Bernard C. Harris Publishing Company, Inc. History
Sales: $100 million (1999 est.)
NAIC: 514191 On-Line Information Services; 51114 Database and Directory Publishers
Harris Publishing is America's leading provider of innovative directory programs for associations as well as public and private educational institutions worldwide. Key Dates:
- Company produces first alumni directory for Manhattan College.
- Operations are moved from New York City to White Plains, New York.
- Company begins to sell directories to secondary school market.
- On-line directories are introduced.
- Harris Internet Services division is formed; company acquires School Days program.
In its four decades of existence, Bernard C. Harris Publishing Company, Inc. of White Plains, New York, has grown into America's leading publisher of college alumni directories. Fully exploiting its niche, the family-dominated company also offers similar directory services to trade organizations and other so-called affinity groups, as well as to public and private high schools. To take advantage of the information gathered in its directories, Harris Publishing has developed telemarketing operations that can help clients in fund-raising activities. Embracing new media, Harris offers its directories in a CD-ROM database format in addition to the traditional print version. With the advent of the Internet, Harris Publishing recognized the opportunity to put its core business on-line and now offers a wide range of Internet services. More than just gathering the names and vital statistics of client members, Harris Publishing creates on-line communities in which members can interact and clients can strengthen ties and better serve their constituents.
Creation of Harris Publishing in 1963
In the early 1960s Bernard C. Harris worked for a Chicago company that published regional directories. Teaming with his brother Adrian in New York City he began publishing similar directories in 1963. Their first client was a perfect fit for the start-up publishers: Manhattan College. Close to 80 percent of the school's alumni lived in the vicinity, so that the cost of long distance phone calls was kept to a minimum. Although in the early years Harris Publishing limited its client base to within a 50-mile radius of New York City, the business grew steadily. The concept was simple but effective. At no charge to the school, Harris Publishing would update alumni records and compile the information in directory form. The school would then receive a copy of the information and Harris Publishing would be granted permission to sell the resulting directory to the alumni, who generally were pleased to purchase a resource that allowed them to maintain, or renew, ties with classmates. Harris Publishing also relied on a well-earned reputation for confidentiality. Although it would routinely receive requests from a variety of businesses looking to rent its valuable directory lists, Harris Publishing always declined. To protect client information, the company went so far as to use dummy names on its copyright materials.
Over the years, alumni directories became even more attractive for both colleges and their graduates. With budget shortfalls, more and more schools had to turn to their graduates in fund-raising efforts, and the no-cost information that Harris Publishing provided proved invaluable. Alumni, as well, began to make use of the directories to network with classmates to help further their individual careers.
Relocation and Growth Through the Early 1990s
Harris Publishing not only expanded beyond the immediate area of New York City, it began to publish member directories for clients other than colleges, adding professional schools, technical schools, fraternities, and professional societies to its list of customers. In 1973 the company, numbering eight employees, left its New York City offices to relocate in White Plains, a nearby Westchester County suburb, where the company could more easily expand its operations. Soon staffed at 30, it occupied some 2,000 square feet. By 1981 Harris Publishing would move to a new office building, where it would lease 12,000 square feet for its 100 employees. An additional 100 people worked elsewhere nationwide. With annual sales of $10 million, the company boasted 1,000 clients.
Because it had to process so many records, Harris Publishing embraced the use of computers and their ability to maintain databases. With no extra effort, the company could now offer information to its clients that was sorted alphabetically, geographically, and by class year. Furthermore, Harris Publishing created a Composite Donor Index that would rank potential donors by quantifying economic and demographic information. It highlighted the names of members' employers who offered matching gift programs. Computers were also cost-effective in the procuring of information. After questionnaires, based on school records, were sent to alumni, operators would call to verify information or contact alumni who had failed to reply, as well as to initiate a sales pitch for the final directory that generally took nine months to compile and sold around $50. Harris Publishing began using an automated phone dialing system that would connect a live operator only when someone answered. The intent was to make just one phone call per household, not only to avoid being a nuisance but to save money. In the late 1980s Harris Publishing was making 14 million calls a year, at a cost of $3 million.
