Haste Wastes Value of List Professional

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We are our own worst enemies. As list professionals we constantly search for an edge over our competition. Among the biggest changes in the past five years has been the shift of expectations as a result of technological advances, expectations in terms of the delivery of service, information and data related to the execution of a direct marketing campaign.

As list professionals we are charged with providing clients with well-reasoned and -executed list plans and campaign strategy. Which lists to rent, when to mail, what offers to use and many other variables are part of the list professional's role in helping execute DM campaigns. As technology improves, some of our most valuable insights are being lost. The need to facilitate campaigns faster is taking its toll on our profession.

Speed equals efficiency? On the positive side, speed resulting from technology has allowed for more efficient delivery methods. Files can be FTP'd, e-mailed securely or transferred by various other electronic means in minutes.

Another benefit of speed has been video conferencing and Web meetings. These two new forms of communication have allowed for more personal and interactive communication between clients and vendors on a moment's notice. These tools and many others have become common in our industry, so much so that many service bureaus have eliminated physical media delivery.

But speed and technology also have joined to create major issues for our industry. On the surface, things like instant list recommendations, rapid counts and e-mail seem like terrific innovations. Yet these advances have affected the value of what we do and the quality by which it is done.

Many list professionals are pushing to get counts faster, to have files shipped sooner and to negotiate discounts instantly. As a result, list brokers recommend files based on speed. Brokers now tend to recommend files managed by those firms that they know will respond the fastest.

Sure, many mailers reading this will think that the list professional they are using does not use speed as criteria in developing a list plan. But that just isn't the case. List professionals are being pushed harder than ever.

E-mail and Web preferred. E-mail unfortunately has replaced the telephone as the main tool used to build a list plan. On a daily basis we see the "blind cc" list plan occur. A "blind cc" plan is when a list broker sends an e-mail and blind cc's 10 to 15 list managers asking for any list ideas the managers have for specific mailers' plans. The broker then assembles the e-mails that he or she receives and sends the finished list plan off to the mailer.

Even this process is beginning to be replaced by the instant list plan, where brokers access Web tools that allow for criteria to be entered upon which a finished list plan is created with the top-tier list based solely on the elements selected.

Many other forms of speed resulting from technology exist in our industry. And many other areas of our profession have been sacrificed. The list professional's role is being marginalized by these "efficiencies."

The list professional's main role is as an informed consultant whose experience and insights help achieve better results for the mailer's direct marketing campaign. This role has become secondary to that of a facilitator. It is no wonder that mailers are asking for list brokers to cut into their commissions. List professionals are letting themselves be devalued. This perceived devaluation has become a reality in the mailer's mind.

I feel compelled to mention that I am a hypocrite. In our company we not only use many of these technologies, we are trying to employ and enhance these technologies to improve our daily business routines. The obvious question would be "why." This is the struggle that most list professionals face - how to embrace these technologies without sacrificing the very purpose behind our profession.

Like most industries, technology continues to shape the future of our businesses. Never before have so many lists been on the market for rental, and never before has the advertising world sought the level of marketing dollar accountability that it does today. These two elements should create the perfect environment for the list professional's abilities to shine. It is essential that we embrace these new tools but not lose sight of what we are truly in the business of doing.

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