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Direct mail still a good buy

Jul 1, 1996 12:00 AM

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The Postal Service, which has endured its share of bad press in recent years, has refocused its message and advertising. This effort has given direct mail a shot in the arm that irks some and delights others. Postmaster General Marvin Runyon is even talking about keeping the price of a first-class letter unchanged for the rest of the century.

Some are unhappy, however, that the Postal Service is using an ad that promotes business mail that allegedly clutters the service's distribution highway. Others contend that such a public declaration merely says what needs to be said about a huge chunk of the economy.

"Direct mail is an essential component of the American retail economy," reads a recent Postal Service ad. "It benefits marketers and customers alike. More than half of the population reads it promptly and completely, and say they find it useful. So, call it direct marketing, call it ad mail ... but please don't call it junk mail."

The statistics are impressive, showing real strength. In 1995, direct mail generated nearly $385 billion in sales revenues for marketers. Printers and graphics buyers also know the opportunities that direct mail presents. John Gardenour of the American Speedy Printing Center of Southfield, MI certainly does.

"The direct mail piece we use has been very effective for our customers and prospects," he explains. "We are a smaller print shop but we turn out some very excellent printed material. We do the jobs on an Itek 985 and rely on our performance to attract people."

The American Speedy postcard offers proof. Using some strange colors for a zebra, it raises interest with its heading. "When you're used to seeing something in black-and-white, color can seem unnatural," the piece reads. "Rather effective, isn't it?"

Meanwhile Jim Lafkas, owner of Pearl Printing of Elko, NV, says that "meat and potato" printing usually takes some form of direct mail.

"We've always done some form of flyer mailing throughout the 14 years we've been in business," Lafkas notes. "We've found that we often get a better response than expected. Thus, we must prepare for a lot of business. If we can't handle the extra workload, we could lose customers."

A recent flyer was sent to approximately 9,000 people in northern Nevada. "It's working well," he notes. "The purpose of every flyer we send is to get new accounts. The color piece is sent to clients we want to attract."

Pearl is located in a competitive marketplace that has five printers in a community of 16,000 people.

"It seems that when there's a lot of competition, you need to advertise," Lafkas explains. "You must budget your advertising dollar. For a long time, we didn't do much advertising. Now, we realize that we must remind people what we do and who we are."

Has the response made the effort worthwhile? "Some people have called to tell us how impressed they are," he offers. "It definitely is pulling in many accounts. However, to be successful, mailers require the same thought and planning as any, promotion."

"It's never any fun to get a piece from a printer that neglects important details," stresses James McDonnell, vice president of Navarone Industries, a mail processing center located in Campbell, CA. "However, a little education on the design of mail pieces can save printers and their customers much money and time."

Getting it there rapidly and making sure it has a better-than-average chance of being opened certainly are priorities, he continues.

Size and shape can create the need for Priority Mail because of the value received. "It will be delivered when third-class mail may never get past the secretary or mailroom clerk as a matter of policy," McDonnell continues. "The sender usually has a large ticket item or service to sell for this to work. However, Priority Mail has a definite impact and place in certain mail campaigns. It's a waste, of course, to use Priority Mail if a fax would do the job. However, faxes are a very poor way to solicit business and frequently can anger potential clients."

No matter what type of mailing is chosen, frequency results in more responses. "It's been proven that it takes four or five repeated mail contacts to get the best response rate," he adds.

How about your promotion and direct mail pieces? Send samples of what you create and tell how you accomplish your objectives. Don't forget to send background on your firm, too. Send them to me at 57 Stebbins Dr., Clinton, NY 13323.