirect:

The original b-to-b co-op databases were just big old repositories of names. Then the DPA [Database Prospecting Alliance, a b-to-b catalog cooperative database launched in 1993 by Direct Media] got all the compilers to participate by adding SIC codes and employee size. Even the individual list owners couldn’t provide that data. So whereas earlier databases were more targeted toward huge seminar mailers and solo mailers, the DPA was for business catalogers.

CHUCK MOYER is vice president of marketing and supply chain management for Livonia, MI-based cataloger J&L Industrial Supply:

Back in the ’80s, it was much more expensive to get compiled databases from the likes of Dun & Bradstreet. It used to cost $400,000 a year for a subscription to Dun & Bradstreet’s file for marketing purposes. But today, Dun & Bradstreet offers Market Spectrum, which we use corporate-wide, which costs roughly 25% what it cost back then. Also the tools have become more sophisticated. We used to have to take the raw data we ran on our own computers and apply our own statistical and marketing tools. Now that’s all built into Market Spectrum.

GARY GIESLER is chairman of Cleveland-based AmeriMark Direct, whose catalogs include Anthony Richards, Beauty Boutique, and Windsor Collection:

At one time, everyone was paranoid about allowing a third party to handle their lists. But there’s more trustfulness today. People can give their names to a middle person and append them with information that list owners wouldn’t allow before, and they’re more willing to let independent third parties find the names that can work better for them.

Back then, if you ran 100 names, you got charged for 100 names. Today, more list owners are willing to give net-name deals because there are higher duplication rates. This became more prevalent five to eight years ago and has made it more affordable to prospect.

Goodbye, Hello

The following list includes many list firms that have gone out of business, been acquired, or been formed during the past 20 years:


Alan Drey Co.
Antigone Associates
Flynn Direct
Greenfield Direct
The Kaplan Agency (closed when founder Tom Kaplan retired)
The Kleid Co.
Names Unlimited
Prescott Lists
WB Marketing


AZ Marketing
Coolidge Co.
Dependable Lists
JAMI Marketing
Media Marketplace
Novus Marketing/L90


ALC of New York (1997)
MeritDirect (2000)
Lenser (2000)

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