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Marketing is the latest task to be outsourced to specialist agencies, according to Pinar Erzin

Publishers often turn to external companies to do some of the tasks that they might have previously done in-house. Pinar Erzin is managing director of the Netherlands-based Accucoms, an independent company providing specialist sales and marketing services for professional, scholarly and society publishers worldwide. We asked her why many publishers are now choosing to outsource their sales and marketing activities.

What do publishers use other companies for?

Outsourcing non-core activities is not a new concept for professional, scholarly and society publishers. For many years printing and fulfilment has happened outside the organisation. More recently the growth in electronic services has created a new raft of conversion, hosting and distribution partners. Sales and marketing may be the next wave.

Why outsource marketing?

All publishers understand the importance of marketing, particularly in today's tough economic climate. However, many either do not have dedicated marketing departments or are daunted by the cost of recruiting, managing, providing incentives and continually retraining an increasingly specialised team. Our customers tell us that this is a difficult balance to achieve. As Toby Green, head of marketing at OECD Publishing, explains: 'As a mid-sized publisher, OECD Publishing does not have the internal resources to sustain a full range of marketing efforts, nor can we offer the 24/7 customer service that our increasing number of subscribers expect.'

How can an agency help?

Outsourcing to a specialist sales and marketing agency allows an organisation such as OECD to cost-effectively provide the high levels of service the market demands. One situation where outsourcing is particularly valuable is in enabling the publisher to resource according to the level of activity required. Telemarketing of renewals, for instance, is not something that most publishers need to focus on daily, although it is a year-round activity due to regional differences (subscribers in northern Europe generally pay on time but those in southern Europe and Asia are often late due to financial constraints such as government budget approvals). And new sales drives invariably happen in peak times such as April, September and January. Outsourcing allows the publisher to manage economically the obvious heavy periods and similarly the quiet periods such as July and August. In effect publishers pay for exactly what they get.

What about regional differences?

Outsourcing also allows publishers to develop a better understanding of their customer base and its regional differences. Pat Shaffer, director of publications at Informs, believes that 'communicating with customers and potential customers directly and in their own language' is critical. Given today's increasingly global marketplace, it is obviously hard to develop that level of capability internally. Working with a multilingual and international agency enables publishers to obtain much more qualitative feedback from their worldwide clients or prospects, via a professional telephone conversation in the native language, during local office hours.

Is outsourcing successful?

By far the most significant reason for why publishers are turning to organisations such as Accucoms is for results. Having made tens of thousands of telemarketing calls on behalf of publishers over the last few years we have noticed two significant trends. The first is a refocus on renewals and the second is the introduction of new and competitive electronic products and services. By using a specialist telemarketing agency the publisher can expect to improve results significantly: Accucoms has found out that we can increase renewals by one in three and new sales by one in five. This sort of increase would be difficult for a publisher to match internally.

How should a publisher decide whether to outsource?

Choosing whether to use an external agency or develop internal expertise need not be exclusive: many publishers use external agencies in conjunction with an in-house team. But choose carefully: look for experience in the field of STM publishing and a real understanding of the nature of the market and specialist skills so that the agency can be a real partner to your sales and marketing team.