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Infogroup a year later

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Last July, database marketing holding company Infogroup Inc. closed its sale to private-equity company CCMP Capital Advisors for $635 million, returned itself to private status and named former Dow Jones executive Clare Hart as its new president-CEO. It followed several years of financial scandal for the company and its many operating units, including database and sales-lead companies InfoUSA, Walter Karl, Edith Roman, Direct Media Millard and Salesgenie.com; email service provider Yesmail; and demographic research company Opinion Research Corp. Almost a year into her leadership, Hart discussed how Infogroup has been reorganized and her plans for the company with BtoB. BtoB: After almost a year on the job, how would you describe the new Infogroup? What's been accomplished and what changes are you most happy with? Hart: We started out as a holding company with 30 different companies, many of which competed against each other. We were built on acquisitions. Over the past year, we looked closely at the changing marketplace and asked ourselves, "Do all these brands matter—does Edith Roman, Walter Karl, Direct Media Millard?' BtoB: At one time they did, right? Hart: But now they don't. These brands aren't as relevant as they used to be, and the changes we needed to make were as important internally as externally. What really matters is the service we're providing to customers. When we came in last year, the business units were already down to 18, so some consolidation had already taken place. We've since taken the business from 18 units down to five: research with Opinion Research Corp., which is a $100 million business; b-to-b business information with OneSource and iSell, which brings in about $50 million; and then all the rest within enterprise, small business and licensing data sales and service, which is a $350 million business. BtoB: What internal concerns were behind the consolidation? Hart: I'd run into people who used to work for the company, talking about how they'd be in a meeting one day with their colleagues discussing strategies and forecasts, and then the next day competing with those colleagues for the same piece of business. The internal competition was tremendous. Also, there was a lot of lip service to cross-selling but, when you have teams going in different directions and not motivated to understand different products and services, you'll lose business. We send out 30 billion emails a year via our Yesmail service. Why have email and the data business operating in separate siloes when customers are looking for both data and email services? Why wouldn't you put them together? BtoB: What were your most important initiatives in the last 12 months? Hart: In the first 100 days, we built our Value Creation plan, a three-year plan looking at the marketplace and its elements, to ask where we have credibility and can play to be successful. Yes, we do list management and brokerage, data processing, email and so forth; but we spent time asking about multichannel end-to-end campaigns. Our business is data, research and marketing services, fueling customer success. To focus on that, in October, we sold our infoUK business, and at the beginning of the year, we sold the Expresscopy.com print business, which was not strategic and easily partnered. If everything at Infogroup were in perfect working order, you could say, “OK, we can continue with these,” but it was a process of looking at everything that would be a distraction to us. We then looked at where we could build strength. That was our technology businesses, data management and brokerage, and executing on email. That's where we're investing, in both classic and digital marketing capabilities. Along with that, it didn't make any sense to be defined by all these different, siloed companies, so we brought everything together. As for sales and customer service, why go to four different people for four separate parts of a campaign? We created sales strategy and client experience groups, with single account managers as “quarterbacks” to bring in experts as they are needed. BtoB: And the various Infogroup brands? Do they still exist? Hart: No. That doesn't mean we're not committed to those services, such as list management and brokerage, data processing and cleansing, matching and appending, merge/purge and modeling and analytics. All this is within that $350 million piece of business. We don't want every piece of market. Some of it, such as search and display, we'll partner with someone that can help. And we'd partner on online behaviors and Web analytics. BtoB: What about the next 12 months? What might we discuss in June 2012? Hart: Twelve months from now I'd like to be talking about our self-service application. One of the things that's changing is marketers looking for self-service, to go to a website and get a list themselves. That's not up and running yet. Second is high-value data, how to add more enhanced data to our assets. And the third thing is lead generation. We've done a lot of work on trigger technology, particularly in our iSell product. Say you're in consulting services. You'll want to know if a company has a new CFO, to talk to him and hopefully win business as he puts his team together. We already have direct links into LinkedIn for this kind of information, and it's a trigger event that we want to build into more and more of our products.
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