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DM News Views: Mining Talent and Databases in 2006

It’s that time again. Resolutions and prognostications are as abundant as sugar cookies and eggnog. While my New Year’s resolution is to lay off the cookies and eggnog, predictions about circulation marketing require more serious contemplation. Publishers face rising postal rates, confusing audit rules, declining response rates and so on.

Two concerns dominate:

· Talent and training.

· Mushrooming databases.

Circulation 101. Consolidations and downsizing in publishing have resulted in fewer knowledgeable circulators. Many are coming from the Internet side, which means they have great experience and ideas relating to online content and delivery. But they strike out at understanding the basics, from audit rules to print product fulfillment and deferred income.

The good news is the abundance of outside resources to help them. First, they need to know what these are, then make time to read, attend educational programs and network with experienced circulators who are generous in sharing knowledge. Publishers must recognize the benefits of letting their employees attend functions. Every industry organization faces the same problem: how to get the busy people out. “No time. No budget.”

Here’s a short list of resources providing seminars, Webinars, e-letters, magazines, studies and other forms of education: American Business Media, Audit Bureau of Circulations, BPA Worldwide, Circulation Management, Direct Marketing Association, DM News, Folio, Fulfillment Management Association, National Trade Circulation Foundation, Target Marketing and Western Fulfillment Management Association. Google them. Visit their sites. Subscribe. Join. Mingle. Learn.

Don’t forget vendors. As department heads come and go, the one continuity often is your vendor. Having been a circulator and a vendor, I recognize that a good partnership and strategizing together are invaluable. Whether it’s your audit bureau, telemarketer or fulfillment house, running ideas by them upfront can head off problems later and reduce costs.

Formal internal training also is critical to developing talent from within. Whether teaching employees how to write proper e-mails or what a direct request is, taking time to train junior people pays off by boosting morale and productivity and creating a talent pool for promotion from within.

Building a master database. A second major challenge facing publishers is how to organize and control their various and expanding files. As more products are developed to expand the brand, more databases are created. Often housed at different locations (physically as well as virtually), these random databases may have redundant data or data that others could use, if they only knew. I’m of the house-it-in-one-database mindset, but I recognize there are many reasons databases are kept separate.

Can one database accomplish all needs: magazine print and digital edition fulfillment, e-letter distribution, single-copy sales, conference attendance, prospecting? And how about multiple publication interaction? Merging the files into one relational database offers many advantages. The magazine’s online subscription page can solicit a request for an online newsletter. If the opt in is kept in the same database as the print subscription, demographic data can be appended to that online newsletter subscriber without the need to solicit it again. Targeted online newsletters can be blasted, increasing readership.

Perhaps the publisher wants a third party to handle the blasts. The records still can be selected from the central database. Any non-deliverables should be fed back to the database manager for cleanup. This benefits everyone as all departments have access to the freshest data. So why have corporate databases sprouted topsy-turvy? Is there cause to maintain separate databases at various locations?

Communication among the print, Web and IT people is crucial to knowing what each one has and needs. Once the key players talk with each other, it is easier to determine whether the databases can or should. But the time to talk, to get the circulator and fulfillment people involved, is at startup. The agenda might include: goals for each product (content reservoir, revenue, brand exposure, ad sales); demographics to be captured; method and frequency of distribution; updating requirements; push or pull technology; tracking and reports needed; and auditing. Then the fun begins: prioritizing data, determining source code structure, establishing a hierarchy among records and so on.

Corporate training and databases are not really dissimilar challenges. By understanding the nuances of each product and discipline, a synergism erupts. The result: a better brand for the future.

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