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List Firms Stay Course Despite Tragedies

In a year that was less than ideal for the list industry even before the Sept. 11 attacks and the anthrax panic, list professionals appear to be coping by pulling together.

While flexibility amid order cancellations and mailing postponements is not always the norm in the industry during tough times, list professionals, mailers and list owners are cooperating following the tragedies.

“We've been accommodating and flexible, and our list owners have been as well,” said Herb Torgersen, vice president of management services at Response Media Products Inc., Atlanta.

Though orders are down overall, most list professionals say things could be worse.

“We're a little bit down but not significantly,” said Ellen East, business development and alternative media manager at Lifestyle Change Communications, Kennesaw, GA. “We have had some cutbacks in list rental from the travel industry but not too much from other sectors.”

In addition, business-to-business lists have been hit as severely as those in the consumer market, Torgersen said.

“Most of the industry says they're off 10 to 40 percent,” he said. “A good number of our clients will have revenue gains on their lists this year.”

Though there is no sure-fire way to counteract a drop in list revenue, list managers rely on tried-and-true methods.

Response Media accelerated its promotions in several ways.

“We've really put an emphasis on in-person visits and outbound telemarketing, which is what we've done all along,” Torgersen said.

Even though most companies have trimmed or eliminated travel expenses, Response Media plans to make presentations in December at brokerage houses in the New York area, he said. The company also has relied on its promotional e-mail newsletter, launched in late spring, to generate list income.

Individual list firms are adjusting programs in response to the cutbacks.

“We have lowered our rate-card pricing for alternative media programs,” East said. “The pricing went from 75 cents to anywhere from 25 cents to 60 cents.” Such programs offer mailers a lower-cost option for reaching prospects, she said.

Even so, Lifestyle Change suspended some of its catalog-referral programs until next year because of lack of mailer interest.

“We've suspended them until March because catalogers are worried about the fourth quarter,” she said.

At least one list firm responded to the tragedies by encouraging clients to try e-mail marketing.

“The events of Sept. 11, as well as the anthrax scare that followed, really have mailers thinking about getting their e-mail marketing strategy in high gear,” said Jeff Moriarty, director of sales and marketing at Cahners Business Lists, Des Plaines, IL. “There are many traditional mailers that we have done business with for many years who have yet to step into the ring regarding e-mail marketing, be it to their own customers or to prospective customers.”

Cahners began lauding the benefits of e-mail marketing to its clients more than two years ago, but its focus on promoting such programs increased after Sept. 11, he said.

Response Media also helped steer its clients toward e-mail by offering combined rates on some lists for using postal names coupled with e-mail names, Torgersen said.

Looking ahead, it is difficult to gauge what 2002 holds for the industry.

“A lot of people have been holding back on 2002 plans, which is understandable,” Torgersen said.

He expects a late start to the order period for the first quarter of next year. Until then, all list professionals can do is be creative and proactive in their promotions and do their best for clients.

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