Show Me the Data: The Benefits of Being a Control Freak

During my career in catalog circulation planning, I was frequently called a control freak. I freely admit to the “control” part of the definition but not the “freak” part. In fact, the service bureaus and printers I worked with admired the simplicity of my process oversight tools and openly wished that their other clients would take the same approach. The oversight system itself paid off in driving down list rental fees and paper and printing costs and by improving art department staffing efficiency.

The tools I used were two calendars that my senior circulation analyst and I developed. Developing those calendars was itself a process involving meetings and negotiations that had their own calendar. The development started in July to plan all list needs: phone and mail prospecting, all merge/purge, printing and mailing for the next year. By late August the calendar was agreed upon internally, and external negotiations could begin.

I circulated copies of the overall schedule, under confidentiality agreements, to the list broker, the service bureau, the printer, and the paper company. That gave all of the internal negotiators—the paper and print buyer, the senior analyst who bought lists, and me—a common framework. Frequent status meetings kept us coordinated. This process gave us time to have vendors respond with their suggestions and for us to negotiate with them from positions of strength. By October the final schedule of work was completed, and final versions of the calendars were issued. At that point detailed discounted costs were available to feed into the annual corporate financial planning project.

The calendars themselves looked deceptively simple. The first calendar listed all the mail dates. The effort of putting this together was compensated for by the rental list discounts gained through assuring list owners and managers that they would get revenue all year. Similarly, the printer was eager to book press time through the year. Scheduling early gave my company priority over larger mailers that could not guarantee quantities and requirements in advance. Discounts ranged from a few percent up to a quarter of the cost of an individual step, process, or list over the course of the year.

The second calendar detailed all the internal dates. The art department knew months ahead of time when to book freelancers to finish catalog pages. The sales department knew when to expect the phones to ring with orders for new items. The circulation department knew when to order lists, check edit-fail reports, merge interaction reports, and issue back-end split instructions. There was no confusion over coding or testing, because all the codes were developed without the pressure of a deadline. Even the finance and accounting departments liked the process because their analysts got a thoroughly justified, detailed budget to work with.

Think about booking a meeting today for two days this July for your marketers, circulation staff, print and paper buyers, and art director. If you wear all those hats, still consider setting aside the time to lay out your plans. The assurance of revenue and work for your vendors can give you leverage in your negotiations with them that might surprise you. Then if you, too, get called a control freak, you can look at your calendars and realize how valuable in reduced anxiety and costs that title can be.

Bill Singleton, president of Algonquin, IL-based consultancy Singleton Marketing, and pens “Show Me the Data” for the Lists & Data Strategies e-newsletter.

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