Making the Choice

CHOOSING the right service provider is both an art and a science. The choice is based on a complex blend of a personal working relationship with the individuals at the outside company and the company’s ability to provide services that meet the catalog’s needs.

Which is why many catalogers that are looking for services ranging from circulation planning to modeling to expansion strategies look no further than their list firms. “Top companies are offering expanded services to help their clients,” says Ben Perez, president of Peterborough, NH-based Millard Group, “and the natural first step is to extend an existing relationship.”

Some catalogers also like the idea of using their list firm for multiple services because they know that the broker is knowledgeable about the market. Marlene Smith, director of catalog production for Seville, OH-based women’s apparel cataloger J. Marco, chose the company’s list firm based on its “full understanding of not only the industry but our product type and buyer demographic as well.”

“For a smaller guy who wants to get into a little modeling and needs someone to manage the database, going full-service is much more of an option,” says Steve Trollinger, senior vice president of client marketing for Shawnee Mission, KS-based consultancy J. Schmid & Associates. What’s more, list firms that provide multiple services can often better serve the client because they have “an understanding of your business from one end to the other,” says Debra Ellis, president of Barnardsville, NC-based Wilson & Ellis Consulting. “I think the evolution will continue until brokers are ultimately in the consulting business.”

Nonetheless, “it’s important to have one’s eyes open when walking into a situation with a list company,” Trollinger cautions. “Does it have extended experience in the areas you are interested in using?” While the convenience of a one-stop shop is appealing, that appeal could quickly wane if the shop in question doesn’t excel in the services you need.

As for determining just what those services are, or should be, it depends on your goals and resources. “A $3 million-$5 million cataloger without a lot of internal resources may rely on a broker or a manager to do a little modeling, even the database management aspect,” says Trollinger.

Adds Stephen Tamke, senior vice president/director of list brokerage for Hackensack, NJ-based Mokrynski & Associates, “A relatively lean marketing department with aggressive marketing plans, regardless of the size of the catalog, is going to be more aggressive in using our consulting, online, and circulation-planning services, compared with those that are more richly staffed and have fewer active projects on their plate.”

Established catalogers may also look to brokers for research information. “A larger catalog with sales of $50 million or more is going to be managing and maintaining its own database. It would definitely look to the list companies for the research component,” says Trollinger.

Ultimately, a good list firm is a marketing partner. “We look for brokers who work on our prospecting program to really understand our business so that when they make list recommendations they understand how we model our file and what kind of performance we’re looking for,” says Michael Eisenberg, senior director of marketing for Medford, OR-based Musician’s Friend. The cataloger of musical instruments expects its list broker to understand the target buyer demographics and the way the catalog scores incoming prospects as well as to segment and evaluate list performance.

Finally, there must be an element of trust between a broker and a cataloger. “We chose our list firm because it made suggestions that truly have the best interest of our company in mind,” says Rich Atlas, director of direct mail and e-commerce marketing for Venus Swimwear. “It wasn’t looking for us to make a decision that would put more money in its pocket but one that would grow our partnership.”

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