List Vision: The Times They Will Keep Changin'

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I often humor our younger staff with tales from the early 1980s, when for my first job in the industry I was given a desk and a telephone and instructed to go conquer the world. This was before the Internet, PCs, the Blackberry, e-mail, voicemail, cell phones, spreadsheets and fax machines.

"How did you ever get anything done?" they ask. The answer is ingenuity, creativity and lots of roadside pay-phone calls. Twenty-five years later, we've been given plenty of technological tools to make us better marketers and salespeople, but the key to survival will remain the same resourcefulness and innovation as well as an ability to adapt as the needs, challenges and goals of our clients adapt. List companies therefore are at a crossroads.

List management and brokerage in 2006 are unrecognizable from what they were 20, 10 or even five years ago. And my guess is that they will change again over the next five, 10 and 20 years. Despite drastic changes in the industry during this period, clients still share the same two goals: to drive file and sales growth. The main difference today is that direct marketers operate in a multichannel environment that requires new disciplines, analytics and overall resources, presenting a host of new corporate challenges and goals. As a matter of survival, list companies must meet these changing priorities and become a partner in this evolution.

What marketers seek from their list partners today is an ability to analyze the business from a holistic standpoint, across channels, to evaluate how best to spend marketing dollars, improve contact strategy, increase the house file and boost sales. These list partners will be involved in both short-term and long-term strategic planning; customer analytics; online marketing; primary customer research and more. The opportunity for traditional list companies is there, and so is the demand from clients.

Meeting this demand may not be easy. It requires a major investment in time, financial resources and staffing. It also requires a complete shift in thinking, and it also may involve corporate repositioning, rebranding and an entirely new outlook on one's approach to the business.

<I>Andy Ostroy is chairman/CEO of Belardi/Ostroy ALC LLC, New York, a list management, list brokerage and multichannel marketing services company.

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