Direct mail planning: a gamble, but a fun one

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Direct mail planning: a gamble, but a fun one
Direct mail planning: a gamble, but a fun one

Planning a direct mail campaign is a lot like playing roulette.  You have your favorite lists and package, the mail date that has historically worked, and test lists to take some chances.  Once your mail drops, just as the ball spins around the roulette wheel, you wait and wait until finally you begin to see the results.


I love planning a direct mail campaign.  From the time I begin reviewing past results to updating the reports, I can't wait to see what happens. 


Did your continuation lists perform at past levels?  Should your control package remain in control?  How about those test lists?  Did any meet your expectations?  You're reviewing the past 6-8 weeks in your head, and you're thinking that, just like Murphy's Law, everything that could go wrong will go wrong.


And I've had a few experiences like that over the years: Mixing two brand names to create a new one, only to have the EIC catch the mistake after mailing.  Sending out an expire panel without going through NCOA (you can imagine the undeliverables).  Or a DPC without return address. 


But even with those ghosts lurking, the first few weeks of planning a direct mail campaign are fun.  I actually begin thinking of my next campaign as soon as I'm done with one.  I am constantly looking for new lists or packages, so I keep a file with any samples I like.  I put together a schedule working backwards from the mail date.  I always build in extra time for everything.  Inevitably, something is delayed or has to be rerun so you're better off accounting for that time. 


Having a good relationship with your vendors is important.  Your list broker should understand your magazine's audience and what your goals are.  Are you willing to test outside your category to increase the mailing universe?  Or do you have to tighten up your continuation lists in order to maximize your response?  You should be confident that your data/lettershop vendor will keep everything on track, receiving various name files, merge/purge outputs, presorts, various lettershop panels, etc.  One mistake and your entire campaign could be ruined.  And don't forget your print vendors — the quality of their work needs to reflect your company. 


As I do when playing roulette, I'll take another chance in the direct mail game, confident that each campaign is going to beat the last one. As I write, I'm already looking ahead to the next.    


Leslie Guarnieri is the circulation director for Discover magazine. You may reach her at

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