Lists and Prospecting: Prospecting by Association

Although direct response lists remain the best prospecting sources for most catalogers, some mailers seek to expand their universe of names by renting lists of trade associations and enthusiast groups. But since these files may lack the demographic and purchasing history data typical of direct response files, they sometimes need a bit of tweaking to make them effective.

For instance, School Health, a Hanover Park, IL-based multititle mailer, regularly rents the list of the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA) for its Sports Health catalog of equipment for school and professional-sports athletic trainers. It also rents lists such as the member file of the American Academy of Pediatrics for sister title School Health, to reach school nurses. But these files provide only names and addresses with no demographic or purchasing data. In the case of Sports Health, “we model the lists off proprietary data we’ve developed over the years about athletic trainers,” says vice president Rob Rogers.

In addition to internal purchase history information, Sports Health builds its models from data it buys from Denver-based research and database marketing firm Quality Educational Data (QED). QED provides information on the number of schools in particular districts, among other details.

“Through our modeling, we can also uncover tenure status, whether the trainers have a preference of manufacturers, and whether they will ask us to make a bid for their business or are willing to pay our catalog prices,” Rogers says. Upon applying the data to the organization lists, the cataloger can pare down the names so that it can mail to the list more profitably. Rogers says that response from the NATA list names mailed after modeling is almost as high as that from rented direct response lists.

And while the association lists may not be quite as effective as direct response lists, they are appreciably cheaper — “at least 50% less expensive,” Rogers says. “And all we need to do is run a merge/purge against our file, go through the names and clean them up a bit before modeling them.”

Nailco Salon Marketplace, a Farmington Hills, MI-based business-to-business cataloger of beauty supplies, spends about $40/M-$100/M to rent the names of licensed beauty professionals from several state boards of cosmetology once a year, says president/founder Larry Gaynor. About 5%-10% of the $60 million company’s sales come from the board lists, he notes.

And Nailco doesn’t even bother to model the files. “We haven’t considered modeling,” Gaynor says, “because the number of prospects in our industry is so limited to begin with.”

Nor does Radcliff, KY-based U.S. Cavalry model the names it rents from law-enforcement agencies. “It’s not as if we’re going to some organization blind, hoping to get somebody interested,” says Randy Acton, president/CEO of U.S. Cavalry, which sells military, outdoor, and survivalist gear. “If they’re in law enforcement, they know us.”

U.S. Cavalry mails to lists of law-enforcement groups twice a year. “They’re a priority that we target every time we do a mailing,” Acton says.

Modeling no sure thing

Moreover, some catalogers have found that modeling association names does not ensure success. For instance, travel supplies mailer Magellan’s has mailed several times to the members of the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA). Even though the $30 million cataloger runs a thorough merge/purge and puts the ASTA file through an Abacus model, “it’s very hard to get the list to work,” laments chief operating officer Bob Manning.

Running the list through a model at least identifies if the names on the file have bought through mail order before. But part of the problem is that many people in the travel organizations don’t really want to get overmailed, Manning says. “There are a lot of opt-outs in which members request not to be mailed catalogs, so they can be tricky to work with, compared to more traditional list methods.”

Magellan’s summer 2001 mailing to the ASTA list pulled a response 20% lower than that of the average direct response prospecting list. Nonetheless, Manning says, the Santa Barbara, CA-based cataloger may use the ASTA list again. But this time Magellan’s would try to get the agents to pass the catalog on to customers, most likely offering discounts to the travel agents from the list “to get them to refer their clients to us,” Manning says.

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