I Have One Word for You: ‘Partnerships’

The next time you attend a cocktail party with your insert media peers and someone pulls you aside – much like the executive in the film “The Graduate” – and tells you he has one word for you, I can guess it won’t be “plastics.” However, it may be “partnerships.”

Our industry has gone through numerous phrases and buzzwords over the years, and the latest we are encountering within insert media is that of partnerships. Where this will lead us is anyone’s guess, but in many meetings and conferences involving mailers, brokers and managers, there is a point when this word comes up. And it is about time.

With the bells and whistles direct marketers have at their disposal these days and the growth in technology, true marketing and idea generation have seemingly been subjected to second-class citizenry.

Now, with the advent of partnerships, or at least the increased emphasis on them, we in the insert media business are in a position to combine insert media with catalog circulation, publishing, e-commerce and other means of promotion in true concert with each other. The time also has come whereby catalogers, publishers and others seeking new means of acquisition are gravitating toward insert media instead of the other way around.

In the past, catalogers and publishers never really found tremendous success with each other’s list properties, and it always has been a strain to induce magazine publishers to use insert media. But now we see renewed interest in exchanges and rentals of said properties.

Why? Well, most articles you read these days pertain to the dwindling universe counts for catalogers along with a decline in response rates, with most of the blame attributed to the use of cooperative databases. Some are even considering eliminating outside rental or exchanges and relying solely on these database names for circulation. The picture is not very rosy for publishers, either. So where will the new names – hotline names (remember those?) – that have dried up come from? Partnerships.

It can be as simple as advertising your magazine on the order form of a catalog with direct affinity to your customers, or placing a link at the end of your order confirmation page. It could be an exchange of blow-in space between catalogers and magazines, or it could be a magazine sent to you after the completion of a concert or sports ticket purchase. The possibilities are endless, and like a good brainstorming session, initially, there is no bad idea.

Partnerships have crossed into brands never considered in the past, but now, leveraging the volumes and reach some companies can deliver in return for revenue or exchanging of properties adds a new dimension for direct marketers.

Cable and satellite companies and networks, telecommunications, wireless and online providers of services, information and merchandise have discovered insert media, and we, in turn, have new avenues of distribution, avenues that dwarf some of the largest programs in direct marketing. Now available for DMers are the outside of envelopes for e-mail linkage, inserts and editorial newsletters inside billing with enormous monthly circulation and e-mails selectable by category for banner ads or links.

None of these is groundbreaking or revolutionary. There have been ongoing relationships for decades with exchanges of inserts for ad space or many other deals along those lines. The biggest change is the expansion of participants.

The next time you open your wireless bill, take a look at what is inside besides your roaming charges. You likely will find some special offer, endorsement or editorial content. While finishing your e-mails, surf the Net and look closely at one of your favorite Web sites. Chances are you can make a purchase for merchandise, a magazine or product and be redirected to another site, courtesy of the site you just left. Maybe you will have a choice of a magazine just for paying your bill online rather than through the mail. Or you will open a DVD rental and out will pop an insert.

I am sure many are established ads and deals. Yet I am equally sure the brands you will begin to see will be recognizable, but new for the insert media industry, bringing a new level of marketing and acquisition strategy for clients in every category. All it will take for partnerships to continue gaining momentum is the risk of putting ideas and concepts together in an equal fashion for all, then step up to the plate and test the waters.

Many in DM remember from years ago ordering or recommending a stretch list – one that on the surface may not look to be a winner, but given the size of its universe, the category and the test budget, was put into the mail plan. Economics may dictate that this is not a viable option anymore. However, the concept of partnerships has revived the original entrepreneurial aspects of DM. That is, combining historical data, measuring ROI, but most importantly, going a bit with your gut instincts and trying something different.

Now, all of this is not as easily accomplished as described above, and it is possible the new customers attained through partnerships may not match up to the buyers/subscribers already acquired from traditional sources. Some initial data show these partnership customers are different and may be less responsive to outside offers as others already on the house file, and they may not renew or repurchase in the same percentage as the past core buyer.

However, partnerships will evolve every day in every phase of direct marketing, with participants looking to acquire, retain and reward customers through special offers and exclusive deals. The growth in our industry will not come from the list side. Instead, a large percentage will come from partnerships, and insert media will be at the forefront of many of these future campaigns.

The next time you find yourself at one of those cocktail parties, and you hear the word “partnerships,” don’t move on. Listen more carefully. That word just might create opportunities with companies in ways you never thought possible.

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