After years in the fashion doldrums, the concept of the direct
marketing one-stop shop is back in vogue.
At the start of this year, a group of printing, data and direct
marketing companies owned by US-based Big Flower Holdings reinvented
itself as a one-stop shop called Vertis.
The case for combining data and short-run printing arm Olwen, the high
speed printing companies Colourgraphics and Cobalt with digital agency
Fusion was a compelling one. "Each business was servicing slightly
different market sectors," says Andy Ruddle, a director of Vertis' UK
head office in Croydon. "Before the merger we hadn't worked as closely
as we could have done."
The group's clients began demanding a mailing one week of a million for
acquisition purposes, followed by a 25,000 retention run the next. "It
became about controlling data, not just printed matter," says
"Clients wanted database management, profiling and analysis work and
printing to be handled by one firm."
The shop window for Vertis' multitask operations is the newly created
print management arm, Enterprise Solutions, which Ruddle heads.
"Enterprise Solutions is about proactively telling our clients how we
can provide a bigger solution. From Vertis's perspective, we can
outsource or insource print, and do a high volume of the production work
Olwen was the first UK company acquired by Big Flower Holdings, adding
other companies along the way. It fell to Vertis Europe CEO, Adriaan
Roosen, to pull the disparate parts together as Vertis, the name Big
Flower Holdings had adopted.
The rebranding as Vertis - as in advertising - "wasn't just a question
of a new name and logo," Ruddle says. "It involved a lot of
Meanwhile, the printing industry itself had been undergoing something of
an identity crisis. Olwen had begun life as a specialist direct mail
print company in 1982. But stand-alone DM printers are now a dying
breed, and many have adopted database capabilities as a 'must-have'.
Hence, one of the new units in the merged entity is Vertis Information
Services, formerly its database management bureau.
Vertis has signed up data partners to provide analysis and mining tools
to which Vertis can apply its own stamp. A good example is '7S', a
suppression file that combines proprietary suppression databases from
providers such as the REaD Group.
For the group's biggest database client, Reader's Digest, Vertis Croydon
holds a global database of some 11 million records. "The database gets
regular refreshes from the client and the marketing managers can do
their own extracts and analysis."
Ruddle admits that print margins are declining, and that data is now
proving the most profitable sector. "It's a question of being
Our client service teams have been working hard to convince clients that
they need to get the data right and that you should print the right
The company's client base is fairly typical for a direct marketing
services company - financial services being the largest, followed by
retail, publishing and automotive.
"The days of the huge acquisition runs are tailing off," Ruddle
"They're finding it hard to generate new names, and so are remailing old
names." For this reason Vertis is diversifying into related areas like
the statement and billing market for bigger clients. But does such
activity fall into the DM arena?
"These billing runs are increasingly coming under the marketing area,"
says Ruddle. By analysing data, Vertis can know which consumers respond
only when they receive a red bill or those who pay immediately, and then
apply the relevant marketing tactics to bring payment forward, or know
which marketing material to enclose.
It was with some satisfaction that Vertis recently passed the new QMP
mailing house accreditation test.
Though he regards elements of QMP as irrelevant to Vertis, Ruddle
praises its efforts to improve the perception of direct mail
print."Direct mail used to have a Dickensian, unprofessional image,"
Ruddle says. "When you think of the investment that Vertis is putting
into technology, an image change was long overdue."
Company principals: Adriaan Roosen, managing director (Europe); Andy
Ruddle, director of Enterprise Solutions; Angus Fisher, director of
finance and administration
Services: Integrated direct and media production and marketing services
Turnover: $2 billion worldwide; £100 million, UK
Number of employees: 10,000 worldwide; 1,500 UK
Client list highlights: 'Leading agencies and major financial service
providers, publishers and mail order firms'