The evolution of the direct marketer

The survey conducted by Marketing Week (November 12) regarding direct marketing agency reputations makes for interesting reading. It does flag a major issue which is somewhat frustrating to the more educated direct marketer.

First, with 302 in-depth telephone interviews, I’m sure it’s a robust piece of research, although I did note wryly that copies of the report can be purchased for 95.

So what are the erudite readers of Marketing Week supposed to deduce from this research?

The first thing is that traditional sales promotion agencies are now fully-fledged direct marketing agencies in clients’ eyes. IMP, for example, tops the full criteria table.

Frankly, although the survey claims this is true, I find it bizarre (incidentally, the research sample, top 100 advertisers, doesn’t necessarily mirror the big users of direct marketing; it also includes many packaged goods companies which are heavily into sales promotion).

While – under John Farrell’s reign – IMP saw the commercial sense in broadening its offering beyond just sales promotion and has invested heavily in areas such as data planning, it is not an agency which seems to appear on many direct marketing clients pitch lists. I do not see it sweeping the Direct Marketing Association Awards this year either and yet it is voted second in the creative ability category?

The cliché about perception being reality is an apposite observation. Credit must go to IMP, and others in the sales promotion world, for creating such an illusion. Or perhaps IMP could claim a semantic definition which says that Texaco is a truly direct marketing client. Difficult one to call.

IMP is not the only sales promotion agency in the top 30. There are at least six. Oddly, because it is probably the best sales promotion agency around, there is no mention of Claydon Heeley.

So semi-rhetorically what has happened to the sales promotion business? Has direct marketing won the battle with sales promotion agencies migrating like rats from a sinking ship into the direct marketing camp?

It’s certainly a wake-up call for direct marketing agencies, although with the established direct marketing players still dominating the market and major direct marketing clients voting with their wallets (and not their emotions) then “other” disciplines wanting to enter the direct marketing world should be encouraged.

Ultimately, it’s the client who decides what’s best for them. If they really want hybrid solutions then the day of the hybrid is here and “classic” DM agencies better put-up (and adapt), shut up or go out of business. I’m all for adapting.

Jonathan Clark

Chairman and chief executive

CMB

London W1

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