Don't overdo it: Publishers move to protect their lists from overuse

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In the current environment of print ad anemia, subscriber lists are a major asset for business media companies. However, publishers must walk a fine line to prevent exploitation of their lists. “One of the challenges publishers are facing right now is fatigue and overuse of those [e-mail] lists,” said Georgiann DeCenzo, exec VP of Advanstar Communications. Nick Cavnar, VP-circulation and database development at Hanley Wood Business Media, said that particularly with e-mail, publishers are dealing with the issue of permission from subscribers who are more inclined in e-mail [than with direct mail] to opt out or unsubscribe if they feel they are being barraged with e-mail. “You face a constant challenge of maximizing revenue from the list, balanced with the need to not overdo what you are doing and wear out your welcome with subscribers,” Cavnar said. Fatigue can result in a double-pronged negative effect. The subscribers on the list will grow weary of too much e-mail and opt out, and advertising customers who rent the lists at a premium are likely to see response rates decrease. Advanstar and Hanley Wood have both initiated controls to prevent overuse. At Advanstar, the directive came straight from the top. “Our CEO Joe Loggia is very committed to protecting our e-mail database of our audience and keeping that a valuable asset for the company,” DeCenzo said. Advanstar has a companywide policy in place to limit how many times an e-mail name can be used in one month. “We made a cognizant decision as a company to put a limit on how many times an e-mail name can be used.” DeCenzo added that Advanstar also has a blatant double opt-in policy, so that when someone checks off the box that says “I'd like to receive information from third parties,” the company sends out a qualifying e-mail to that person that asks them if they are sure they want to receive e-mail from Advanstar affiliates. “We really want to keep our list very clean and we want customers to understand when they fill out that information that they will get third-party e-mails,” she said. Cavnar said his team found Advanstar's lists were particularly being overused for surveys. “Advertisers want to do more surveys of our audience to determine how their ad program is working, internally we want to survey our readers in terms of editorial and market research, and even outside companies who are not our advertisers want to test brand recognition and new products,” he said. “In one six-week period, some subscribers were getting five to six surveys a week.” Cavnar implemented a way to monitor e-mails so that no specific e-mail address receives a survey more than once every two weeks. In addition, since there is so much demand within Hanley Wood for list sources for surveys, Cavnar said he is not allowing third parties to rent e-mail through Hanley Wood's list rental company, Statlistics, for surveys. “There's too much demand for it internally,” he said. “For us, that was the single biggest area of [list] overuse. That was an area where we had to restrict what we do in the list rental area, so I've actually turned down business that would've been paying full price because it was just too much for our list,” he said. And since e-mail continues to be a growth area, Cavnar said next on his agenda is a plan to set a formal program to monitor usage for all e-mail lists across the company. Mike Mayhew, exec VP-b-to-b list management at Direct Media, said he has also seen huge demand for survey lists. “The frequency of surveys is just exploding,” Mayhew said. He said he thinks that is because “people are struggling to find out what's going on with their customers to better market to them.” Mayhew's publishing clients are also experiencing continued growth in the e-mail arena. Not only are they generating additional revenue from e-mail lists, they are also building the size of those lists. “We're helping a lot of our publishing clients with e-mail append processes,” Mayhew said. “We work with one publisher where we doubled their online subscription universe with e-mail append. They had a number of postal subscribers but no e-mail addresses, and they were launching a new e-newsletter. We took them from 25,000 [e-mail names] to 50,000 [e-mail names] in a couple of weeks.” Mayhew said in this soft economy, helping publishers go beyond the business of traditional list rental is paramount. “We're trying to help them with other channels to generate new subscribers,” he said. Mayhew said customer service takes on an important role as a way to ensure clients won't go elsewhere for their lists. “We're trying to do everything to make sure that the transaction is more efficient and accurate, and providing quality data fulfillment back to them,” Mayhew said. “We want the broker to pick the list that's managed at Direct Media because they know they can get good service.” Another list manager, John Papalia, president-CEO of Statlistics, has a similar approach. “We're trying to slice and dice and offer more selects [to publishers],” Papalia said. “We're trying to segment better. And we're putting an even higher priority on customer service. We want to be the best in service so that nothing falls through the cracks.” And both list managers, Statlistics and Direct Media, continue to invest in the downturn. Papalia said he has actually increased the marketing budget. “If we tighten the belt, we lose the momentum,” he said. Mayhew said Direct Media will maintain its marketing and promotions spending this year as well. “In tough times, the kneejerk reaction is to cut back on advertising and promotions. But in order to get the business, you still need to be out there promoting your managed properties.”
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