ALC’s ad agency deal solidifies trend toward offering consultative, multichannel capabilities

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The recent announcement that American List Counsel, the list brokerage and management company, has taken a stake in digital agency Empathy Lab underscores a rapidly accelerating phenomenon: Niche marketing companies of all sizes and stripes, and in particular those in the database and list business, are adding advertising agency capabilities to their services.

The goal is to offer a greater array of marketing disciplines—and to make themselves more indispensable to their customers.

“It’s part of putting out there a more robust solution set for our clients,” said Peg McGregor, managing director at ALC. “We’ve been around for 30 years in the data marketing business but we’ve also gradually added digital and multichannel marketing opportunities. It’s all about helping the client focus on the channel opportunities.”

What’s interesting about the ALC-Empathy deal is that it can constitute an added service directed toward both ALC’s list owners as well as its list-renting customers.

In addition to helping list owners add revenue by renting out their lists of subscribers or members, ALC—via Empathy Lab—will work to find other means of generating sales for them, just as it does for the companies to which it rents lists.

According to ALC, the Empathy Lab transaction will enable it to help its clients gain customers and aid their effectiveness with online strategies. For Empathy Lab, ALC’s list management, brokerage and database services will be leveraged to help drive traffic to the agency’s clients’ Web sites and to capture more actionable data, according to that company.

Empathy Lab’s clients include Cablevision, Comcast, Dow Jones & Co. and GlaxoSmithKline.

In announcing the partnership between ALC and Empathy Lab, ALC Chairman-CEO Donn Rappaport said, “We see this integration as a marriage between the customercentric orientation of traditional direct marketing ... and the real-time interactivity and engagement that the Internet provides.”

Consultation is the key agencylike word among these new converts to client hand-holding.

“As marketers’ budgets and staff have been cut, they’re asking us to provide more consultative services along with our lists,” said John Papalia, president of Statlistics. “They need more resources to help them out; and yes, we’re working with them on developing full, multichannel marketing packages.”

Another list company, MeritDirect, is offering its customers lead-generation and online advertising services in addition to lists as part of working with customers in a consultative role.

“We’re increasingly filling roles that might otherwise have been done in [marketers’] own marketing departments,” said Rob Sanchez, MeritDirect’s president-list management and interactive services. “The buying and selling of lists isn’t enough anymore.”

Database companies aren’t the only nonagencies offering agencylike services. Last month, business publisher Forbes Media reorganized its sales and marketing team to include what is essentially a consultative agency at the top.

Forbes’ new brand intelligence group will work with the publisher’s biggest advertisers, and its integrated solutions group will work to create multichannel marketing campaigns for customers.

“We survey advertisers every year, and one of the key trends we talk about is how important it is for publishers to provide more full-marketing, agencylike services to their advertisers,” said Chuck Richard, VP-lead analyst with research and advisory company Outsell. He noted a trend among big such publishers as CMP Media, Meredith Corp. and United Business Media in acquiring ad agencies, or starting up agencies in-house, to offer more consultative capabilities to their advertisers.

“You need to be agnostic about whether to go online, go in print, sponsor an event, or what have you,” said Reed Phillips, managing partner of investment firm DeSilva & Phillips, in assessing the trend toward offering agency services. “You try to customize a package that works for your customer across a variety of media.”

Helping the customer succeed is as much a part of this trend as it is expanding the marketing company’s services, said ALC’s McGregor.

“What ALC has always done, once we’re finished with the underlying profiling of our customers’ needs, has quite often not been all that different than some of what agencies do,” she said. “What we’re trying to do is pull it all together, to make sure we figure out how to improve our clients’ business.”

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