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Harland Clarke: Transforming a legacy company in a changing world

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Charles DallAcqua is the new (since February) exec VP at integrated payment solutions company Harland Clarke Corp., with responsibility for the company’s marketing services. He most recently was president and CEO of Protocol Integrated Direct Marketing. BtoB recently asked DallAcqua about how he is helping transform his company into a full-service direct marketing organization.

BtoB: Harland Clarke is still known primarily as a check-printing company. With the digital revolution, how’s that going?

DallAcqua: We have thousands of clients in that line of business but, as everybody knows, the check business is a declining entity. As people go to online banking, it’s decreasing by 3% to 4% yearly. While check printing will go on for some time, we realized we need to diversity the business by offering more marketing services to our existing source of clients, primarily financial institutions.

BtoB: How is the company making this happen?

DallAcqua: For these institutions, checks are a means to make payments but also a way to have a direct connection with customers, with the opportunity to cross- and up-sell and thank them for their business. It’s a logical fit, not just with direct marketing but also with the entire continuum, including call centers, e-marketing and mobile marketing.

BtoB: What progress has the company made so far?

DallAcqua: We’ve got more than 15,000 customers overall, and so far about 2,000 on the marketing side of the business. Some of it involves including personalized messages in the check package, but more in offering customized direct marketing programs. We’ll go through a continuous integrated offering, start to finish. All this is helped by the fact that we acquired a full-service ad agency about four years ago, supplying strategy, creative, Web pages, e-mail campaigns, and full production on the direct marketing side.

Meanwhile, our call centers previously have been used mostly to field customer calls about the status of their checks or some other banking issue. But we’ve been asked to assist on the outbound marketing side, perhaps calling seven days after a bank gets a new customer, asking if everything is OK.

BtoB: Direct marketing may be a little in eclipse during these economic hard times, as mailing costs go up and the digital side of marketing gains ascendence. How are you addressing this?

DallAcqua: Direct marketing has proven itself over the years as a cost-effective way to use ad dollars. It’s easy to calculate ROI; you can turn it on or off, and test and refine using ad dollars more efficiently with each campaign.

What we have seen with financial institutions is that they’re moving into e-marketing very gently while being sensitive to their relationships with customers. But our clients are saying direct marketing is good, we can see results, and we don’t need huge budgetary commitments. The fact is financial institutions have tons of data about their customers. The more they dig into this, the better they’ll be in tailoring up- and cross-selling offers. Their database is their gray matter.

BtoB: In transforming Harland Clarke into a marketing company, you’re focusing on your financial institution base. Any plans to expand beyond that?

DellAcqua: We’ll eventually get into other vertical markets, but to differentiate yourself you have to have a good understanding of your primary business. For banks, their major issue is increasing deposits, both with new customers and by up-selling existing ones.

Meanwhile, though, we’ve developed several Web sites that provide marketing items to small businesses, helping them find promotional and collateral items, business cards, logos on T-shirts, etc. We’ve seen a very strong demand by small businesses to purchase these kinds of items more efficiently on the Web. We have good pricing and delivery. This is a nice business. In fact, down the road our financial clients may want to provide this service to their small-business customers, and we’ll be there to help.

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