Strong Partners, Strong Future

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For direct marketers, this past year has been filled with challenges. However, despite all the issues we've had to face, our industry is poised to become the strongest in its history.

Some would call me an optimist, but while evaluating my company's growth strategies recently, I realized that the economic downturn has essentially reintroduced our services to a host of companies that now view direct marketing as a more cost-effective, results-driven marketing option. And though overall spending in our category is down, the relevance and importance of targeted marketing has never been greater.

The numbers tell an even better story: Consider Universal McCann's recent report on advertising expenditures for 2001. Aside from the combined total spent on television (both broadcast and cable), direct mail surpassed all marketing mediums in total dollars spent for the first time in history. Further, the report said that direct mail was one of only three categories to show growth (defined by an increase in spending) with $44.7 billion in revenue in 2001.

Such increases are significant when you consider that the direct marketing industry in the second half of the year was hampered by a stagnant economy and acts of terrorism. A recent Wall Street Journal article noted that "... as the [advertising] industry slumped last year into the worst recession in half a century, it has been direct marketing ... that has held up best."

The Journal explained how direct marketing is more appealing during an economic downturn: "Whereas ad spending tends to be cut when times get tough, direct marketing doesn't necessarily follow suit because it's seen as more personalized and individually accountable."

How then do we build on this momentum and strengthen our companies and our industry? I believe it's accomplished by applying the lessons we've learned to build strong partnerships.

Partnerships lead to growth. Strength, in weak or robust times, is always a company's end goal. As Intel co-founder Gordon Moore once said, "Recessions always end, and innovation allows for some companies to emerge from them stronger than before."

But what does strength mean as it relates to our clients? For some direct marketing services providers, it means continually investing in people, equipment and technology -- especially when doing so makes an operation more customer-centric.

Adhering to this philosophy, especially amid a turbulent economy, can strengthen companies because returns on investment are much greater in these periods.

A strong partnership to our clients means that we anticipate and respond to trends and events that affect the industry without derailing long-term, results-driven growth objectives. This growth, along with a company's ability to truly empathize with client concerns during tougher times, makes each of us a stronger partner. The overall stability of our industry stems from these partnerships themselves, as they enable us to survive in the hard times and thrive in the good times.

Strong partners also help clients evaluate and implement new marketing methods and strategies, as appropriate. For instance, with the rapid growth of the Internet and the proliferation of e-mail marketing, many businesses initially thought that traditional direct mail campaigns could be easily replaced.

However, as we have learned, the reality is not whether e-mail campaigns are effective, it's more about when they're effective (i.e., permission-based e-mails for retention). A strong partner will learn and then share that knowledge about what works and what doesn't.

Strong future. Being a strong partner means being prepared, yet always thinking ahead. The future is an open door for continuously enhancing your company's sales strategies, acquiring additional equipment, expanding core service lines, venturing into new market sectors and building and using your company's experience and knowledge bank.

We must continue to integrate lessons learned from the past into new business approaches, as this will help sustain and enhance the strong relationships built with clients. Complacency is no longer an option for anyone.


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