Like Its Industry, Catalog Mailers Association Has Had Its Ups and Downs
Less than a decade old, the American Catalog Mailers Association has experienced the kinds of successes and struggles that those in the industry can sympathize with. But new data suggests ACMA’s work is paying off.
News that came out of the catalog industry in the past week served as a microcosm for what life as a cataloger has been like for the last decade.
First, there was SkyMall, which, along with its parent company Xhibit, announced it had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, ending a 25-year run in the airplane seat pocket. Then, J.C. Penney surprised a lot of people when it unveiled its plan to bring back its famous catalog after a five-year hiatus.
There may be light at the end of the tunnel, though: A recent analysis of data from the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) and the U.S. Postal Service by The New York Times found that catalogs are making a comeback. In 2013, the industry saw an increase in the number of catalogs mailed for the first time since 2007. That year the industry saw a peak of nearly 20 billion catalogs mailed—and while the current total stands at about 60 percent of that, those in the industry see the increase as a turning of the page.
But for Hamilton Davison, president and executive director of the American Catalog Mailers Association, the perceived turnaround is the result of a great deal of work to increase awareness around the industry’s issues. Davison helped found ACMA in 2007 after passage of the Postal Act of 2006, which set up a dynamic for significantly increased postage rates for catalogs.
“Prior to that there was no single entity advocating for cataloging as an activity,” he said. “Groups like the DMA and other printing trade groups existed, but we didn’t expect them to dedicate a great deal of their time to one specific segment of their membership, so forming ACMA was the solution.”
The organization began meeting with postal regulatory commissioners to help introduce them to its industry. “They flat out told us, ‘It’s impossible for us to take your needs and your business opportunities into consideration when we don’t know who you are.’ We wanted to change that,” said Davison.
The group has had its successes—they’ve played a big role in two postal rate-setting processes, testified before Congress and other regulatory agencies, and built up relationships in Washington—but the volatile nature of the industry has made it challenging, Davison said.
“We still only represent about 150 companies out of however-many-thousand catalogers are out there, which is frustrating. Part of it is the fact that the industry has gone through some very difficult times, but there’s also the lack of understanding around the role advocacy plays,” he said. “We’ve demonstrated incredible efficacy in our ability to influence, but we have not seen the level of involvement and support that we really ultimately need in order to be as effective as we possibly can.”
ACMA is in the very-early stages of developing programming that could potentially attract new members but Davison didn’t have many details to share. That said, he did credit the organization’s success to the strong commitment of its very active membership.
“The small group that we have, we’re fortunate that they get it—they understand the importance and impact of the work we’re doing,” he said. “They show their commitment through continued financial support, and when you get that kind of commitment and support, it’s the kind of thing that gives you the confidence to get up every day, to put on your game face, and go out there and do battle in the public policy arena.”