*List Industry Forecasts Prosperous, Steady Holiday Season

Cautious optimism, careful prospecting and multichannel marketing seem to rule this year’s holiday season list activity, according to industry brokers and managers. As the holiday mailing season gets under way, it’s business as usual for list professionals and their clients.

“We’re looking forward to a very good holiday season. The basics are there, the circulation is there and the opportunities for selling in two different channels are there,” said Steve Tamke, senior vice president at list brokerage Mokrynski & Associates Inc., Hackensack, NJ.

As for circulation numbers in general, the consensus is that most mailers are holding steady or increasing slightly in their holiday mail plans.

Circulation is definitely up 5 percent to 10 percent, and since direct marketers are a cautious bunch, list professionals are seeing relatively aggressive mail plans both on house files and outside lists, Tamke said.

“No surprises,” said Malcolm McCluskey, president of List Services Corp., Bethel, CT. “Prospecting doesn’t seem to be different from past years.”

McCluskey said that list management numbers are up substantially at his firm, as are brokerage numbers, but not quite as high. He added that the average order size is up a little bit on continuations.

“There are always going to be certain companies that are mailing more, some that are cutting back and the bulk in the middle that are generally consistent,” said Andy Ostroy, managing partner at ALC of New York LLC. “There’s nothing that’s standing out as far as prospecting.”

“Fortunately, there aren’t any cutbacks,” said Susan Giampietro, client management director of the list brokerage catalog division at ClientLogic's SpeciaLists Marketing Services Division, Weehawken, NJ.

Over the past couple of years, traditional direct mailers have established a significant presence on the Web, and are approaching this year’s holiday mailing season as true multichannel marketers. Direct marketers are now dictating how they do business on the Web.

“The Web has been integrated into basic direct marketing strategy,” McCluskey said. “There isn’t as much hype about the Internet replacing traditional direct marketing, and mailers are just treating it as a part of their overall marketing initiative.”

“There’s a new emphasis in the entire Internet world on profitability and prudence, and catalogers are realizing that’s the way they’ve approached their businesses forever,” Tamke said. “On the Web, they still behave like catalogers, where there is a lot of attention paid to customer acquisition costs and bottom-line profitability.”

It has become standard practice for catalogs and other direct mail pieces to contain Internet call-outs, Giampietro said. It’s a risk-free way to drive traffic to a Web site with minimal effort, she added.

Internet buyers at postal address have also been added to many holiday mail plans to increase online sales.

Second to the Internet, the upcoming presidential election is an added factor for direct mailers to contend with this holiday season, Ostroy said.

It is a widely held belief in the direct marketing community that big elections distract would-be buyers and can cost marketers sales if they aren’t careful.

“Presidential elections can act as a distraction,” Tamke said. “It’s impossible to avoid it completely, but avoid being in-home with your mail piece the week before or the week of Election Day.”

“Everybody claims that there are these extraneous factors that make or break a particular mailing,” Giampietro said. “This election will probably distract people somewhat, but my feeling has always been that if your catalog and brand are strong enough, it will not dramatically impact your mailing campaign.”

The election aside, 2000’s holiday season doesn’t really stand out in terms of expectations. As any good direct marketer knows, the results will tell the real story a few months from now.

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