List Leader Pont does more for less

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This month, the DMA List and Database Council honors Stefanie Pont, managing partner of Norwalk, Conn.-based list brokerage and direct marketing consultancy Pont Media Direct, with the List Leader of the Year Award.

Pont accepts the honor with 22 years of experience, having held senior positions at Euro RSCG-Brann North Americ, Boardroom Inc., Millard Group and Paradysz Matera.

Pont, who family members affectionately call "list goddess," served as chairwoman of the DMA List and Database Council from 1999-2003 and currently serves as special events/DMA liaison chairwoman for the List and Database Council.

BtoB caught up with Pont after the award announcement to ask her about the latest challenges to the list industry and how she and others continue to shape the business.

BtoB: What is the biggest trend in list management and list marketing today?

Pont: Everybody has jumped on board with modeling enhancement and overlays. Even tiny files have an enhancement, which keeps records current, ensures data quality and allows every list to be more selectable. With a 10,000-name list, an enhancement might not be useful; but if it helps 15% of the file to work, it's 15% more than what I had before.

BtoB: What are the major industry challenges?

Pont: Everyone has confronted the "diminishing universe" problem. Mailers aren't mailing as much, companies are consolidating and files are becoming more streamlined. But this is the natural progression of business and a global economic problem.

To combat this, I'm trying to mail smarter. I make the most of what is available by constantly looking at expiries on lists, retesting things that didn't work well a year or two ago and, when I can, I model. While the universe is shrinking, I mine the best of the universe.

Secondly, people are not as well-trained as they used to be-when I call a list manager to ask a direct question, I am answered adequately but there aren't as many people who can help me work through a file to get the best information. I understand the dilemma that if I train someone, my employee may go to work at a stockbroker in two months. But that means I have to work harder and train people to be creative to a broker's or mailer's needs.

BtoB: What should list companies be doing to keep up with the growth in online and interactive marketing?

Pont: Most major list companies have online divisions-whether managing lists or lead generations for clients-but companies can always do more.

Today, everybody is doing more for less. List brokers are doing a lot more work than they used to and getting paid the same amount or less. For this reason, they must come up with new channels, and online space is a key [new channel] area.

E-mail and postal lists have similar targeting and context. If your company is doing postal, with some research and knowledge it can do e-mail. If you're doing e-mail, you can do search. It is about constantly adding new tools to your toolbox. The more tools a broker has [to work with], the more valuable [the broker is] to the client.

BtoB: What are some of the pitfalls that come with online marketing?

Pont: There is always a danger of trying to be too many things to too many people. You can try and fill so many needs but not do any of them well. It is important to expand your toolbox in the right direction, with similar services ... that your business does well. For example, list brokerage management with service bureau arms makes sense; but specialization is important. If you offer everything to everyone, you won't succeed.

BtoB: How can small and new businesses use list information to grow business and improve marketing strategy?

Pont: Small and new businesses can use list information to expand their prospecting, allowing them to use new and different types of lists. Good list professionals can tell you who else in the marketplace is offering the same or similar services. While consulting companies can also do competitive research, a list person can say, "[although] this catalog looks like competition, because of the number of responders, it actually isn't." Utilizing lists can help you pick up every resource possible to know what's out there, what to avoid and where you need to focus.

Also, I'm a firm believer in getting help from professionals. New and small businesses have such small margins that a mistake could cost the whole company. Why risk it when using a professional would avoid these mistakes?

BtoB: As a veteran and a well- respected list executive, what is your advice for young direct marketing professionals just starting?

Pont: Utilize opportunities to learn from others in the industry. If you read an article you like or are curious about, call or write the author. If you hear interesting speakers at an industry event, approach them to ask questions or take them to lunch. People in this industry are incredibly generous with their time and knowledge, and developing relationships while learning is what business is all about.

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