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Knowing your audience

Nov 1, 1996 12:00 AM

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Can a printer be too elite, too discriminating or too crass with its promotions and direct mail? It certainly can. What's worse, it may take a great deal of time, diplomacy and tact to discover the problem and win back the audience you've alienated.

A classic example can be found in many fundraising campaigns' direct mail materials. Some are based on faulty assumptions, such as equating a person's age with his or her income or an individual's zip code with his or her net worth.

Consider, as well, the wrongheadedness of the state university that sends out a brochure sure to trigger a wave of nostalgia among alumni. However, tucked in among the endearing memories of days gone by - usually photos from a yearbook or class reunion - is a pledge card that suggests donating $5,000. The university has incorrectly assumed that all recipients will be so awash in sentiment and school spirit that they will immediately whip out their checkbooks. Many institutions don't even have the courtesy to provide the recipient with a postage-paid envelope. This actually happened to me.

Such things don't happen at Chapel Co. (Moorestown, NJ). President E. Ross Feeher knows the importance of thoroughly understanding an audience. Chapel recently distributed an "artificial flavor" promotional piece that communicated its message both creatively and tastefully.

The copy offers a low-key description of the company's capabilities by explaining that some may find artificial flavors "delicious, while others might think [them] bizarre . . . Chapel hopes you enjoy [them] for the opportunities [they] present. Our unnatural looking fruits began with multi-processed and electronically manipulated images. From there, we added graphic interest and emphasis through extensive use of image enhancement techniques - vignetting, masking, adding drop shadows and ghosting. We hope you like it, and all the unexplored possibilities it suggests."

The piece requests nothing of recipients except some time and it's discriminating in focus, yet discreet in its approach. It's a tasteful promotion of Chapel's abilities as well as the firm's interest in assisting customers.

Linking service with promotion also is the key behind the success of Quality Printing's full-color calendar. "It illustrates our capabilities and, at the same time, promotes our 13th year," offers June Roy-Martin, director of public relations for the Pittsfield, MA company.

Too often, calendars simply are produced and taken for granted. Stock art is often coupled with unimaginative use of space. As a result, the recipient has little motivation to even look at the calendar, let alone use it for the next 12 months. Quality's sleek calendar, however, demonstrates what can happen when a company spends the time and money to produce an impressive piece of functional art.

"More than 8,500 calendars were printed and distributed all over the country," Martin says. "People literally have been calling for months to get one. And we're pleased to report that our 1996 calendar has gone Hollywood. It's been seen on the set of the Fox TV show 'Mad TV'."

It's details that count, and Quality Printing has shown how to take a traditional promotion and make it special.

Reese Press/RP Communications (Baltimore) adds its own spin on a time-tested promotional tool. Reese publishes an eye-catching newsletter that offers solid, up-to-date information about the industry. A recent issue, for example, focused on printer/customer partnering.

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