A List Professional Speaks: Alan Zamchick
Target Marketing took some time to chat with Alan Zamchick, vice preisdent of list management for Media Horizons Management about how he entered the list business, who his mentors were, what challenges he has faced in the industry and more.
Target Marketing: How did you first get into the list business—and why?
Alan Zamchick: Peter Muzzy—who in February 1978 was the newly named direct mail manager at Unity Buying Service—asked me if I knew what a mailing house was and I replied: “Sir Speedy!” Right then and there he knew I was as green as the grass in a field and hired me on the spot to be his wingman.
TM: Who were your mentors in the business, and what are the main lessons they taught you?
AZ: Peter [Muzzy], who provided the broadest education of direct marketing 101, late 1970s style. Lesli Rodgers, my “first” list broker at Names Unlimited who patiently guided me through my first 100 million names or so. Tom Frenz, my “second” list broker at Names Unlimited who taught me what not to order for a sweepstakes offer.
TM: Who were the two most memorable people you ever met in the list or direct marketing business—and why were they so memorable?
AZ: Joe Furgiuele, who took a chance hiring me to replace him at CBS Publications based solely on potential, and Alan Kraft, who became a lifelong friend. A third memorable person was the late Walter Prescott who at the 1981 DMA Conference in Atlanta counseled me to “surround yourself with the best people and you’ll never go wrong.”
TM: What was your most difficult challenge from a client and how did you deal with it?
AZ: Ralph Palmer—then of Rubin Response and now of Walter Karl Midwest—who had the reputation of chewing up list managers with his hard-driving, stern expectations of customer service, who I was able to de-fang by providing my own excellent brand of precisely that!
TM: What were your biggest surprises in terms of response?
AZ: I presume I can include my biggest disappointment which was a surprise: The painful lesson that a sweepstakes generated list won’t pull as expected to a non-sweeps offer. Ordering on behalf of Unity Buying, the at-the-time sweepstakes generated Road & Track list (the list for which I was to manage for over 25 years soon thereafter) pulled only 0.5 percent on the Unity non-sweeps offer when the sweeps test pulled 3.8 percent. That was an obvious surprise I never forgot.
TM: What do you like most about the list business?
AZ: The people. And the measurable medium it is.
TM: What do you like least about the list business?
AZ: Shady operators. Fortunately, few and far between!
TM:The list business is not something that is taught in great detail in marketing courses. What are the qualities you look for in candidates in terms of education, experience and personality? Can you prioritize these qualities?
AZ: A willingness to learn. A high level of attention to detail. An aptitude working with numbers. An enthusiasm for the business and the people they work with. The ability to think on their feet and outside of the box. Someone who is not afraid to ask questions.
TM: How do you go about training new hires—teaching the list business so that clients have a real comfort level when those people service them?
AZ: Imparting as much of my knowledge of the business to them. Stressing customer service as a standard of their day-to-day activities. Having them realize their clients are equally under the gun in providing information to THEIR clients and to react to their queries as you’d you like others to react to yours. Education, knowledge and customer service are the cornerstones for every list manager.
TM: If you could wave a magic wand, what changes would you make in the list business?
AZ: List pirates would disappear. Mailers that prey on senior citizens would recognize that one day they too, with luck, will be one. Is it too late to ask for Electronic Data Interchange?
TM: How have co-op databases changed the list business?
AZ: They offer mailers tangible, alternative, responsive options. They also have compromised, to a degree, the ability to maximize list revenues through competitive pricing and negotiations.
TM: How has e-commerce changed the list business?
AZ: I believe e-commerce will soon come to the realization that direct mail is its best option to drive consumers to purchase online.
TM: What would you like to say to colleagues, clients and competitors about the state of the list business today—or anything else?
AZ: We have lived through the best of times and the worst of times and have nothing but a bright future to look forward to. Every day you wake up is a good day. Think of others less fortunate and count your blessings.
TM: What are your interests other than the list business?
AZ: I love being at sea onboard ocean liners—another entity that has dwindled in numbers. Don’t anyone tell me a cruise ship is an ocean liner! I have two gorgeous daughters finding their way through a challenging world. I’ve learned that I love to cook and the kitchen has become a playground. Finding time to read a good book has become a challenge. Go Jets & Mets!
Marissa Fabris, a former editor at Inside Direct Mail, is a freelance writer based in West Chester, Pa.