Update: Abacus, Acxiom to Develop Data Products, Share Services

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The demand for more deliverable prospect names to conduct direct mail campaigns and transactional records to build data products are the prime motivations behind the agreement announced this week between Acxiom Corp. and Abacus-Direct. The agreement also signals the end of Acxiom's cooperative consumer database SmartBase and should lead to a jump in participation in the Abacus Alliance co-op.

Abacus, Broomfield, CO, will combine buying information from its Alliance database, which includes more than 1,100 catalog titles and 1,300 total participants, with demographic information from Acxiom's InfoBase to create new, jointly marketed list and data products.

The products will be available to all Alliance members and to marketers in the credit card, insurance and telecommunications sectors and other vertical markets that do not sell merchandise in direct competition with Alliance members. Acxiom customers not in those vertical markets must contribute transactional data to the Alliance to gain access to the new products. The requirements are straightforward, and Abacus will have the final say over which customers are exempt from contribution, said Abacus CEO Tony White.

For its part, Abacus will gain access to the Acxiom AcxiKey database for list hygiene and processing. List hygiene improves the deliverability of lists by eliminating duplicate names and undeliverable addresses. In turn, Acxiom, Conway, AR, gains additional processing clients. The companies will also seek to expand data delivery through the Acxiom Data Network.

The agreement has prompted Acxiom to phase out SmartBase, which had previously competed with the Abacus Alliance. SmartBase, which is managed by Acxiom/Direct Media, Greenwich, CT, will be phased out over the next two to three years. SmartBase participants are invited to join the Alliance if they are not members already.

DMI CEO Steve Brighton said the SmartBase operation generated just $3 million of the unit's $72 million in annual revenues and will not have much of a financial impact on operations. Brighton does not expect any layoffs. Instead, the 40 employees dedicated to SmartBase -- 22 at DMI and 18 in Conway -- will be redeployed in other businesses. DMI will assist in the development of new data products and sell them to mailers.

"Ninety-nine percent of what the two companies do is complimentary," Brighton said. "Our business unit leaders view this as a positive announcement."

The Acxiom deal is the second major partnership announced by Abacus this year to extend service offerings to its membership. Abacus signed a pact with Harte-Hanks, San Antonio, in February to provide Alliance members a preferred vendor to conduct direct marketing campaigns and handle postal processing. White sees no conflict or competitive concerns in the two arrangements.

"Harte-Hanks was a referral deal and the deal with Acxiom is a technology and data deal," White said. "Acxiom really is more focused on the data end of things while Harte-Hanks is more focused on the [marketing] database building end."

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