Aberdeen Acquired! Gets Some Harte …

I've got to say that this announcement yesterday took me a little by surprise. For I had no idea Aberdeen was being shopped around at this point in their growth. On paper, the deal makes tremendous sense for Harte-Hanks, as it aims to build out lead generation and other capabilities in the tech sector. The research, content, and lead generation programs which Aberdeen has sold to vendors in recent years -- with increasing program satisfaction levels, at least at a good number of my clients -- are a good fit with Harte-Hank's direct marketing solutions. But on the other side of the coin, this deal will cement Aberdeen's move away from being an industry analyst firm in the traditional sense. Indeed, Abedeen's work in the past few years has moved away from subjective analysis -- some might say any actual expert analysis at all -- too what they term "fact-based research" and benchmarking.

In my discussions with vendors, many feel this transition has hurt their ability to solicit council and input at Aberdeen as they do with other firms such as AMR Research, which follows a more traditional analyst model (and has far more stability in their analyst ranks). Historically, my own research suggests that executives have valued the one-on-one level of interaction and council that top analyst firms provide in addition to their other services such as research, end-user advisory, and marketing advice. With this acquisition, Aberdeen is clearly moving away from this model.

In addition, given that Aberdeen is now just a division of a direct marketing firm, the question remains whether vendors will still want to brief their analysts as they have in the past, especially now that it's blatantly apparent that Aberdeen will want to sell them large scale lead generation programs, courtesy of their parent organization, as a primary focus. And they'll want to push this sort of thing in highly competitive markets to competing organizations, just as they did previously (with at least a slightly better separation of church and state then than now). But now things are different, especially as the marketing programs they offer get more tactical.

Personally, if I were a vendor client, I would consider that it's one thing to co-sponsor an Aberdeen report with my competitors (and brief the firm in question), but something else entirely knowing that my mortal enemy is also buying specific lead generation programs from someone -- including lists and specific positioning -- that I am also sharing confidential information with for my programs (e.g., customer references). This is a sticking point Aberdeen will have to think through as it continues to transition its model under the Harte-Hanks banner.

Jason Busch

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