DM's key strength is in measurement

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When I left DM News' sister title PRWeek to join this publication as editor in chief, I received more e-mails than I expected from senior public relations agency personnel saying, "Does this mean we'll never see you again?" That showed me that there are many people in the PR world who have been fighting so hard for credibility and approval, first in the C-suite and then in the marketing department, that they haven't taken full stock of who their competitors are.

In many ways, direct marketing is potentially more of a threat to PR firms than ad agencies are. The fight has changed ­ it used to be about strategy, pure and simple, and correctly, the fight was against the ad agencies. But in the digital, social and consumer-generated media age, consumer insight, dialougue and information is the currency.

The last time I really looked closely at the direct marketing industry was seven years ago in the United Kingdom ­ light-years ago in terms of technology, and a small market compared to this one. While DM was deservedly losing its redheaded stepchild status (and demeanor) back then, all the fantastic data, touch point and buying-cycle information that direct marketers were rightly bragging about was still burdened by the fact that they just didn't have the tools to do enough with it.

Now, the technology is there, and direct marketers are arguably in a position to know more than any other discipline about the consumers they're dealing with. DM is brilliantly positioned in a social-media world that demands tighter targeting than any other time in marketing history.

But there's a land grab going on. All disciplines are claiming rights to the ability to have a genuine two-way dialogue due to the bevy of new-media and social-media tools out there, and they're all claiming that they're acclimatizing to it faster than everyone else.

So while agencies of all disciplines are coming up with the campaigns that the marketers are asking for, based on Web sites, podcasts, search-engine marketing, Second Life environments, MySpace pages and chatrooms, DM needs to differentiate itself.

Advertising, still often the recipient of the first phone call from the CMO, arguably has first dibs on strategy. PR, due to its foundation in third-party endorsement, has the credibility factor. And digital firms have the tools (incidentally, many argue, that's all they have). What about DM?

The key problem that these other firms have is measuring the return on investment of what they do. For five years, PRWeek has conducted a Marketing Management Survey that polls the likes of brand managers and CMOs. One question asks, "Which of your marketing firms best measures their success?" And year after year, it's DM firms that emerge at the top.

The question that DM News' readers and contacts will be hearing more and more, from our reporters and from marketers is, "how will you measure the success of what you are doing?" This is more critical now than ever, as digital is forcing agencies of all disciplines to fight for the space.

DM is more or less the only full-service discipline that has measurement essentially built in to its execution. But it's one thing to measure the number of click throughs a campaign attains; it's quite another to be able to show the ultimate effect of them. Did they move sales? Attitude?

Awareness? Market share?

If we can go beyond the metrics themselves and really prove how we are achieving business goals, and to do so more clearly and cost-effectively than other disciplines, then the industry deserves its permanent place not only the marketing table, but also the executive one.

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