By 1989 Harris Publishing controlled 65 percent of a directory market that was continuing to grow. The company had published close to 2,000 directories for colleges and other organizations, and gross sales stood at $32.5 million. By 1991 revenues neared $40 million and clients numbered almost 4,000. The company employed more than 300 in White Plains and an additional 1,000 across the country.
In the early 1990s Harris Publishing expanded into new but related areas. Harris Select Communication, a telemarketing unit, was created to further assist clients in fund raising. The company set up operations in Austin, Texas; Norfolk, Virginia; Nashville, Tennessee; and Albuquerque, New Mexico. Close proximity to military installations was extremely desirable because of the large pool of spouses of military and civilian defense personnel. The cost of such labor was less than what the company could find in White Plains. Even though the company promised that it would expand its operations in White Plains, in December 1994 Harris Publishing cut its Westchester staff in half, moving manufacturing, technical, and much of information services to Norfolk.
In the early 1990s Harris Publishing also began to produce directories for high schools, both public and private, as many secondary schools now found themselves, like colleges, turning to graduates to help raise much needed funds. As with its college clients, Harris Publishing did not charge the schools, which would receive the directory's database in electronic form. It was estimated that in the secondary school market between eight and 18 percent of listed alumni would purchase a directory, which also came in a deluxe cover edition at a higher price. Within a few years, Harris Publishing would be producing close to 300 new high school directories each year. Total annual revenues for the company reached $74 million in 1994, then made a dramatic 28.3 percent jump the following year when sales reached $95 million. Sales leveled off to $98 million in both 1996 and 1998.
Offering On-line Directories in 1997
After expanding its client base to Canada and the United Kingdom, offering telemarketing services, and turning to nonprint CD-ROMs, while controlling 85 percent of the American college alumni directory market, Harris Publishing seemed to reach a sales plateau. The company was convinced that the key to all future expansion would be the Internet, and it began to invest in the necessary technology and personnel. On-line subscription-based databases were introduced late in 1997. Although Harris Publishing would top $100 million in revenues in 1998, fueled in great part by its new electronic sales, much of the CD-ROM and Internet business came at the expense of its own print product. Rather than positioning itself just as a database publisher, Harris Publishing began to emphasize its ability to provide 'communication tools' that could strengthen bonds between organizations and their members, as well as between members themselves. To achieve this end, the company went beyond the mere gathering of member information to creating on-line communities, password-protected web sites where client memberships could interact. Organizations could then efficiently, and inexpensively, post notices and establish resources of information pertinent to the group, send broadcast e-mail messages, provide job placement and recruitment services, and, of course, raise funds. In addition to making use of the web-based directory, members could pay dues on-line and communicate via chat rooms or bulletin boards to maintain social ties as well as to network for career advancement. Members could post resumes as well as establish and maintain mentoring relationships with other graduates. Harris Publishing also took steps to provide e-commerce to the sites, whereby community members could purchase goods and services through direct links. Client organizations and Harris Publishing would then share royalties on the business generated. Harris Publishing formed Alumni Connections Online Community for colleges and Member Connections Online Communities for associations to market its new cyber business. Rather than require clients to carry advertisements, and leaving e-commerce capabilities optional, Harris Publishing elected to charge a fee to create the directory and site and an annual fee on a multiyear contract in order to maintain it. In this way the company could ensure that the site's biographical information would be protected for the sole use of the client and not exploited to generate revenue just to pay for the site. Thus the trust between Harris Publishing and its clients that had been built up over 40 years would continue to serve as a prime asset for the company.
By 2000 Harris Publishing had more than 100 alumni and association Internet directory sites in operation of the nearly 200 clients contracted. Its college clients included The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and Villanova University. Association clients included Kiwanis International, Air Force Association, and the American Society for Public Administration. Harris Publishing clearly had made significant inroads in its new line of endeavor, but the potential business was staggering. The nation's 3,606 institutions of higher learning had 53 million alumni, whereas 23,000 national associations had a membership that numbered more than 87 million. The country's 92,000 regional, state, and local organizations were also potential customers. In contrast, the population served by the company's on-line communities totaled only seven million members.
