Prentice Hall Direct Makes Move to E-Mail

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Prentice Hall Direct, Des Moines, IA, delivers more than 80-million direct mail pieces yearly to the readers of its health, business and teaching books; however, yesterday, the specialty publisher sent out its first e-mail promotions and began the process of integrating its Internet presence with its direct marketing efforts.

The e-mail promotion was the latest act in Prentice Hall's larger campaign to cull the e-mail addresses of its current and prospective customers and develop them into a working e-mail database, to which it can deliver future offers to increase traffic and, hopefully, sales on its online bookstore,

"Our goal at Prentice Hall Direct is to quickly establish our e-commerce presence, and we can accomplish this by expanding our customer relationship program and our opt-in database," said Mark Dazzo, vice president of Internet marketing at Prentice Hall. The publisher's specific goal is to build its e-mail database into a substantial list -- at least 100,000 names -- by the end of the year.

"On our traditional direct marketing side, one of our greatest assets is our database," said Sally Wood, Prentice Hall's president. "We feel that on the e-mail side, [the database] will be a similarly invaluable asset."

The launch of its e-mail campaign follows the September 1999 relaunch of Prentice Hall's online bookstore, which added new features, such as table of contents previews; improved its ability to capture detailed registration information; and developed a more sales-oriented interface. In a symbiotic link, the e-mails are a way to inform people of the site and offer various incentives to use it, while the site is a way to capture information about its customers' online and offline activities that is valuable to future e-mail efforts.

Dazzo said that while Prentice Hall has been registering online visitors since last year, it wasn't until January, when the company partnered with ClickAction, an e-mail marketing technology firm based in Palo Alto, CA, that it felt confident enough to e-mail the list.

"We've had an opt-in registration form on our site for quite a while," he explained. "ClickAction is helping us to modify that form to not only manage those names but to also do outbound marketing. The application we are using will allow us to do both straight text e-mail marketing as well as HTML e-mail marketing." Within that mix, he added, Prentice Hall will test which offers deliver the best results.

The publisher is also looking to the e-mail specialist for help in "e-prospecting," Dazzo said. ClickAction's access to business partners such as New York-based e-mail list manager NetCreations played a significant role in Prentice Hall's decision to contract its services. "Their e-prospecting capability is something we will look at as we develop," he noted.

In addition to its e-mails, Prentice Hall is counting on its experience as a direct mail marketer to help build its e-mail list. These efforts include placing information about its online store and e-mail address on order forms, customer receipts and promotional letters. The company also is automatically assigning its direct mailing customers something called a Web Express code, which allows them to go onto the Web site and preview book chapters free of charge.

"We're really using our 80 million direct mail pieces, every point of contact we get through to our customers, to generate e-mail addresses," Wood explained.

While the results of the first round of e-mail messages weren't available at press time, the publisher said that early projections indicate it might want to increase its 100,000-name target. Prentice Hall's Internet book sales have quadrupled since the Web site relaunch in September, but Wood did not say how much of its $80 million in total revenues were attributable to the Internet.

Going forward, the publisher said it is clear that future marketing communications will have to strike a balance between postal and electronic delivery methods.

"At the moment, our direct mail program is working very well for us," Wood said. "But e-mail marketing has some tremendous advantages over traditional direct marketing in that you don't have printing, postage and list costs." The true challenge, however, will be less about e-mail vs. direct mail and more about the number of times a customer is contacted.

"We want to control the number of times through direct mail and e-mail we contact the customer," she explained. "We don't want to overstep what may be not only appropriate but profitable for us."

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