Aw, Rats-Socks and Underwear!

Posted on by Chief Marketer Staff

I’ve written in this space before about all the nifty, neat, sometimes useful but often downright odd stuff one brings back from conferences.

Look around your office-I bet you’ve got some loot yourself. My desk is graced with a Direct Marketing Association-issue silk flower lei, a light bulb-shaped stress ball and a toy VW van. At home, I have more tote bags that totables, and one of my cat’s favorite toys is a rubber snake from the London DM Fair.

Keep in mind these are all items I purposely brought back with me, and made a conscious (well, sort of-hey, you’ve been on the road) decision to keep. But what about all the stuff that makes its way into our offices unsolicited? The stuff that comes in over the transom that we’re not quite sure what to do with or where it came from?

Everyone wants the direct mail they send-be it press releases or sales pitches-to get opened and noticed. Some think funky packaging or a little trinket will do the trick. But are these chachkas really a treat for the recipient, or just another doodad sure to collect dust?

For my part, I’ll take a well-written, short and to-the-point press release that contains actual news any day over a flashy press kit in a glossy folder accompanied by a plush toy bearing the company logo. Sure, we like toys and silly giveaways-who doesn’t? They’re fun, and they certainly break up the monotony during a long day when we’re on deadline.

But the truth is that they won’t have any effect-for DIRECT anyway-on whether your press release makes it into the magazine or on our daily newsline on the Web (www.directnewsline.com).

And somehow, I don’t think they’d influence any serious customer to purchase your services or product either. (If they do, that company should seriously review its buying practices.) In fact, I’d go so far as to say they might distract the prospect from the real message you’re trying to convey.

Here’s a great example. A few days before Valentine’s Day, I received a small package from a firm I’d never heard of before. My honest first reaction? Oh, I hope its candy. It could be candy. Valentine’s Day is in two days. Maybe its a candy promotion. Obviously, I was having a very stressed- out day.

I opened the box to find…11 plain white envelopes. I felt like a child who’d received socks and underwear for Christmas when she was really hoping for a cool truck. One envelope was addressed to me, 10 to “Occupant.”

OK. Fine. Get over it, Negus. Let’s be professional and see what they have to say. The letter addressed to me starts:

“Dear Beth: This is personally relevant information based on what we know about you.”

It is, huh?

I keep reading and see all they apparently know about me is that I write for a direct marketing publication, which isn’t exactly a secret. The letter goes on to pitch a story idea profiling a new vice president.

And the occupant letters?

Dear Occupant: This is landfill material. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah (the “blahs” go on for the entire page).

I don’t mean to pick on this firm-they obviously have some folks there willing to try something different, which always scores points in my book.

I’ll openly admit that maybe its me, but I don’t get it. I assume they’re trying to show that their campaigns are the ones that are relevant to consumers and aren’t blah. But it seems like a very long setup for a punchline that doesn’t quite make it.

And no, for the record, I wouldn’t have been more receptive to the mailing had chocolates really been in the box too. Less hungry, yes, but more receptive, no.

My point is, what was the message here? Did they have a lot of envelopes to use up? Folks, attention is good. Confusion is bad.

I’m not the only one around here who wonders what some marketers are thinking.

DIRECT writer Richard Levey once received an apple via Federal Express from a consulting firm after he’d interviewed one of their principals. “Thirty-five cents for the apple, nine bucks for shipping,” he says. “I don’t know if I should be impressed or horrified.”

Efforts like this just seem excessive and more than a trifle wasteful. Businesspeople don’t have time to wade through extra paper to get to your point-getting their attention is one thing, but wasting their time is another.

And are these efforts cost effective? Extra packaging and express shipping really doesn’t impress me. It just makes me think there are firms out there with budgets that allow room for much more playfulness and extravagance than ours certainly does.

A closing thought: Richard says I should remind everyone that “Nothing says ‘write about me’ more clearly than gifts of food.”

Now, that’s not true. He’s joking. It is true that we like snacks. But we judge everything for the magazine on news and information value.

But I will clue you in on this important fact. Well-fed reporters are much less likely to bite innocent bystanders at press conferences. (Of course, we’ll probably still bark, but that’s to be expected.)

Wait! I’ve got it!

Just print the press releases on chocolate. Sure, we might eat it before we read it, but no one ever told you direct marketing wasn’t a risky business.

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