For some publishers, telemarketing plays a key role in audience building and maintenance. For others, it is more of a second, third, or fourth-string player. What’s clear is that telemarketing’s current standing in a circulator’s lineup of tools depends on the function it’s expected to perform.

Hoyt Publishing uses it mostly for renewals and new-name acquisitions. To Patricia McGuinness, director of audience development at Hoyt, the tool is primary. “Right now, it seems to be the most cost-effective way to get the names we need in the most efficient way possible,” she says. “Telemarketing fell out of favor when e-mail first came on because e-mail’s cheap and easy at less than $1 per order. But, at the end of a long audit cycle, telemarketing is the way we go to get our numbers by the audit issue.”

Hoyt’s response rates for e-mail have fallen to about 6 percent, while cover tips have fallen from 10-15 percent to 3-6 percent, at $4.50-$10 per order. Direct mail response, with its long turnaround and high cost per order, has also fallen, while telemarketing has shown a 50-60 percent conversion rate on renewals, at $3-$3.50 per order—significantly more than e-mail but, McGuinness says, “the response rates really tell the story.”

Meanwhile, Meredith Corp. uses telemarketing “significantly less than five or six years ago,” says senior consumer marketing director Jon Macarthy. “We had abandoned it completely as a new business tool before the laws like the Do Not Call list changed, partially because of the changes but also because, as a source of profitability, it was not making it high in our triage of sources.”

Now, Meredith uses the tool on a selective basis, mostly for people who responded positively to telephone campaigns in the past and mostly for current subscription retention for consumers and on demo and requalifications for its few controlled books like Successful Farming. “It fits in for certain groups, making it an economically viable resource,” says Macarthy, “but it’s pretty far down on our list.”

John Rockwell—vice president of Audience Development, Chemical Division, for Access Intelligence—has had mixed results. “For controlled reverification, telemarketing is far and away the best way. It works amazingly well for people in engineering and industrial spaces like ours.” His prior experience with IT titles, however, showed different results. “Readers were pushed to register online. Even telemarketing pushed them to online.”

Telemarketing for paid, though, is in another league, and Rockwell is “on the fence” about its effectiveness and cost efficiency. “It seems to be going the way of direct mail,” says Rockwell. “It was stronger as a source for paid in the past. It’s maybe 60 percent as effective as it was at its peak, in the late nineties and early 2000s. There’s been a downturn in the ability to convert and renew people via the phone.” Other channels like search engine marketing and field agents seem to be working better to Rockwell.

The disparity between paid versus controlled points to a basic issue with telemarketing. “It’s the same reason direct mail is not working,” Rockwell says. “People don’t buy over the phone for hard offers anymore. There are too many options to buy, for leisure or business. There’s a general malaise in these types of push marketing vehicles. In a business setting, people are comfortable answering demographic questions over the phone.”