War Fogs Forecast for International Mailings

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List professionals in the United States involved in the international sector said they have doled out little advice to clients regarding mailing to Europe during the war with Iraq mostly because, like everyone else, they are waiting to see what happens next.


"I have to say that we haven't had a lot of questions yet from our clients on this issue," said Mark Bridges, vice president of the international division at Mokrynski & Associates Inc., Hackensack, NJ. "I'm not saying that they aren't going to come and come fairly quickly but I suppose a lot of people were hoping it was going to finish relatively promptly."


But as the days go by and the U.S. government cautions citizens to prepare for what to expect, list professionals have begun to think about how to approach European mailings for the fall season.


"I don't think that anyone has really changed any of their plans yet but we are looking to the next mailing cycle, and decisions will have to be made relatively soon," said May Katz, president of the Direct Media International division of Direct Media Inc., Greenwich, CT.


In other words, wait-and-see can last only so long.


Some advice offered by list professionals matched that given to domestic mailers, which included tightening selection criteria and mailing only your best lists during uncertain times.


Katz cautioned against doing test mailings to Europe during the war.


"There is no reason to add another variable to a new launch," she said.


Then there is the issue of anti-American sentiment and how that might affect response rates overseas.


"Depending upon how things develop, there are going to be issues particularly with consumer mailers, especially if they are strongly branded as American," Bridges said. "There is anecdotal evidence that such things are developing but whether it turns into a strong movement remains to be seen."


Then there may be a case for looking at circulation geographically, he said.


Still, Bridges said that he expects such issues to have little effect on business-to-business mailers.


Another data provider said that the war could benefit U.S. news and business publications.


"Nobody is going to stop reading a U.S. business magazine because of the war; in fact, they may be more likely [to read it]," said Robert Howells, vice president of international at San Antonio-based Harte-Hanks.


The war is just one consideration when planning mailings into Europe, he added.


"The advice I've been giving to our clients is that the war is a factor but it shouldn't completely override what you want to do," Howells said. Decisions should be made only after examining the other fundamentals behind the business such as the economy, he said.


Overall, most said that the war would have the same type of effect on people's attention internationally as it would at home.


"A lot of the other issues that will pertain to domestic mailers will pertain overseas, such as whether response will be depressed because people are preoccupied with watching 24-hour news," Bridges said.


Of course, the portion of U.S. mailers targeting European consumers is small.


"My calculations, and they really are back of the envelope, are that only about 3 percent of all direct marketing sales by U.S. companies in the consumer area are made to foreign addresses, and of those 75 percent are to Canada," said Charles Prescott, vice president of international business development and government affairs at the Direct Marketing Association.


Still, he said that mailers having success in Europe shouldn't abandon what they are doing there.


"A cataloger mailing to European consumers is probably trading on its brand and its reputation," Prescott said, "otherwise they're probably just wasting their money."


Bridges agreed, adding that "the bigger brands tend to have been localized. I don't believe that a Lands' End in Germany plays up that it's American."


Ultimately, list professionals and marketers will use their judgment and proceed cautiously. Bridges predicted that decisions would start being made over the next few weeks after mailers secured their plans for their domestic mailings.


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