Outsourcing is here to stay

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The pressure on print publishers to save money in today's marketplace is enormous.  As pressure increases, more publishers — small, medium and large — have availed themselves of circulation outsource services. This isn't a new concept; it's been around since about 1985. Outsourcing works, and it's an attractive option for many companies.

Some of the biggest benefits of circulation outsourcing include cost savings on salaries and administrative costs; access to trained, experienced and professional circulation experts; knowledge of what's working best in today's circulation source mix; and contacts among suppliers to the publishing industry, including fulfillment companies, printers, telemarketing firms, audit bureaus, list mangers and brokers and newsstand distributors.

If you can't justify spending a lot of money on top circulation talent and think outsourcing this important publishing department might be worth investigating, here's how to proceed:

First, make a list of the services you want to outsource, then research outsource companies in the trade press and on the Internet. Make the initial contact by phone or e-mail. Give everyone you talk with a clear idea of the publication(s) you want to outsource, including the magazine's total circulation; whether it is paid or controlled, consumer or business-to-business, and ABC- or BPA-audited; its frequency; and a little background on your company. Any outsource management company without the resources to handle your business will tell you that during the initial contact.

After that first contact, develop a list of those companies you want to interview face to face. You need to meet in person for your comfort, as well as that of the service provider. 

It's best to make the transition when your magazine is at the end of an audit cycle, not in the middle of a big direct mail or telemarketing push or converting to a new fulfillment company. However, outsource companies tackle tough challenges on a regular basis depending upon the needs of prospective clients. 

The publisher determines what happens in circulation by setting policy, approving budgets and establishing goals and objectives for every magazine. During the initial meeting, be absolutely clear about the services you want as well as your goals. Outsource companies equate to in-house circulation management, but they are not fulfillment companies: They manage the fulfillment company along with all other circulation subcontractors.

Control of your circulation operation is always in your hands. That means you need someone in your company to whom the outsource company reports regularly. That might be the publisher, the CFO or GM, but it should be someone with authority to make budget decisions and someone fully aware of corporate circulation goals and objectives.

Outsourcing does not mean the publisher cannot use vendors of their own choice; valuable relationships built up by the publisher in the past can continue as the publisher chooses.

Today's publishing environment makes circulation outsourcing an option almost all publishers can consider. Once you've decided that doing without an in-house circulation department makes sense for your company, you'll be free to focus on finding the best management company and devoting more of your time to concentrating on other aspects of your business.

Elaine Tyson is the president of Tyson Associates Inc. Reach her at tysonassoc@aol.com.

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