In April 2000 Harris Publishing created a new division, Harris Internet Services, dedicated solely to the running of its on-line business, providing clients with service at every stage of the development process, from concept to the final site. The company added 35 jobs to its White Plains headquarters, including developers, producers, and client support staff. The concept was also refined. Client members would receive e-mail addresses that included the institution's name, despite any change in their Internet service providers. On-line poll and surveys provided instantaneous feedback. Members were provided with tools to help them easily create their own homepages for posting to the Web. The community sites also were designed to incorporate the colors, logos, and other graphics used by the parent organization. Furthermore, the sites were now designed to serve as portals similar to Yahoo!-customized start pages where members could also receive news, weather, sports scores, and stock quotes. E-Commerce also was improved by forging a partnership with an Internet marketer, BATNET1, to provide links to commercial sites.
In May 2000 Harris Publishing announced that it had contracted with the University of Southern California, Santa Clara University, and the University of San Francisco to provide Internet services for the schools' alumni organizations, bringing the number of California schools served to 15. With many of their graduates working in the high-tech or Internet industries, the California schools felt that having an alumni presence on the Web was crucial, a perception that was likely to be duplicated at schools across the country.
Harris Publishing signed a major nonacademic Internet client in November 2000: the Reserve Officers Association (ROA), whose 70,000 members included active, retired, and former officers of the seven U.S. Uniformed Services. Unlike the academic communities, the ROA site was more politically oriented. The group could keep members more fully informed on the progress of relevant legislation, such as military funding and national security issues, and coordinate member response to bolster ROA's influence on Washington.
Harris Publishing did not forget the traditional format of paper. In November 2000 the company announced that it had acquired the fledgling 'School Days' business from Harmony Unlimited, which produced free calendars for participating school districts. Limited at its inception to Virginia, the calendars with their targeted audiences were supported by such major advertisers as General Mills, Del Monte, Dole, and Campbell's. Not only were schools able to notify families about important events and scheduling information at no cost, they received scholarship funds. Harris Publishing added two new programs to the School Days Scholarship Calendar. Food for Thought engaged the children, awarding food and/or merchandise coupons for correct answers to monthly questions. The School Funding Tree also paid school districts a percentage of calendar ad revenues. Not only did the School Days calendar business promise great potential nationally for Harris Publishing, it also complemented its high school directory business, strengthening brand awareness and ties between schools and the company.
Over the years, Harris Publishing systematically expanded its business, at first achieving the lion's share of the college alumni directory market, then branching into affinity groups and secondary schools. The company, always open to new technologies, saw beyond the paper used by traditional publishers to take advantage of the CD-ROM format and sought to be an early player in the Internet. This was perhaps its greatest strength going into the next century.
Principal Divisions: Directory & Data Services; Internet Services.
Principal Competitors: infoUSA Inc.; Student Advantage, Inc.
- 'Bernard C. Harris Adds E-Commerce to Its Net Directories,' Electronic Advertising & Marketplace Report, February 22, 2000, p. 7.
- 'Bernard C. Harris to Add E-Commerce Capabilities to Its Internet Directories,' SIMBA Report on Directory Publishing, February 2000, p. 12.
- Frenette, Liza, 'Publisher Grows by Telling Graduates About Themselves,' Across the Board, June 23, 1989, p. 13.
- Lott, Ethan, 'High School Takes College Approach to Alumni Reunions, Fund Raising,' Pittsburgh Business Times, August 26, 2000, p. 30.
- Philippidis, Alex, 'White Plains Publisher Expands Its Operations in Virginia,' Westchester County Business Journal, March 4, 1996, p. 15.
- ------, 'White Plains Publishing Firm to Expand into Cyberspace,' Westchester County Business Journal, May 8, 2000, p. 5.
Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 39. St. James Press, 2001.