American List Counsel, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this month, and Dunhill International List Co., which this year celebrates its 60th, predict list management and brokerage firms will continue to expand services to meet clients' needs while compilers will become more niche-oriented as public data sources become proprietary.
The Princeton, NJ-based ALC is preparing for its next 20 years by investing $1 million in a technology upgrade of its management system, adding partners, opening regional offices and growing new businesses like its ALCi Internet and e-mail division. The company will hold a summit/party addressing its vision in Princeton on Sept. 18. The event will bring together its entire staff from throughout the country for the first time.
As Fran Green, ALC's executive vice president of list management, compilation and direct sales, explained, the list business essentially is a relationship business that can be strengthened with offices closer to clients. Understanding clients helps determine what the company needs to offer.
“The company that strictly thinks of themselves as traditional list brokers and managers may not feel the need to enhance their service offerings but probably will not continue to address the real needs of their customers in years to come,'' she said. “By broadening what we offer to our clients, it really shows us the way in terms of what products and services our clients are interested in.”
Green warned, however, that list companies shouldn't attempt to offer services that don't adhere to their mission of finding and retaining customers.
“A lot of people say, 'We're more than a list company' and 'We're a direct marketing consultant,' but list companies have to be honest about what we are and what we are not,” she said. “We don't do packages. We're not an ad agency. Even the term list is something we reject in favor of data. When some people lament the passing of the industry, it's because they're thinking about it in a traditional sense and not looking at it as data acquisition and management.''
Acquisition of compiled data will become more difficult, according to Bob Dunhill, president of Dunhill International List Co., Boca Raton, FL, who opened what is now the company's headquarters in Florida in 1978. The company closed its New York office in 1996.
Dunhill predicts that directory publishers, the primary source of data for compilers, will stop publishing directories and place everything on copyrighted CD-ROMs. Copyrighting will make it tougher for compilers to gain data and will force them to find a niche. He points to American Student List Co., Mineola, NY, as an example of a niche compiler. The compilation process will consist of list exchanges between niche compilers and lead to a proliferation of databases.
Despite the difficulties in obtaining data, Dunhill expects compiled lists to continue to play a vital role in targeted marketing and said brokers must do a better job of educating themselves and their clients about compiled lists. He also sees the eventual demise of independent shops.
“The major list houses will continue to move to buy out the smaller guy. They want to buy customer lists and stifle competition and they have the bucks to do it,'' said Dunhill, whose firm has rejected past takeover bids.