By RACHEL PARKER DICKERSON

LOG CABIN STAFF WRITER

John Meyer, president and CEO of Acxiom, was the guest speaker at the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Luncheon on Thursday.

Meyer discussed the often-asked question "What is Acxiom?" He said in the 18 months he has been with the company, he has discovered that 10 different people will give 10 different answers to the question, and "employees did the same thing."

Inevitably, he said, some employees would answer "We're responsible for all the junk mail." He said the preferred answer is that Acxiom prevents a lot of junk mail by helping companies target the right customers through their direct mail campaigns so that consumers are more likely to get something in the mail they would want.

Acxiom started out in 1969 as Demographics, and its first marketing client was the Democratic party of Arkansas, Meyer said. Now its biggest clients are in financial services.

"We're more than just a marketing or database or list company," he said. Acxiom can provide information to "help to better reach people who might buy your products and services."

Consumers are overloaded with messages, and the less targeted marketing messages are, the less successful. Companies need to know whether their marketing dollar translated into a sale, he said.

"Marketing is one of the last places that's not measurable. ... That's what Acxiom can help people do," Meyer said.

Acxiom sends out 12,000 marketing campaigns per month. The company delivers 1 million e-mails -- not spam -- Meyer said, but e-mails consumers opted into.

"We facilitate that," he noted. Acxiom is the second largest e-mailer in the world.

He said the company causes 17 percent of mail in America to go out.

"We're a homegrown success. This homegrown success has grown up, and we do it all over the world," he said.

Companies can reach out to customers through direct mail, e-mail, text messaging, call centers, Web sites, display advertising and other "channels," Meyer said. He shared examples of when and where one channel would be more effective than another.

Reaching customers through e-mail fails in the acquiring client phase, because it is spam, he said. In developing countries, text messaging is the best way to reach customers because the postal system is often unreliable.

He continued, "We have found when you receive a text message from the collections department of a bank, you are very responsive." The audience laughed.

Most important, Meyer said, is the cross-integration of all channels.

Meyer said Acxiom operates in 12 countries and serves customers in more than 60 countries.

As he concluded, Meyer said, "Hopefully the next time the question comes up ... it will be 'global interactive marketing services,' because that's what we do ... and we're not the junk mail people."

He added, "The next time you're at a Web site and you see a banner ad you're interested in, think of Acxiom."

Following his remarks, Meyer answered questions from the audience.

Asked about the size of the Conway campus and whether the company plans to expand here, he said slightly more than 2,300 work at Acxiom in Conway.

"We're looking at the comparison of cost and pay," he said. "Some of the most recent business we've won, we will be moving to Conway. It is a very important workforce to us."

One person at the luncheon asked about the affect on Acxiom of Hewlett-Packard coming to town. Meyer said he believes it is good for the community.

"As a business person, I was a little worried about the state giving them the amount of money they did to create competition for Acxiom," he said. "Whatever's best for the employees is what they'll do. I think you should ask the question is HP worried about us, because they'll train up some people for us, too."

In answer to another question, he discussed privacy issues.

"What we know about you can give you privacy (rather than) invade privacy," he said. For protecting access to online information, he said, a customer can answer four questions out of a bank of potential questions. If the customer answers all four correctly, statistically, they are who they say they are, he said.

"Citibank, Chase, those customers value their privacy. They're very happy to trust their information with us," because the company has a reputation for protecting privacy.

"Any time we violate that reputation, we put the entire business at risk," he said.

As the luncheon came to a close, Brad Lacy, president and CEO of the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce, said, "Acxiom is an incredible asset to Conway. It's our largest employer and largely responsible for a lot of the growth we've seen over the past 40 years. Thank you, on behalf of our city, and we're happy you came here today."

(Staff writer Rachel Parker Dickerson can be reached by e-mail at rachel.dickerson@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1277. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)