The State of the Database: Fulfillment House Help, List Consolidation and Staffing Challenges
How two publishers are working to strengthen and streamline databases.
At b-to-b publishers Cygnus Business Media and Hanley Wood, delivering quality service equates to a wide range of tasks: create and distribute a variety of products to audiences; generate quality leads for advertisers; and gain new subscribers. Over the years, audience development experts from both companies honed their database systems to serve internal and client needs efficiently and cost-effectively.
Here, Julie Nachtigal, vice president of audience development with Cygnus, and Nick Cavnar, vice president of circulation and database development for Hanley Wood, share what they’ve learned as they outsource fulfillment tasks and moderate their audience databases for the better.
Abandoning Old Routines For New Productivity
At Cygnus, fulfillment operations were performed in-house until about 18 months ago. Nachtigal explains the shift, “Before, we were working with three different systems for our subscription area and event data as well as two different e-mail platforms.”
The company’s needs called for expansion, and Cygnus chose to utilize fulfillment house Omeda to improve their audience development strategy. Now, Cygnus utilizes one e-mail platform, and divided its 35 properties into three affinity groups. The company plans to develop seven different marketing databases, and Nachtigal says Cygnus is already halfway to its goal.
Hanley Wood also uses Omeda for its fulfillment needs, and has done so since before Cavnar joined the publisher 10 years ago. With 25 brands, Hanley Wood often has users who subscribe to more than one product; much like Cygnus, Hanley Wood suffered from database overload before consolidating into one main file. Cavnar recalls the four databases at Hanley Wood before consolidation: “Not only did they not communicate with each other, but there was no simultaneous view.”
When Cavnar joined the company, he recognized the need to orchestrate audience demographics in a way that would show users who crossed brands, duplicates and audience opt-outs. He began consolidating the databases without asking for a budget from Hanley Wood executives. “I was able to do that because I was able to leverage expenses we already had, and lowered those expenses as I consolidated the information,” says Cavnar.
Once a consolidated database was created, Hanley Wood staff could internally handle list rental queries that were previously managed by a list rental fulfillment company. Consolidating e-mail databases also lowered costs. Now, Hanley Wood has a database for each of their brands. These systems include magazine and e-mail newsletter subscriber info.
There is also a master file used for promotional e-mail and list rental built offline; 80 files feed into the master, creating one record per individual. Cavnar also created a coding for user demographics, with a number assigned to users who are builders, another chosen for users classified as architects, etc.
Advantages (And Pitfalls) of Relying on a Single System
As Cavnar and Nachtigal both point out, relying on a single fulfillment house for all of a publisher’s AD needs offers both strengths and weaknesses. Nachtigal highlights the necessity of constant communication for a successful relationship with the fulfillment vendor. “We’ve instituted quarterly face-to-face meetings with senior management that not only includes our CEO and CFO, but also those of our vendor. The purpose of the meetings is to review vision and strategy and address problem areas that either of us see hampering our products. Our digital staff, as well as our sales and publishing personnel, all have relationships with the fulfillment company as well.”
Hanley Wood sends out, on average, about 20 million e-mails a month including newsletters, promotional internal and third party e-mail. “All the files have all the same record structure, and it’s easy to combine files, consolidate coding, coordinate opt-outs. It’s easy to view and report total de-duplicated audiences for brand reach,” Cavnar says, “All of this is maintained by a company that understands audit standards with BPA and ABC; even if things are not yet audited, Omeda makes sure we have a trail and the records that we need.”
On the other side, Cavnar identifies the reality that not one fulfillment company will offer the best service, or the best pricing, for all offered operations. “Some vendors have the ability to handle traditional fulfillment and to build integrated databases; some vendors with more sophisticated e-mail systems don’t have all that on the fulfillment side,” he adds. “You might have to make a few compromises.”
Meeting Client Needs While Overcoming Staffing Challenges
“It takes a special skill set to work with data, to understand and know how to apply it,” says Nachtigal. “With our databases, does a publisher access them? Our answer is no, because the data tends to get complicated and we can typically provide the information they need fairly quickly.”
When creating layers within the database, Cavnar says it’s vital to realize who is going to be using the databases before sinking resources into the project. “With the database I have now, we have a tremendous ability. Most of the people in the company who are doing various types of promotion don’t understand it, and don’t do the drill down in their analysis.”
To aid less prepared staff, Cavnar has a full-time consultant (who operates out of Canada) who helps Hanley Wood employees set up and execute promotional e-mail.
As with most sectors of publishing as of late (dollars are stretched tight from sales to editorial), audience developers are working with limited resources and even more limited time. Nachtigal says, “As we’re running queries and reports, we’re seeing a need to see what opportunities might exist. The current AD staff already have more than full time jobs managing day-to day workflow and we either have to lessen their workloads or help them in the analytics area to find those additional opportunities.”
These audience developers are facing increasing pressure from advertising clients to deliver more detailed leads. Cavnar says he’s seeing clients narrowing down to very specific markets and identifying cities, companies and certain groups within those markets. “I’m seeing more need to bring in data that identifies a broader picture of the industry; as well as contacts in the industry, besides members of the audience.”
Rigorous attention to the health of databases is one of the main keys to successful advertiser relationships. Nachtigal says her databases are constantly checked for unopened Cygnus products, followed by the examination of third party products and identifying fault in the unopened e-mails.
Cygnus will remove a user name if products bounce back after three times; Hanley Wood set its bounce back limit at four times.
As for database organization, both companies utilize e-mail, phone numbers, names, addresses and company names as ways to organize users. “I often overly cautious with dupes in my consolidated database. We’re extremely careful because it’s audited by the BPA; but because it costs so much money to get subs, we don’t want to kick people out who aren’t really duplicated,” says Cavnar.