#h#Direct Mail Primer#/h#

What is the very best piece of direct mail you can send? No, it’s not a four-color postcard offering a free massage, or a sweepstakes letter promising wealth beyond imagining. It’s the type of missive your mother started hounding you to send as soon as you could clutch a pencil.

"The most effective piece of direct mail is a thank-you letter," says Jeff Dobkin, owner of a Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, marketing company specializing in direct mail (www.dobkin.com), and the author of How to Market a Product for Under $500. The novelty value alone separates this direct mail campaign from the mountains of envelopes every business receives every day.

"With direct mail," he says, "you get attribution." If the campaign works, the results are apparent right away, and are easy to quantify — 10 responses per 100 mailings; four sales appointments; and two sales, for example. As much as Dobkin likes direct mail, he stresses that there are some ways to use it that are better than others, and some strategies that keep the mailings out of the circular file:

Mail during the winter. "If it’s an 85 degree day in May, are you going to be reading mail?" asks Dobkin. And if May — with its fragrant blossoms and novel, warm sun — is a poor month to be sending out solicitations by mail, June, July, and August are worse. December, with its rush of parties and shopping, isn’t great either.

The best time to send out a mailing is the season when the weather is so bleak that nearly any letter looks like an entertainment possibility. In short, now. Or better yet, February. Or even March, with its nasty winds.

Mail to people you know. The most effective direct mail is sent to clients with whom your company has a relationship. It is possible to purchase mailing lists, but it is better to compile your own, including clients, individuals met at trade fairs, and anyone who has expressed an interest in your product, says Dobkin.

Send six to seven letters. Just one letter might be all right if it is sent to a highly-targeted audience. But often, one mailing is not enough to grab your prospects’ attention. One hundred letters, on the other hand, would be overkill. If a prospect shows no interest after six or seven letters, chances are that he never will. Forget him.

Make the letters build on one another. Don’t just send the same offer again and again. Create six or seven different letters, each building on the one before it. The first might be an introduction, the second a description of a product, the third an invitation to an event, and so on. Each letter should refer to the one that preceded it.

#h#Media Etiquette 101#/h#

Richard Laermer’s advice for PR professionals seeking ties to journalists comes straight from the playground: "If you want to make friends," he counsels, "make sure you’re the one they want to be around."

Laermer is the founder of RLM PR (www.rlmpr.com) and author of a number of books, including Full Frontal PR. Having spent the first half of his career as a journalist, he has been on both sides of the PR fence. He knows reporters, and offers this advice on placing stories with them:

Don’t bribe journalists. If your story isn’t good enough for the media, or if your pitch isn’t hitting home, regroup, fix the problem, and patch all the holes. Bribing a journalist is buying your way into the publication, and if that’s what you want, make life easier for both of you and buy an advertisement. The best way to get a journalist to take your story is to prepare and hone the pitch so it delivers your message and addresses the media’s real needs.

If you’re happy with the way a story turns out, don’t send a gift thanking the reporter. Your intentions may be perfectly honorable, but once again, a gift is problematic for a journalist. All you’re doing is putting her ethics up for debate, because if she ever chooses to cover you in the future, a case can be made that you endeared your way in.

Send a handwritten note expressing what a pleasure it was to work with her.

Don’t believe that whatever you’re doing is too important to disclose. Entrepreneurs, inventors, and generic know-it-alls always seem to be in a very unhealthy form of `stealth mode,’ tediously toiling away on their next big idea in a locked lab guarded by nondisclosure agreements. But, of course, they want to be famous, too.

The first thing to remember is that no matter what you’re doing, provided it isn’t curing cancer or AIDS, someone else is doing something more important.

If the media wants to know about it (because you called them, remember?), then give them the full story. Never solicit coverage and then give only half the news.

Never lie. Don’t even exaggerate. Lying about a product or service makes a journalist who reports it look like a dolt.

Don’t ever believe you can say anything off the record. If you don’t want to read it the next morning in the paper, don’t say it. Many people like to exchange off-the-record quips with journalists to buddy up to them. You’re only creating problems for the writer when you spill dirty little secrets. Here’s why: Journalists don’t have to honor off-the-record statements. Their job is to report the news, and if your off-the-record scoop is news, they need to tell it.

Never say that you don’t know or that you can’t answer that question. Just don’t. No comment is a product of Hollywood. It’s an incriminating answer. By not commenting, you’re saying a whole lot.

If she asks you a question on a subject you can’t talk about, such as a legal or Securities and Exchange Commission issue, tell her so. Acting coy is not a good idea.

Don’t play hard-to-get with your answers. Journalists are looking for straight facts, and great PR people are only too happy to supply the answers. The idea isn’t to be a spinmeister, weaving a web of confusion, but to answer questions and get a story in print. All of the facts may not be beneficial to you, but they’re probably necessary for the whole of the story.

#h#Power Marketing#/h#

Marketing pro Freddi Silverman’s license plates read "AdLady." The owner of East Windsor-based marketing and PR firm Strateg-e is as upfront as her tags. Within her niche, companies with sales of between $5 million and $20 million, Silverman says she aims to attract clients by being "faster, cheaper, better."

She says that no matter what the service or product, there are ways that small to mid-size companies can prosper through smart marketing, even in a down economy. Here’s how:

Power ahead. One of Silverman’s all-time favorite clients was a car dealer who grew from one dealership to 15, amassing one of the largest network of showrooms in the northeast. "When the market got tough, he’d spend more," she says. He would tell her that "when everyone is pulling back, I’m going forward."

Don’t save money. As a recession appears, many business owners strive to survive by cutting costs. "Don’t save money. Make money," advises Silverman. She cites current trends in marketing as a case study in what not to do. Trying to save a few dollars on copywriting costs, any number of companies now have their marketing managers and product managers turning out newsletters and writing ad copy. It would be far better, she says, if these creative individuals spend their days concocting campaigns to bring in more money.

Eat out. Another recession tendency is to make sure no money is wasted and no one is fooling around. But a boss chained to his desk is a boss who is not developing new business. "Take your clients out to lunch," says Silverman.

Analyze your clients. In good times and bad too many small and mid-size businesses deliver what they think their clients want. Often, they miss the mark. Conduct surveys, says Silverman. Find out what your clients really want. If a company is too small to commission a customer survey, phone calls to 10 to 20 clients can be nearly as good. Find out what is on their minds, and avoid some expensive wheel spinning.

Keep a high profile. Taking out one advertisement is never enough. "Continuously be there," stresses Silverman. Sometimes, an ad doesn’t seem to be bringing new business. "People get frustrated," she says. "They just stop." Don’t. Instead, realign, try something different. But do not let your name slip from sight.

Mix up your media. PR is vital, as is paid advertising. But neither alone is ever enough, says Silverman.

Be your brand. "A brand is not a logo," says Silverman. "It’s your whole being." It is of paramount importance to develop a brand and then to stick to it — "right down to the phone answering." Every piece of advertising in every medium must project a unified brand, and everyone in the organization must understand just exactly what the message is. "You can have a great ad," says Silverman, "but fall down with the person who answers the phone."

Hold clients close. "Eighty percent of your business comes from 20 percent of your clients," Silverman says. Keep up your relationships with these clients no matter what. Doing so is a lot easier than building relationships with new clients.

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