SUPPLIER PROFILE: Bloom time for Vertis - A one-stop DM house was what Big Flower sowed with Vertis

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

as well."

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."

Name: Vertis

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

Age: 0-1

Number of employees: 10,000 worldwide; 1,500 UK

Client list highlights: 'Leading agencies and major financial service

providers, publishers and mail order firms'