Custom publishing packs a marketing punch

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Chris Schraft and Stephen Boulton-Wallace
Chris Schraft and Stephen Boulton-Wallace

When AT&T and Cingular merged in late 2004, the biggest problem the two wireless telecom giants faced was find­ing a way to prevent tens of millions of legacy customers from fleeing.

Former Cingular marketing execu­tive Stephen Boulton-Wallace, now AT&T's VP of customer lifecycle management, says both companies feared typical direct marketing efforts would prove inadequate, given the competitive landscape. Instead, execu­tives at the new AT&T Mobility, the company's wireless subsidiary, used an entirely different approach.

“Our very first custom maga­zine was dropped at the time of the merger,” Boulton-Wallace says. “The purpose then was to reassure custom­ers that the merger was a good thing and to lay out the new services.”

Custom publishing's popularity has increased dramatically in recent years, growing in just five years from a niche magazine business to a varied and mighty $55 billion industry today, according to Lori Rosen, executive director of the Custom Publishing Council (CPC). Although custom publishing is still evolving as a chan­nel, it is rapidly becoming a favored tool for building and maintaining last­ing customer relationships.

“It's no longer sustainable to acquire customers at a pace faster than you lose them,” says Chris Schraft, presi­dent of Time Inc. Content Solutions, who leads the team working with Boulton-Wallace on AT&T Mobil­ity's custom publications.

Custom pubs play a crucial part

The first publication Time Inc. cre­ated for AT&T Mobility was distrib­uted to 21 million households the day the merger was announced. Featuring descriptions of newly launched prod­ucts and services, the piece — with different versions for each company — was designed to reassure custom­ers that the merger would result in improved service and value.

When the numbers came in, AT&T Mobility was delighted. From the fourth quarter 2004 to the second quarter of 2005, total customer churn fell from 2.4% to 2.2% and customer attitudes about key brand attributes improved dramatically.

AT&T Mobility's first foray into custom publishing was so successful that it's become a crucial part of its marketing mix. But Boulton-Wallace says his use of the magazine has changed from a “big batch drop” to a more personalized, relevant way.

“We used to only target custom­ers at the end of the lifecycle with traditional DM, to try to get them to renew,” he says. “[But] it wasn't recognizing their value with us as a customer. The campaign triggered them to shop instead of renew.”

Today, AT&T Mobility combines customer lifecycle management tech­niques with the use of custom pub­lishing as a direct marketing channel. Custom magazines, with different versions according to customer needs and segment, are distributed at times that coincide with periods of sensitiv­ity within the lifecycle continuum.

The editorial content is lifestyle-centric and each magazine delivers AT&T brand messages via stories of interest. “We ran a cover story about our sponsorship of the US Olympics team, and we did an educational piece for parents about texting with teenag­ers,” recalls Boulton-Wallace.

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