MAILING: Practising what you preach - The UK DM industry produces some of the best work around. But how good is it at marketing itself? Rachel Barnes reports

As another year closes and 2002 budgets are being set, DM suppliers

are having to work harder to beat off the competition. It's no longer

acceptable to rely on the same old Christmas card mailing to keep in

touch with customers. But these suppliers face a daunting challenge:

they must use their finely-honed skills to direct market themselves,

putting to the test the very reputation they live on.



Inter-industry direct marketing can clearly be a bonus as suppliers have

the chance to practise what they preach. Thomson Directories does this

literally, using its own product, the Business Search PRO list, to

direct mail 6,000 prospects each week. Sixty per cent of all business is

generated this way.



But how high a priority are a firm's own mailings when they're up

against client schedules? And are agencies the worst offenders?

"Agencies' own campaigns are often put to the back of the queue," admits

Alex Bennigsen, CEO of full service agency The Pepper Corporation. "But

this shouldn't get in the way of a sound, creative idea."



Turning the tables



It makes absolute sense that direct marketers should approach their own

direct marketing with the same vigour as those of their paying

clients.



In fact, they must be the client. "We're even more demanding than our

clients when it comes to our mailings," says Andy Annett, managing

partner of agency Liquid. Last year it sent prospects a tin containing a

cracker, with the strapline 'Add Liquid'. "We take it very seriously and

always use our top creatives."



This nirvana, though, isn't common. Bennigsen had to pretend one of

Pepper's own campaigns was for a client to get the most from her team.

"Otherwise you run the danger of having them taken off the project

halfway through," she explains. "This way we came up with a cutting-edge

campaign that I doubt would have got through."



Pepper mailed 300 mobiles to the CEOs and managing directors of the

FTSE's top 300 firms. Its number was pre-programmed into the phone and

came with personalised copy for each individual. At £150 per

mobile, this was no cheap option, but with a heart-stopping 100 per cent

response rate, the campaign has nearly paid for itself.



Budgets are an issue at both ends of the scale. Some are wary of

spending too much; others can get carried away. "Budget and timing must

be imposed on in-house material in the same way as it is by a client,"

advises Rowland Hill, creative director of FFwd Precision Marketing.

"Creatives can't get a free rein just because it's an inside job."



The DMARR's latest survey into new business within agencies finds 50 per

cent spend between £100,000 and £200,000 on this activity,

be it through PR, directory listings, conferences and targeted

communications to prospects.



Careful targeting and relevant content is key to the success of any

mailing, but its effects are magnified when it's the supplier's

reputation at stake.



"Too many suppliers adopt a blanket approach," says James House,

business development director at The Interactive Agency. "They expect

cut-through with prospects who are inundated with similar mailings

everyday."



Pester power pays off when it only takes a few account wins to break

even, but can it become a nuisance or even outright damaging? Chris

Hawken, head of marketing at Skoda, believes agency mailings are

redundant. "My biggest bug-bear is complex and impressive mailings,

which are, however, incredibly irritating."



Many suppliers try to prevent their efforts falling on deaf ears by

keeping their ears to the ground and an eye on the press for account

moves. This doesn't impress Hawken: "If I was looking for an agency, I'd

never approach one after receiving a mailing. I'd always look for a

recommendation from someone I respect in the industry."



To get round this, agency Archibald Ingall Stretton incorporates

referrals into its own direct mail. "Our mailing is focused on our

clients," says managing partner Stuart Archibald. "It's rather

self-deprecating but clients want to see the work we've done and hear

what other clients have to say."



Reputation may lead to opportunity, but without the former it's

difficult to get the latter. So, despite Hawken's inside view, many

suppliers maintain that clients just wouldn't consider them if they'd

never shown any interest in them before. The DMAAR found that 65 per

cent of agencies have a full-time marketing director/business developer.

New business falls to the managing director/partner in the remaining 35

per cent. It's a model others could follow.



Leicester printers Taylor Bloxham is one company which invests

significantly in marketing. A recent mailing targeting design

consultancies and agencies cost £10,000 to present its new

12-colour Heidelberg printing press. Instead of showcasing the high

print quality, it mailed out a tin of 12 Derwent artists' pastel

pencils, along with a press release. Rather than directly generating

leads, it was more about raising brand awareness.



But is there any chance of gaining an audience with clients not even

looking for other suppliers? One admitted to "binning the lot, except

for the chocolates", raising the question, is it worth the effort? This

is where agencies and suppliers alike are at loggerheads. Sarah Duguid

of the Mezzo Consultancy is convinced of the need to do something

eye-catching. But Renee Botham, managing director of business growth

specialist DMO, disagrees: "It's obvious what's missing. It's the sales

letter. Clients are looking for a service provider that can really help

them."



So should new business mailings be standalone, brand awareness tools, or

part of an ongoing process of communicating with existing and potential

clients? Direct mail printer, Anton Group, has taken the long-term

approach and mails clients and prospects every quarter without fail.



Changing supplier is a huge undertaking for most clients and direct

marketing providers are not offering products that can be bought at a

glance. But new business mailings should be an integral part of any

company. With brand awareness comes opportunity and a chance to build

upon your company name.



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