List View: The Unique Perspective of a Boutique
The direct marketing industry has witnessed its fair share of mergers and acquisitions in the past decade. But quite a few niche companies have remained holdouts in this urge to merge. Boutique list firms, says Adrea Rubin, founder of Adrea Rubin Marketing Inc. and Adrea Rubin Management Inc., have carved out their own space in the list industry and continue to serve clients without bringing ancillary services, like e-mail deployment or data modeling, in-house.
Target Marketing Editor in Chief Hallie Mummert talked with Rubin this month to solicit her insights on what it means to be a boutique shop in the list industry.
Hallie Mummert: What is a boutique list firm?
Adrea Rubin: It’s a list company that has an interactive staff and that takes on selective clients. At my firm, for example, we focus on financial services/credit offers; continuity; insurance; catalog marketing; and senior citizen marketing. We don’t want to be all things to all mailers.
Boutique firms also tend to be owner-operated companies, where the owners actively participate in every part of the business. Clients can reach me personally to discuss their business challenges. At some of the larger firms, [the chief executives] are figureheads, and are not involved in the day-to-day activity of the firm.
HM: How does a boutique list firm approach working with clients?
Rubin: Boutique list firms emphasize an individualized and hands-on approach to service, instead of passing clients from department to department. And boutiques typically do not have centralized order departments, so account executives are involved with every aspect of an account.
The staff at boutique list firms also may do the majority, if not all, of their clients’ list acquisition work for them. This experience produces account teams of seasoned professionals, even at the junior level. At the end of the day, whether clients choose to work with a large company or a boutique firm, their business will only be as successful as the people who work on their account.
HM: How does this translate into benefits for the marketer?
Rubin: Because boutique firms tend to be decentralized, they must remain on the cutting edge, and stay as knowledgeable about industry trends and practices as their competitors.
Unlike some of the larger firms, boutiques don’t have ancillary services to offer, quotas to fill or strategic alliances to deal with within their shops. Therefore, boutique firms can focus on recommending “best in class” services to their clients.
Also, some boutiques will handle both brokerage and management for some of their clients. I think it really helps to see the business from both vantage points and gives the client the benefit of a unified front.
HM: How does a long-term partnership with a list firm benefit a marketer?
Rubin: There’s a definite advantage to having a marketing partner for many years. The list broker and manager today need to be much more creative and really understand a client’s business as though it was their own.
Speaking from experience, many times when we work with a client, we’re the senior person at that company who understands the direct marketing side of the business. We help train their people, because we understand the industry and know the challenges their predecessors faced. We have records that go back since forever—before there were computers!
Usually, if a long-term client decides to use a new company, there’s a tremendous learning curve that has to be overcome.
HM: From your vantage point, what are some areas of future growth that marketers should consider?
Rubin: I see great growth in databases and my firm has really done well in this arena by supplementing our client’s response list purchases. People have looked at compiled databases as an adjunct to their mail plans. Most of them don’t use this tool, because they don’t think it’s going to work and that it won’t respond like a typical response file. I believe that’s a mistake.
Another area of growth in the future is the senior citizen arena … in fact, it’s a misnomer to call them “senior citizens”. The baby boomer generation is continuing to have explosive growth. Typically, you would say that people in their 50s have retired, but with the downturn in the market more of them are in the workforce today than ever before. And we have to reach these people with the right messaging strategies for their current lifestyles.
Since I started in this business in 1974, I’ve watched it change dramatically. And I think this experience adds another perspective of knowing where the industry has been and where we’re headed.