Adapted from an article appearing in Casino Journal, March 1999.

Since pioneering the concept of custom publishing, First Marketing has broadened its offerings to provide complete communications systems for travel and hospitality industry clients.

In 1972, First Marketing, based in Pompano Beach, Fla., came to the realization that companies in the financial arena could better serve their customers through stronger customer communications. With that understanding, First Marketing kicked off its concept of custom publishing and began printing customized newsletters that financial institutions could use to target and cross-sell services to current customers.

After the company started to see that the idea really worked for consumer banking, it began expanding into other areas of the financial industry in the 1970s, and then into health care in the mid-1980s. With a strong string of successes in its initial markets, First Marketing broadened its scope between 1990 and 1995, by tapping into the cable, telecommunications and travel industries. Most recently, this expansion strategy of focusing on industries that value their customer relationship has been extended to the grocery and retail markets.

According to Ronald V. Drenning II, Senior Vice President and Director of Sales and Marketing, the casino segment of the travel industry, which First Marketing began courting several years ago, truly relies on attracting repeat business.

"The first criteria we look at in any new industry is whether the customer is important," Drenning says. "While that sounds like it would be a slam dunk, there are markets where First Marketing services aren't really necessary. For example, casinos rely on repeat business, whereas a lot of nongaming hotel chains look at ways to book and fill their rooms on a nightly basis. This emphasis on immediate results means that their need to garner repeat business is lessened. So for a company whose primary goal is acquisition, and there's not a big emphasis on repeat customers as a way of driving revenue, our services might not be ideal."

Beyond Custom Publishing

While First Marketing has become well-known for its custom newsletter publications, Drenning explains that the company is now focused on integrating those services into more encompassing communications systems that include a variety of marketing strategies, including targeted newsletters.

"We have recently embarked on a new branding strategy for the company," Drenning says. "We have been known for about 20 of our 25 years exclusively as a newsletter company. We've done a lot of research on that medium. For example, our Newsletter Readership Study has tested and proven the value of custom newsletters since 1991. Moving forward, while we recommend a newsletter as the cornerstone for any type of customer communications program, we have taken a new look at communications as a system and how other messaging opportunities can complement the overall strategy."

With this newly devised approach, First Marketing now focuses on arranging complete programs for its clients and a host of other publishing concepts that stem from its experience as a custom publisher of company-specific newsletters.

"Now that we've changed the position of the company, we sit down with the client and talk about objectives from a strategic perspective," Drenning says. "We'll ask them 'Why are your customers important to you?' and 'How often do you want to communicate with them?'

"Once we determine what the client needs, we can come back to them with a complete communications system design to achieve their unique objectives. That system will usually include a newsletter, but that newsletter will support a variety of other messaging channels, such as Web sites, new customer kits, member directories, or targeted coupons or offers."

In addition to reshaping the company's communications strategy, Drenning explains that First Marketing is also in the midst of developing new technological features to better target its clients' customers. For example, he says the company is able to take specific information gathered from a casino's player database and use that information to drive more customer decisions. To execute that example, the company might create a shell of a newsletter with general information about a casino facility's happenings, then integrate targeted promotions throughout special sections of that general newsletter.

"We believe that the gaming industry as a whole is very focused on bringing people back through special offers and promotions," Drenning says. "There is a segment that continues to come back because they really understand the industry and enjoy it. These are customers you want to reward and provide reasons to come back to your facility. There's another segment that tries the industry out, but becomes somewhat intimidated by it.

"Now we know that the casino industry spends a lot of money every year developing educational programs for its customers, but I'm not sure those efforts are consistent enough. Most of these efforts are concerned with the visit itself, vs. being concerned with the patron after the return home. So while that person may have had a good experience, how are the casinos reinforcing that experience and continuing the education process after their patrons have left the facilities?"

The key to influencing the less committed customer segment is to provide information about things like upcoming entertainment and restaurant promotions, as well as gaming messages targeted to less experienced players.

"Our focus is consistent communications to our clients' customers, so we usually operate with our clients on an annual basis," Drenning says. "We'll usually come in, get a feel for a company's objectives for the year, then establish the means and methods to accomplish and measure those annual objectives."

Research Staff

In order for any marketing business to be successful, it needs to have a clear understanding of the market or markets that it serves. For First Marketing, the challenges over the years have grown as the company diversified to meet the needs of widespread arenas. As a turnkey provider of marketing services for numerous industries, First Marketing employs a segmented staff that monitors each market constantly, giving it the ability to respond and react as changes and environments evolve.

"In addition, we have a pretty diverse research facility with four full-time researchers," Drenning says. "Two of those librarians have master's of library science degrees and that group does targeted research for all of our primary industries."

At the company's research facility, First Marketing employees have access to more than 6,000 publications. The company collects, categorizes and maintains information for the different industry segments. The company also publishes weekly research reports to keep the company's staff up-to-date on consumer and industry topics.

In addition to employing its group of core researchers, First Marketing employs its own writers, graphic designers and production staffs. The company handles its clients' needs from communications system inception to distribution.

Once communications systems are set for its customers, Drenning explains that his company spends a substantial amount of time and money researching the value and effectiveness of its communications efforts. First Marketing does this through reader surveys, tailored editorial planning, and demographic and psychographic examination.

Another communications option available to First Marketing clients is the implementation of newsletter content to company Web sites. Drenning stresses that in doing this, First Marketing does not simply dump newsletter text into an existing Web site without altering it at all. Rather, the company reformats and customizes its Web site additions so they fit with a company's existing style and identity.

"In all of our different communications strategies and relationships, we tend to remain an invisible partner," Drenning says. "From a customer's perspective, the newsletters, for example, look like they're coming straight from the company to them. They don't look like they were created by us and then tailored to fit someone else's needs or objectives."

Gaming Involvement

While First Marketing has been a strong communications provider to numerous industries since the early 1970s, the company is still relatively new to the gaming industry. Drenning says First Marketing's interest in gaming stemmed from its involvement in broader segments of the travel industry, beginning a little more than a year ago.

"We are really encouraged about the gaming industry thus far," Drenning says. "When we initially got involved with the travel market, we began to learn some things about the companies and how important their customers are to them. We could see some certain niches that stemmed from there, and the casino market is one of those niches where customers are very important."

As with other companies in the travel and hospitality market, Drenning notes that the gaming industry is becoming highly aware of the benefits of "frequent flyer-type" programs. Once the company identified this trend, it became acutely focused on offering its services to casinos to drive frequency programs.

"We're obviously learning more [about the industry] as every month passes, and we're always looking at our individual relationships within this industry," Drenning says. "But within it, we are very focused right now on the Atlantic City, Las Vegas and Reno areas. Like with any new venture, we have to gain people's trust about our ability to get things done."

While Drenning says First Marketing is still testing the waters of the gaming industry, he notes that in some respects, the market's customers are relatively similar to those of any other industry where customer service and repeat business are key factors for success. "I think the common factor for us, is that regardless of the industry, or what the client is offering, consumers have the same type of habits and are looking for the same type of relationships from the businesses they select," he says. "So while we have to be educated about the marketplace, our experience with talking to customers and the way we do that is very beneficial for our clients in any new industry.

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