Choosing the Right Fulfillment Provider
Developing a mutually beneficial relationship with your provider.
As many circulation and development departments have discovered, a good fulfillment provider is hard to find. Technology Review knew it was time for a change when the 10-to 12-digit account numbers on each of its mailed issues was unidentifiable, even to the trained eye. âOur readersâsome of whom have Nobel Prizesâcouldnât find them!â says vice president of circulation and consumer marketing Heather Holmes. When the magazine expanded its publishing model in 2006 to include events, custom and e-media, it was an ideal time to make the switch.
When Anne Drobish began as the associate circulation director of audience development for NewBay Media, each of her magazines handled fulfillment differently. âSome were in-house, some were outside...there wasnât a central database.â It was Drobishâs job to assign a monetary (marketing) value to the provider services most beneficial when the company wasnât meeting its financial goals.
Both circulation heads had to begin the hunt for a cost-effective provider that fit their companiesâ styles.
Ultimately, NewBay was forced to âreevaluate how to improve the back end of the business and standardize data,â says Drobish, who rated providers by asking key questions: How has their business changed? How old are their contacts? Is real time reporting hurting analysis?
Holmes sat down with her team to compile a list of provider criteria. âA master schedule system was a must,â she says, and the system had to be âin true real time, integrated, and have 24-hour data access.â
Both agreed to bring key personnel, specifically those who would interact directly with the system on a daily basis, to the initial meeting.
See Past the Pitch
With all the bells and whistles (read: latest technologies) that providers have to offer, how is it possible to see past the sales pitch to what the provider can actually offer?
âI call it the âwow factor,ââ says Holmes. âItâs very hard to overlook the coolest possible technology. You just have to decide if your company will truly benefit from a fully-loaded system.â
Sometimes you donât know where the difficulties will lie. âIt can sound great on paper, but then you realize it doesnât work well for your business,â adds Drobish. Her providerâs greatest appeal was its flexibilityâif difficulties arise, they work together to adapt. For Holmes, âhaving access to three owners at the company,â as well as âaccessibility to data, XML Web services, and generating ad hoc queries on the flyâ were key factors on the final decision.
Ideas for Effectiveness
During Drobishâs first days at NewBay, she received an invoice from her provider charging the company three times the normal amount for inbound response. âThe vendor told me they were printing out Web orders and reentering data by hand,â says Drobish. âThis was how past contracts were negotiated to âcut costs.ââ When asked to deliver real time reports, it took her former provider three weeks via snail mail. Drobishâs invoice analysis helped her to catch a flaw in the provider contract quickly and efficiently.
For Holmes, outsourcing allows her to operate at a higher level. âIâm not fretting. Iâm thinking more about our growth planââCan I do this direct mail?ââ Holmes likens outsourcing to constantly having a marketing person at your disposal. âNow my core focus is circulation and consumer marketingâI donât want or need to reinvent fulfillment technology.â