Infogroup chief looks forward

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Last month, database marketing holding company Infogroup closed its sale for $635 million to private-equity company CCMP Capital Advisors, returned itself to private-company status and named former Dow Jones executive Clare Hart as its new president-CEO. It marked the end of several years of financial losses, scandal in the executive suite over misappropriation of funds and a half-hearted effort to consolidate the branding of the many companies it owns. BtoB recently asked Hart about the opportunities and challenges that the “new” company—still the leader in the database marketing arena—faces moving forward.

BtoB: What is your assessment of the new Infogroup going forward?

Hart: It starts with why I joined the firm in the first place. I believe the opportunities for Infogroup are very good, considering the market in which it competes. When you add it all together—business intelligence, data, direct marketing, research—these areas are really set to grow. The Direct Marketing Association points to direct marketing as the biggest chunk of the marketing business. And then, when you look at e-mail and social media marketing, you're in double-digit-revenue-growth territory.

And there's another reason I find Infogroup attractive: In spite of the challenges, the company has really been vigilant in focusing forward, on serving customers and driving revenue and operating income.

BtoB: Through acquisition, Infogroup now owns about 32 companies, which currently operate fairly independently under their original names. What plans do you have to continue to consolidate the brand experience at Infogroup?

Hart: There already has been a tremendous amount of work on rebranding, but I can't answer yet where we go from here. We're working on defining and clarifying our strategy, which we will have done by mid-September.

With the various brands, you need clarity and direction. In 1999, when I formed Factiva [the business information and research tool owned by Dow Jones & Co.] and branded that, we gave up Dow Jones Interactive as a brand; and people thought we were crazy. But as a result, Factiva developed a brand in its own right. So people need to be open-minded about the best brand in the marketplace.

BtoB: What is, then, your overall go-to-market identity: As an agency, a database company, a consultancy?

Hart: We are all of the above. We look at ourselves in three dimensions, where business information, data and data-processing services intersect. Today, we're calling it the “data advantage,” helping our clients own their own data, cleanse it and append to it with better information. Of course the company has operated in silos for many years and, when I look at our data assets and services, marketing services, data processing and management, a lot of our services start to sound alike.

But I look at this and say we can be more of a center of excellence, where Infogroup is looking at data-processing, management capabilities and modeling to help our customers better target their marketing. There is more to offer in a unified way than in separate silos. How you tell that story as a unified brand is what we're working on.

BtoB: What aspects of your Dow Jones experience informs your new work with Infogroup?

Hart: I'm very connected to information and data. That's where I come from at Dow Jones. And Infogroup is information and data. Another area is our enterprise clients and working with them to derive value from our products and services, such as lists, merge/purge services, appending and so forth.

I do have to add that I have a steep learning curve about the direct marketing space. But I feel lucky that I don't come with preconceived views. The industry is changing so much; it's exciting. It's really about the world going digital.

BtoB: Database marketing technology is evolving rapidly. How do you see Infogroup adapting to this change?

Hart: One thing I should stress is that I have a very good team. It's made up of a lot of people who have been with the company a long time but some short-term, such as [exec VP-CFO] Richard Hanks and [senior VP-Human Resources] Susie Robinson, both from Dow Jones, and [President-Enterprise Solutions Group] Franklin Rio, who comes from the industry. Also Mark Litvinoff, who returns to lead opinion research. They are preparing us for the changes that are occurring in the marketplace.

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