Q: Are you having a good recession?
Yes. Cost management is very important – we don’t have a lot of debt and have a lot of cash in the bank but we’re still managing our costs very carefully. [We have] very modest targets going into this year – if we stand still this year in comparison to the profits we delivered last year, that will [constitute] success. Standing still is the new growth.
Q: What’s the idea behind REaD’s recent re-brand as a data asset management company? Being hailed as the pioneer of suppression data has done very well for you.
REaD is no longer just a suppression company – we do list management, prospect management, have a significant lifestyle offering and we’re moving into cost per response. We need to say what REaD does on the tin. We do so much more than suppression and the revenue balances are changing. As a data asset management company we take a holistic view of all your data assets.
Q: You invented data suppression and enjoyed a monopoly in it for a while. But there are others on that bandwagon now. How have you found competing with a company the size of Experian? So many direct mailers pass through their hands…
They have to some degree a captive audience and we have to work harder to deal with that. We've never had a problem taking business off them.
Competition is good. The interesting thing is we invented suppression per se and then everyone jumped on our bandwagon – Royal Mail, Acxiom and Experian. As those new entrants came into the market place, they created publicity about suppression and we made more money. Most educated clients will do an honest assessment of products and our default is developing good effective ones.
Q: Why launch a data offering – Scientia, led by Dawn Orr – when existing data vendors such as DLG have suffered?
Why not? It’s the perfect time to do it. We’ve been building this data file for some time. [Some suppliers say they want to have] the biggest file in the market place – an utterly extraordinary claim. Our goal is not to be the biggest but the most reactive file. We have tens of millions of Scientia Active files and we’re netting them down to 6.6m.
Scientia is not a completely new concept but the way we’re building it is different. We have a new file built every three months so you can be sure that within 1-13 weeks the people on the file have transacted.
Q: Any Scientia clients we can talk about?
Lots of people are buying data but we're only seven months in. I’m a bit disappointed that it took [Dawn] 10 days to make her first sale!
Q: The REaD portfolio is very tied to postal data. Was email data suppression ever a runner?
There are no costs benefits to email suppression – the only way to win the argument is the cost benefit of avoiding brand damage.
We did some research three years ago and the only people who were concerned about their [email marketing] reputation were people who'd built brands online – for example, First Direct and Viking.
Financial services had little or no concern sending out seven trillion emails a week. I suspect that’s different today. In the US each individual gets sent 12,000 emails a year, 220 of which are opened – that’s where we’re headed.
Q: You’ve consistently had a high profile as REaD’s founder and chief. Don’t you worry that the good will of REaD could plummet if you’re not around?
We work quite closely to the [Sir Richard] Branson model – Virgin helps Branson and Branson helps Virgin. I have to be extremely careful as we increase shareholder value that my exit doesn’t undo the good I've done. The plan was progressing well and we’ve hit the worst recession in 40 years and so I’ve got myself much more involved in the business recently. When were in the clear again I will move further back.
REaD is a big organisation of 130 people and £17.5m in turnover. I can't do all that by myself. I squirm when journalists write 'Mark Roy's REaD Group'. If I got hit by a bus, it would trundle on.
Q: What's your best ever business decision, so far?
Other than starting REaD Group…other than ignoring the advice that I’d go bust in a year, bearing in mind that I launched in 1991 during the last recession?
Q: Ånd your worst?
Launching REaD Group in France. Waste of time, complete failure, lack of preparation. We thought we were immortal. Complete lack of network of contacts to make things happen and extremely difficult to break into, as the Prudential will attest! Very nice people but there's a strong aversion to anything English.
Q: You’ve gone into Canada but not the US…
[In suppression terms] the US is miles behind Canada, UK and Australia. We're having some meaningful discussions about the States. More than 100bn items of direct mail were sent last year, and 40bn of these end up in landfill unopened.
Q: How is Canada?
Trundling. We’re providing a lot of [suppression] data to mailers and into the US. It’s an interesting market. With a shove it will do very well. We are not unhappy with Canada – [but] it needs some investment.
Q: Your best moment in DM?
When I knew the Bereavement Register was working, which had been launched on the back of Sarah [Mark Roy’s late first wife] dying. So it was an emotional launch for me. It won the International Direct Marketing Fair award for best new product in 2001, which was voted for by the industry. That was gratifying.
Q: You helped found the All-Party Group on Junk Mail three years ago. Are you still doing your parliamentary lobbying?
Yes, I’m still doing it. I’m wearing multiple hats since I became chair of the DMA’s Data Council in May. Getting involved in a number of select committees is fascinating.
Q: But what does it achieve?
We’ve achieved some real things in terms of changing legislation. [For instance] the Regulatory Reform Committee, which reviews draft legislation, suggested that all births, marriages and deaths could be registered online. We highlighted the number of fraudsters out there who’d think that would be manna from heaven. And that legislation hasn’t been revived.
The APG on Junk Mail is still working hard to educate MPs and getting them to understand how DM really works and not what they read in the Daily Mail. We’ve produced a constituency handbook.
Q: You've got this high profile, you're no shrinking violet, you've got the successful business track record...why have you never run for chairmanship of the DMA?
Because I’ve never been asked! There is a process – you have to be on the [DMA] board for a while. I can achieve more specific things by representing data people. The board gets involved in much broader issues, which I don’t think would interest me. I like David [Metcalfe – current chair] a lot – he’s a good guy.
Q: Best friends in DM?
Lloydie [Colin Lloyd, former DMA president and DM company investor], the Green brothers [Kevin and Mike, co-founders of EuroDirect], Lovatt [Ian, executive chairman of Blue Sheep] – all good buddies.
Q: Any enemies?
I’m not aware of having enemies – I’m sure you could talk to people and they’d say ‘I hate Mark Roy’. People have commercial jealousies for sure.
Q: Have you got your succession plan in place?
Q: But now’s not the time to sell, is it?
On the face it, absolute not. We are on a new horizon right now. Discussions are going on in terms of acquisitions – there’s going to interesting opportunities. It’s no huge secret that we were working on a five-year plan to an exit by my 50th birthday – two and a bit years away – and then the recession hit. It would have been a miracle to continue with that growth with this recession.
But sometimes a buyer turns up and buys the house without the fittings – there can be an opportunity in a downturn.
Q: Ai Data Intelligence was the last significant sale of a data company [to print group Communisis plc] and that was back in December…
The Ai deal got very good value – a P/E ratio of 17 or 18. It was a clever purchase for Communisis because they needed the capability.
We don’t need to sell but if someone offered a silly amount of money, we’d take it.
Q: You’ll miss it when you go…
Who says I'm going to go?! But if I get out when I'm 52, I’ll have been 30 years running this business. It’s tiring but exhilarating. But I have a beautiful wife to spend time with and I’d hope I’d get asked to sit on boards. But I’m not going to ‘do a Lloydie’ and be busier than ever [in retirement].
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Q: Are you having a good recession?