3. Voucher packages are ubiquitous
Creative people hate this format for obvious reasons. The good news is there are some smart publishing companies that realize adding selling features to the voucher can vastly improve its longevity and response. Stripped down voucher efforts don't work as well as they once did. There's an opportunity here for publishers with voucher control packages to soup them up at a reasonable cost and sell more subscriptions at an acceptable cost per order.
4. Testing is teetering on the brink
Budget shrinkage accounts for some reluctance to test. Marketers who come out of print publishing know it's important to test continuously. There is a lot of "tweaking" and package "downsizing" going on at the moment. Some new to the industry don't really understand testing or its importance to successful direct mail campaigns, and that is alarming.
Currently, most direct mail packages in the publishing industry seem to be #10 formats — not as many 6" x 9" or larger packages are being developed as a direct result of budget cut backs. I'm also seeing more double postcards, triple postcards and oversize postcard formats. It's good that magazine publishers realize the importance of being in the mail, but some need re-convincing that postcard formats don't always work and require careful testing.
It's tempting to wring your hands and sniffle over the state of direct mail in the magazine publishing industry today — whether you work on the creative side or on the publishing side as a circulation/audience development executive. We're past the golden age in terms of pure creativity at any price as well as in volume mailed each year. No one can spend the kind of money developing a new package that was routinely spent even a few years ago. Flooding the mail with excess volume is out. That's gone, and it's not coming back.
I choose to focus on what can be done instead of what can't. What magazine publishers need to stress now — and the successful ones know this — is devoting money to the most efficient sources of subscriptions. Being as aggressive as possible with every subscription source including direct mail and emphasizing true cross-platform subscription acquisition programs for all their magazines.
Testing the possible in direct mail — a better offer, a more attractive price or new premium while developing enewsletters, webinars, events and websites that brand each magazine and help drive sales and profits. It's actually a pretty exciting time for direct mail and for magazine publishers. Print is not going away any time soon, and neither is direct mail. It's important to work with the attitude that no matter how good your direct mail program is, there is almost always a way to make it better through testing.
In the meantime, should you find yourself in need of inspiration therapy from Bill Jayme, Martin Conroy, Joan Throckmorton, Frank Johnson, Linda Wells or Hank Burnett — and many others — come visit me at my office. I'll make the coffee, you bring the donuts. I have file cabinets full of the best of the best magazine subscription packages ever written and designed. We'll take a trip down memory lane together, then we'll figure out how to sell more subscriptions by tweaking, downsizing and selectively testing the important elements that are known to affect direct mail response. We will also stubbornly refuse to go away.
Elaine Tyson is President of Tyson Associates, a 28-year-old Connecticut-based outsource management firm with clients that include consumer, business and association publications.