Size doesn't matter in this pond

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"I'm just a tiny fish. I'm sure after this mailing, you'll forget about us."

This new client is a respectable cataloger with many years in direct mail. He represents a niche market that just doesn't prospect much, and he was certain that once the novelty wore off, my attention to his account would, too.

What he didn't know was that all fish are the same to me. Size doesn't matter. This account is a great "catch," and it is a list broker's job to prove him wrong.

Frankly, it's just as easy to take a major account for granted as it is to ignore a small one. It is the list broker's responsibility to treat all mailers with the respect they deserve for entrusting us with expanding their business, regardless of size. It is important to understand thoroughly each client's needs, limitations and expectations for their business.

Large mailers have budgets that allow room for creative expansion. This provides many opportunities to explore in multichannel marketing: testing deeper into recency, monetary adjustments, expires, requesters, publications, fundraising, compiled, modeling, Internet and insert media, to name a few.

The freedom to exercise endless creativity is exhilarating. Of course, watching a mailer test 50 lists at 100,000 names each without batting an eye is also quite exhilarating.

Established mailers generate a huge body of results from prior mailings. There is a great sense of accomplishment in poring over years of results to recommend retests with the "perfect" new select or to find more options to test on a file that is performing well.

Valuable information emerges from this exercise, including recognizing seasonality, update schedules and changes in merchandise for both the mailer and lists used. Mailers may feel they have tapped everything out there, but with nearly 60,000 lists on the market, they are only skimming the surface.

More possibilities exist in terms of "testing" for the well-established mailer. Segmenting different offers (e.g., free shipping, gift with purchase, percentage off) for each list in a particular mailing can yield valuable information regarding the purchasing trends of their new customers.

The potential to save and generate money for the large mailer when its list is on the market is enormous. Exchanging names can be a great way to save money. But when the mailer is netting out 30 percent on a list and the list owner nets 60 percent on the mailer's file, we know who is getting the better deal.

A strategic broker will negotiate a net exchange and even out the playing field. Rental deal negotiations are imperative for the mailer who is netting 20 percent on its best list, where it is in essence paying five times the rental price. Nets, volume discounts and selection caps all play a role in the success of a mailing.

By contrast, small mailers present a different opportunity. They need a direct marketing expert who will devote time to their account and learn the idiosyncrasies of their market and demographics.

"Getting it right the first time" is so critical to a mailing for this group, especially if they budget 50,000 names and rely on the broker's top five list picks to make or break their mailing.

Though there may be minimal or no history on a small or new mailer, the list broker has the wisdom of what has helped the bigger fish succeed. This knowledge serves as a model for providing the smaller mailer with the best information possible.

An experienced list broker can provide valuable expertise in guiding a small mailer toward placing its growing file on the market. Many small mailers covet those names and fear that exposing their house file will cause their customers to be lured away. Often this introduction to other catalogs actually increases their customers' purchasing frequency on their own catalog. In addition, they now have a new source of revenue to use toward acquiring more customers. This also will afford them opportunities to exchange with other lists, which will cut their prospecting costs even further.

Pricing is critical for all mailers. A strong negotiator will provide the best pricing for the client. Obviously a net or a volume discount may not be the best choice for a small mailer, but a discounted base rate or a selection cap can provide significant savings.

For this industry to continue to grow and thrive, there will continue to be a need for new mailers to make their mark. At one point or another, every mailer was a small fish. With the right direction and expertise, any fish can grow to the size of its pond - or grow so big that it needs a larger pond to swim in.

Size doesn't matter. Whether large, well established, small or new, all mailers deserve consistent, quality attention to their accounts. They should accept nothing less.

As for the tiny fish? He still receives his mail plans, recommendations and orders completed accurately and well before deadline. I've got his catalog mounted above my desk on a wooden plaque. We're working on our fifth mailing together, and I'd never throw him back.

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