As marketing budgets were choked by the recession last year, the wind was knocked out of list rental and reprint sales. But in recent months there have been signs of a long-awaited upturn.
Technology was among the first sectors to rebound, said Andrew Sambrook, general manager of IDG List Services. “We've been ahead of plan every month since about last October,” he said.
However, in many verticals—from agriculture to legal to energy—business didn't tick up until the turn of the year.
“We had a pretty good start to the year,” said Amanda Schuster, group marketing director for the media division of Summit Business Media. “We were ahead of plan for January, so we're cautiously optimistic.”
Pat France, VP-marketing at ALM, echoed those words. “We exceeded sales goals for both January and February,” she said. “It's a long year ahead, but I feel cautiously optimistic.”
There wasn't much business media list owners could do, as postal direct mail plummeted last year, but cut costs, get creative and focus more on endemic markets. While e-mail lists continued to perform, list owners had to work hard to increase the number of e-mail addresses, manage opt-outs and avoid exhausting their precious e-mail assets.
Simply put, marketers held back in 2009, said Gloria Adams, senior VP-audience development for PennWell Corp. “They were doing some e-mail marketing, but that was about the extent of it. There were no big integrated programs,” she said. “The business came in spurts. Some months were great; the next would go off a cliff.”
In addition to keeping a tight rein on expenses, Adams and her team “tried to do what we've been doing all along, which is to try to create subsets of databases that would be of interest to a marketer,” she said.
Jodi Svenson, director of audience development at Meister Media, started renting postal and telemarketing lists through a broker in 2008. “The first year we didn't do too badly, but in 2009 we got about 50% of what we got in 2008” due to the recession, she said. Since the beginning of the year, though, “things are picking up,” she said.
Summit's Schuster said: “We don't rent e-mail names for all of our titles, but the ones we do rent do pretty well. No one would argue that there's less postal direct mail, but some pockets—and some individual customers—are doing well.”
As a result of cuts in circulation, rentable names for Watt's lists were reduced 30% in 2009, said Jim Wessel, audience development director. List rentals through Watt's broker were down even more, 45%. “That's pretty much the direct mail industry,” he said.
Wessel is currently completing a review to replace Watt's list management company, and his No. 1 criterion is to work with a company that can put together the strongest co-op databases for Watt's key industries—agriculture, pet food and woodworking. “You can't optimize all three, so we're going for the best blend,” he said. “Co-op databases are really critical for future growth.”
“More than ever, relevancy and marketing fit between the offer and the intended recipient are critical,” IDG's Sambrook said. In addition to its own titles, IDG has built a database with the 275 publishers and bloggers that have joined the IDG TechNetwork, an online vertical ad network that provides a variety of additional marketing services for its members.
IDG Lists is doing more custom programs and providing “agency-like services,” Sambrook said. “This could mean managing an event, including registration; creating custom content; or helping clients manage their own databases.”
The ongoing shift from print to digital reprints is definitely accelerating. B-to-b media executives who oversee reprints do not see cost savings as the primary driver of this trend. The main factors, they say, have been the increased use of electronic communication and the need for companies to keep their Web sites populated with content.
“That shift happened fairly dramatically last year,” ALM's France said. “Marketing and business development people within law firms are trying to distribute more content electronically, and they are looking for more content for their Web sites,” she said.
“If you go back a year or two, [the ratio] of print to electronic was around 70/30. Last year, it was getting closer to 50/50 if you looked at it on a month-to-month basis.”
Schuster offered a similar observation. Two years ago, Summit's print-to-digital ratio was “probably close to 80/20 in favor of print. Now it's approaching 50/50,” she said. M