Ireland's Largest DM Firm Looks to Europe for Growth

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DUBLIN - The Response Group, Ireland's largest direct marketing firm, is looking for growth in Europe through the fulfillment of e-commerce transactions.


"The big growth of direct marketing in Ireland will be into Europe, not within the Irish market," CEO John Keane said. "We won't grow quickly enough at home to sustain the industry. We must become more Europe-focused."


The size of the Irish market itself is inhibiting - 3.6 million people and 1.3 million households.


"There's a greater population in Manchester than in all Ireland, and four times the Irish population in Greater London," he said.


"We simply lack critical mass. In the US a firm like mine could specialize in any one of 20 fields. Here you have to do all the DM bits and pieces to stay in business - database marketing, lettershop, logistics and fulfillment."


Keane conceded that the Irish DM market has "grown substantially" because of the wealth a booming economy is generating. "But I wouldn't call it exponential growth."


Growth in the use of databases has been huge and so has the use of the phone to become the premier response tool. Some 85 percent of the Irish, Keane said, use the phone to order movie or theater tickets rather than stand on line.


As a result consumers use the phone to respond to any offer far more than they ever did in the past. Indeed, the phone accounts for 60 percent of Irish response, the Web for less than 5 percent and fax and the mail for the rest.


"Our database section does demographic profiling. We don't have geocoding in Ireland - maybe we will next year - so we had to develop our own software that can look at the same address in four or five different ways to make sure it is always the same.


"Every address has four deliverable names and because we don't have geocoding, no address is unique. A lot of houses in Ireland have house names and a lot of people simply ignore the address laid down by the post office.


"Some people give their address as Fox Rock, Dublin 18. The zip code delivers but what we had to do was recognize the look alikes and the phonetic matching. That was tough and took a lot of learning.


"We then move across to the lettershop to get more of a critical mass by offering both services. At that, mailing volumes aren't huge. Average mailings run from 15,000 to 40,000 with 250,000 to 750,000 the exception.


"We've pioneered fulfillment from reading bar codes to developing special software so that we can offer seamless solutions to anyone who responds, and no matter how he responds - post, fax


e-mail, phone or downloading through the Web sites.


Keane believes that the technological competence his company has developed should find wider applications given the presence in Ireland of such global marketers as Dell and Gateway. He is already working closely on R&D with several UK companies on proper response to digital TV.


He is negotiating with Alcan, an Omnicon subsidiary, to meet the demands of online response to digital TV. He expects to complete technology development by the end of the year.


"We went to Alcan to help them use our brain power and knowledge so we can go where we want to go, and they opened the door for us to go and research. We plan to share our technologies," Keane said.


The investments his company has made over the last year will never pay for themselves in Ireland "even if we make babies every minute," he said.


Instead he hopes to concentrate the processing of fulfillment services from Ireland through warehouses close to the source of the order.


That will take strategic partnerships, which he is looking for.
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