INSIDE LINE: J.C. Penney Co. weighs sale of direct subsidiary

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J.C. Penney Co. is considering selling its Direct Marketing Services subsidiary or entering into a joint partnership to operate the profitable insurance and membership services arm. Penney CEO James Oesterreicher announced last week that his company had hired Credit Suisse First Boston to explore sale opportunities of the business to "unlock the unrecognized value of some of our more significant assets." Beyond DDB, Chicago, handles direct marketing work for the Penney subsidiary, which has had increasing profits and revenue for the past 12 years. Proceeds from any transaction with the Direct Marketing Services group would be used to reduce the company's debt in an attempt to bolster its struggling department store and Eckerd drugstore businesses. Last year, Penney sold its credit card business to GE Capital. Penney's stock jumped almost 13% to 16-9/16 on the day of the Direct Marketing Services announcement.

Equifax completed its acquisition of R.L. Polk & Co.'s Consumer Information Services group. The Atlanta-based consumer credit company used the $260 million acquisition to create Equifax Consumer Information Services, a direct marketing arm. The division offers consumer list rental, direct marketing campaigns and analytical services using a variety of products including Buyer's Choice Surveys and TotalList. Detroit-based Polk retained its automotive information business as well as ownership of its Geographic Data Technology and Carfax subsidiaries.

Loyalty programs are popular among online consumers, according to a recent survey by Jupiter Communications. But though 75% of online consumers say they're members of loyalty programs, membership doesn't necessarily guarantee sales. The survey of 1,200 online consumers found that just 22% indicated loyalty programs provided an incentive to make an online purchase. Those surveyed cared more about the ease of returns (40%), customer services (37%) and product selection (37%). The Jupiter report determined that marketers shouldn't rely on such programs as the main source of promoting loyalty, but should instead promote service and functionality to coax customers online. The study found that consumers return to e-commerce sites when there's a tangible value to their loyalty and recommended that marketers understand the level of loyalty among customers to better target incentives.

National Geographic Society turned to Epsilon, Burlington, Mass., to assess its customer relationship marketing program and develop its future marketing plan. The organization's database is made up of 37 million records from its books, magazine and video divisions. Epsilon has worked with the society since 1997 to integrate the group's customer database. As part of the needs assessment for the National Geographic Society, Epsilon will review business initiatives and make recommendations for selecting campaign management tools for direct marketing and e-marketing.

Impiric, New York, named advisers and partner companies that will help operate its new Marketing Lab. The Young & Rubicam-owned direct shop, formerly Wunderman Cato Johnson, announced plans to create the research lab in February as part of its rebranding effort. The lab has Lester Wunderman as its chief scientist. Members of the advisory board include Peter Georgescu, Y&R chairman emeritus; Malcolm Gladwell, staff writer for The New Yorker; and Fred Wilson, managing partner at Flatiron Partners. The Marketing Lab announced partnerships with a variety of technology companies that will work to develop new marketing programs and research customer relationship management technology. They include Canopy International, a business-to-business services company; Luminant Worldwide, an Internet professional services company; and Viador, a customized enterprise portal company.

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