Bruce Dulberg, CEO, HomeData Corp.
There is a sometimes daunting level of unique terminology in our business. We have our own lingo, and the new list employee has to learn the acronyms and phrases in a hurry. Though a bit dated, I’d recommend reading Rose Harper’s book, “Mailing List Strategies” as a good start.
It also helps to get to know the players and insiders in this game. Who are the shakers, as well as ‘fakers’ in their respective areas of expertise? Who is consistently getting high marks? The new employees can give themselves a great leg up by learning who’s who.
Coming into this business, you have to understand the metrics, in terms of pricing, payment terms and respective commissions. In the old days, data alone was king, but those days are gone. The cost of doing business is higher than ever, and in the effort to hold the line, the list, as a variable cost, is often the first place buyers look to cut. Note that other variables like postage and paper are fixed costs. Quality list professionals, in all fairness, will always try to ensure that all parties involved get a fair shake.
I think, ultimately, that the best way to learn this business is how I learned: just throw them out there. It sounds a little cruel, but experience is still the best teacher. One thing they’ll learn quickly is that our industry isn’t really about the numbers, it’s about the relationships. Your relationship to your customers, to your vendors, and even to your friends and rivals in the industry, is the key to success. Develop and cultivate those relationships, and the rest will follow.
Jerry Reisberg, Managing Director, Leaps & Bounds, LLC
Besides learning the basics about a great many subjects: compiled, response, consumer, B-to-B, and the wealth of overlays and demographic targeting, associates who are new to the list business should be made to feel an immediate sense of pride in this profession.
Even though mailing lists and direct mail contribute to the employment of 5 million Americans—and contribute billions of dollars to our gross domestic product—there still is a stigma attached to direct mail as being intrusive. This erroneous perception needs to be neutralized as quickly as possible in the new employees’ career, and replaced by a positive, passionate spirit regarding the economic and social value of direct mail and targeted mailing lists. In fact, that spirit should be instilled and reinforced in every employee, no matter how long [he or she has] been in the list business.
New and uninitiated list management associates need to be attached to well intentioned and generous internal mentors, and these mentors need to be recognized for their value to the company. With their full-hearted cooperation, a new associate’s knowledge and savvy is greatly accelerated. Without it, the learning curve can be tedious and slow.
Phil Wiland, CEO, Wiland Direct
In a nutshell, people new to our industry need to understand just how crucial lists are in the success mix. An old-timer who taught me the business used to say that lists are 40 percent of the success formula, offer is 40 percent, and copy/creative only 20 percent. Whatever their relative importance, a new person needs to quickly understand the high level principle that list, offer and creative must all be “on target” in order to produce excellent response. [He or she] needs to build a deep understanding of the myriad types and sources of lists and databases, recognize the importance of selectivity, and learn how to implement circulation plans that optimize results.
Great list professionals understand lists way down deep in the details. They build on their knowledge of the industry, take into account how the various disciplines interact to produce success, then go deep into the details to make sure they select the right portion of a list for the offer in question. To build that kind of expertise, a new person should attend industry seminars, and read the trade publications cover to cover. They should acquaint themselves with the available books from the DMA and read them thoroughly. Last but not least, they should find a mentor. Books, trade magazines and seminars are great tools, but there really is no substitute for one-on-one time with a seasoned pro.