By Frank J. Romano July 21, 2006 -- Harte-Hanks, Inc. was born as a West Texas newspaper company in the 1920s. Today, they are North America's largest owner, operator, and distributor of shopper publications, with shoppers that are zoned into more than 900 separate editions reaching in excess of 11 million households in California and Florida each week. Jupiter Research says that 43 percent of Internet users bought products from a retailer's offline store after viewing them on the seller's website. The company is also a worldwide, direct and targeted marketing company that provides direct marketing services to local, regional, national, and international consumer and business-to-business marketers. Recently, it expanded its digital printing capabilities by acquiring PrintSmart, Inc., a full-service digital printing provider. That was big news. Harte-Hanks is considered a database business, because they maintain mailing and contact information. Good databases allow marketers to focus their sales efforts on hotter prospects, and thus printed materials are not wasted on colder prospects. The creation of relevant marketing messages often relies on data that is aggregated and analyzed. A well-conceived and implemented data strategy is based on five solution points: * Construct and update the database * Access the data * Analyze the data * Apply the knowledge * Execute the programs Harte Hanks uses direct mail to saturate towns and neighborhoods as well as direct delivery to homes and businesses. People use different channels for different reasons. Jupiter Research says that 43 percent of Internet users bought products from a retailer's offline store after viewing them on the seller's website. Television support for a direct marketing campaign can improve direct marketing response rates significantly. Each channel influences the others and multiple channels converge into a unified user experience. If channels fail to provide a unified voice, look, and feel, a marketer is not acting as a multi-channel company and may see poor results. Harte-Hanks is one of several marketing services companies that use multiple channels to reach prospects and customers. Databases reduce the high cost of sales prospecting, which uses printed materials, especially brochures and flyers. On demand printing makes sense in this environment. A printer with mailing capability is a channel provider. A printer with mailing and e-mail services is a multi-media channel provider. By entering the digital printing arena, Harte-Hanks is also signaling that they will vertically integrate to provide whatever blend of services and channels are needed to achieve a marketing goal. As printers get into the database business, database businesses are getting into printing. The same is true for mailing services. We are all vertically integrating in order to provide channel support for customers. A printer with mailing capability is a channel provider. A printer with mailing and e-mail services is a multi-media channel provider. For a long time, each printer was an island--each only dealt with putting ink on paper. Today, printers are discovering that they must provide a wider blend of services that encompass the distribution of material through multiple channels.