Prospecting Plans Gain Momentum for 2003

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Many consumer and business-to-business mailers are increasing their prospecting circulation over 2002 for spring and summer mailings.

"Consumer mailers are remaining cautious but are putting in some increases in the range of 4 [percent to] 6 percent over 2002," said Steve Tamke, senior vice president at Mokrynski & Associates Inc., Hackensack, NJ. "Over the course of the last two years, house file mailings have increased. But there's only so far that can take you, so now there is a lot more concern about the need to rebuild customer files."

But Tamke added that circulation for spring and summer 2002 was low and that 2003 still would not quite reach 2001 levels.

Fran Golub, senior vice president of list management at Walter Karl, a Donnelley Company, Pearl River, NY, also is seeing increases.

"Most of what I see internally is either flat or up a little bit, but I haven't seen a decrease, which is good," Golub said. Increases are up to 10 percent, she said.

The business-to-business outlook seems more mixed.

"I don't see a big jump in prospecting for business-to-business in early 2003," said Max Bartko, president of Greenwich, CT-based Direct Media's business-to-business division. "The economy may be stabilizing, but mailers - and rightfully so - are being cautious for the future. I think a cautious wait-and-see is not a bad place to be."

Others said that BTB would start growing again in 2003.

"I see the first quarter as being nice for BTB," said Roy Schwedelson, CEO of Worldata, Boca Raton, FL. "Prospecting will be at least slightly up, if not stronger."

In a survey of 21 BTB mailers it works with, MeritDirect found that 10 would increase prospecting, eight would stay flat and three would decrease prospecting over 2002.

"Our visibility on the circulation plans we've developed for our clients and some anecdotal discussion is quite positive that 2003 is going to start with a bump and not a whimper," said Ralph Drybrough, CEO of MeritDirect, Stamford, CT. Some of the increases will be 40 percent to 50 percent, he said.

The rationale is to see how the early part of the year goes and hopefully raise circulation again by the fall.

"Half the thinking is to go out with similar quantities to last year and add on later based on results," Golub said. "That was what mailers hoped to do last year, but it never materialized because of the economy."

Even so, Tamke noted the resiliency of the catalog market.

"Catalogers have done a very good job overall of protecting their profits in this economy," he said. "I'm heartened that we have not seen a huge number of catalogs closing down in the face of a tough business climate."

Bartko cited some fourth-quarter 2002 optimism that could prompt better news in 2003.

"Overall, on both the business-to-business and consumer side, people are having good results but they are inconsistent," he said. "I'm optimistic going into the [new] year that hopefully as the economy rebounds people will start to look at building their businesses again."

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