Service bureaus’ expanding role

Service bureaus have increasingly been playing a more active role in mailers’ marketing activities. Today, they’re offering a wider range of services – such as analyzing clients’ house lists – and more important, serving as sentinels for mailers, keeping watch over list hygiene to protect their customers from privacy backlash and legal problems.

Denise Edwards, circulation manager for Sperryville, VA-based apparel and gifts cataloger Faith Mountain, says she depends on her service bureau more than ever before. “Our service bureau keeps our suppression files and runs our prospect mailings through NCOA (the National Change of Address database) and the Direct Marketing Association’s Mail Preference Service. Today, it’s so important to make sure those files are run frequently. From what I’ve seen, people are a lot more concerned about privacy, and when they don’t want our catalog, they let us know it,” Edwards says. Faith Mountain immediately contacts its service bureau when recipients opt out of further mailings, and in cases in which another catalog has been sent in the meantime, the cataloger’s customer service manager calls the recipient to explain why. “We rely heavily on our service bureau to give us suggestions in privacy matters,” Edwards says.

At Hauppauge, NY-based service bureau Cross Country Computer, president Tom Berger has noticed clients’ growing reliance on his firm’s privacy and list hygiene expertise. “We’re finding a greater sense of urgency across the board. Particularly in the past five years, clients look to us to mail smarter and cleaner,” he says.

Berger’s company keeps a master file of do-not-rent and do-not-mail names, so clients’ files don’t need to be run against separate outside files for suppression. And Cross Country’s policy is to run DMA suppression files and NCOA every time the company processes a mailing. “Going back about 10 years, clients have always kept their own suppression files, but lately there’s been a far greater emphasis on the privacy issue,” Berger says.

“All of our mailers have a heightened awareness of the need for data hygiene,” says Joe Balaban, vice president of business development of Farmingdale, NY-based Anchor Computer. “Our NCOA orders are way up,” along with orders to run other suppression files, he says. Anchor recommends running suppression files for all prospect lists. “We urge all our mailers comply with the DMA’s privacy promise,” Balaban explains, referring to the organization’s pledge to offer recipients the opportunity to opt out of further mailings, and to maintain up-to-date lists of those requests. His clients generally heed his recommendations, he says. “They’re aware of the DMA policy and they want those files run.”