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How to Find the Right Mailing List

A direct mail expert explains exactly what types of mailing lists are out there and how to choose the best ones.
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In his book The Direct Mail Solution, direct marketing expert and entrepreneur Craig Simpson provides easy-to-follow solutions for creating direct mail campaigns that work! In this edited excerpt, the author discusses the two sources you can use to find the best mailing list for your direct mail campaign.

It's actually pretty easy to get exactly what you need when it comes to mailing lists for your direct mail campaigns. There are two sources that can help you narrow down your list selection: SRDS or a list broker who'll do all the researching and negotiating for you.

The Standard Rate & Data Service (SRDS) direct marketing list source will provide you with an easy and organized way to review more than 100,000 different lists. SRDS will give you complete list rental information (sources, selects, counts, costs, list managers, etc.). You can use SRDS to search by category, market classification, list title and just about any other way you want to search for a list.

The most helpful and convenient source for finding the right mailing list is to use the services of a list broker. A list broker is a direct marketing professional who can provide you with list recommendations (list reco). A list reco is a group of lists the broker has carefully selected for you to pick from.

For example, let's say you're selling ski equipment through the mail, and you want to reach people who have bought ski equipment in the past. You can request a list reco from a list broker who'll do the research and then give you an assortment of direct mail lists that you can choose from, all of them within your niche. In this case, it would be a list of available mailing lists containing the names of people who have purchased ski equipment through the mail.

List brokers have a wealth of knowledge about mailing lists that can make the task of selecting the right list much easier. They can also help you negotiate lower list-rental rates, which is a real benefit since renting lists can be expensive. List brokers offer one-stop shopping for mailing lists, and they'll save you time and money.

List brokers can also help set up net name arrangements, which can save you thousands of dollars. A net name arrangement is where the list owner agrees to accept a lower payment based on either a percentage or the actual number of names mailed. For example: Your "net name arrangement" with the list owner could be 85 percent of the names shipped. This means if you ordered 50,000 names, you'd only have to pay for 42,500.

In the world of list brokers, there are four main sources you can go to in order to rent lists: 

1. List brokers. Their basic role is to make arrangements for you, as the list renter, to rent the list from other companies. Normally, a list broker will research lists and segments to identify the ones that will work best for you and what you're trying to accomplish.

2. List managers. They supervise the rental of specific mailing lists that they themselves manage. List managers promote the lists they manage in an effort to get list renters to rent and mail their lists. The more people who rent the list, the more revenue is generated for the list manager and list owner.

They'll keep track of all the businesses that have rented the list and what they paid for each usage. They usually ask the prospective list renter to provide a copy of the sales piece they want to mail so the list manager can determine whether to give approval to rent the list. If the sales piece is too competitive with the list owner's own offer, or if the sales piece might offend the list owner's customers, the list manager may decline rental of the list.

3. List compilers. They manage lists that they've compiled. A compiled list has been assembled using multiple sources, such as warranty cards, government records, corporate reports, telephone directories, Yellow Pages, credit bureaus, etc. If you want this type of list, you could work directly with a list compiler.

4. List manager/broker. Often, the most versatile source for renting lists is someone who has experience with both managing and brokering lists. However, some people in the direct-mail community think it's a conflict of interest to provide both services. You can understand why they think so. There could easily be a temptation for the list manager to push his own list over others.

If you decide to use someone who is both a list manager and a broker, keep an eye on the lists that are being recommended. If it looks as though most are lists the broker is also managing, quickly find a new broker. You want someone who's working for you--not working for himself or his company. Good list managers/brokers will provide you with list recommendations that will be the best fit for your offer regardless of whether they manage the list.

Finally, when using a list broker, make sure you receive a large number of lists to choose from. For example, if you're mailing an offer for a weight-loss course, your list broker will be providing you with list recommendations from the weight-loss/diet category. If your goal is to rent 10 lists, your broker should provide you with 25 or 30 to choose from and also identify which lists they think will work best.