Media Service Refines E-Mail in Tests, Draws Subscriptions

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An investment of less than $3,000 in an e-mail campaign is expected to generate $100,000 in new revenue during the next year for a media monitoring and Web clipping service.


About 15,000 public relations and marketing executives worldwide - mainly in North America - were targeted with three e-mail tests, followed by a rollout to 121,000 recipients. They were offered a 14-day free trial of the service that monitors more than 13,000 media outlets as well as Web message boards.


"We weren't sure what it would produce," said Bill Comcowich, president/CEO of Cyber-Alert Inc., Stratford, CT, whose company competes with traditional press clipping services worldwide and information retrieval services such as Lexis-Nexis along with free online services like Google and Yahoo.


"We were hopeful that we could produce in the range of $3,000 to $8,000 per month in new revenue, and we're at the high end of it," he said. "Acquiring any new business at a low cost with repeat revenues every month is a big win."


The service is priced as a monthly subscription. There is no per-clip fee.


"Between 90 and 95 percent of those who signed up for the service are still with us through two months of billing," he said.


The three test e-mails of 5,000 each were sent in the first, second and third weeks of June. The rollout went out over three weeks starting June 26. Monthly subscription income for July rose 22 percent from June.


The list of those targeted was compiled based on job function from public information on the Internet, an approach Comcowich argued was not spam because of the targeted, business nature of the correspondence.


"Names were not taken from opt-in lists," he said. "Names were harvested in such a way that we knew everyone we were targeting was in the PR function of a corporation, an agency or a not-for-profit organization."


Comcowich said complaints were rare.


"If there are complaints, we unsubscribe them," he said. "The real objection to spam is when males get breast enlargement offers and females get Viagra offers. In a BTB marketplace, if it's well targeted, there is little objection."


The first test used a combined offer that stated: "Set Your Own Price/Customize Your Own Solution." A long, complex order form required a minimum number of months of service plus credit card information. It produced 42 click-throughs for a rate of 0.85 percent. Only two order forms were filled out with requests for the free trial. There also were seven phone calls, most with questions about the "set your own price" feature. It was determined that the form was too complicated and that customers didn't "get it."


The second test emphasized the free trial and downplayed the "set your own price" component. The order form was shortened by eliminating the credit card information. Click-throughs reached 47, or 0.94 percent. Eight orders and 15 phone calls were generated. But as with the first test, requiring clients to set the price before receiving the free trial proved to be a problem.


Results improved for the third test, which shortened the order form further by eliminating questions regarding the minimum number of months of service and an estimate of the average monthly clip quantity.


"The key difference in the third test was that it no longer required that the client submit a price before receiving the free trial," Comcowich said.


The click-through rate was 1.3 percent based on 65 click-throughs. It produced 17 orders and 28 phone calls.


Campaign expenses included creative development, $2,200; e-mail distribution, $295; and long-distance telephone expense, $100.


The effort let recipients not only order the free trial, but also click through to the company's home page at several points in the e-mail as well as look at a news release regarding the set your own price program.


The third test was used for the full rollout in which 99,000 e-mails were delivered with just over 20,000 undeliverable. Nearly 50,000 recipients opened the e-mails, and 684 clicked through. This generated 317 trial orders, and 16 percent of the trial orders converted to a paid order rate.


"New customers include mostly smaller businesses or regional not-for-profit organizations that either never knew about clipping services or found traditional services with per-clip charges to be too expensive," he said.


"We're a flat-fee subscription service. Clients see the results for two weeks, and we have an indicator of how many clips they will get on a monthly basis. That determines the price along with the number of searches and keywords we cover for them and the number of clips we're delivering to them.


"During the trial, on Day 10 or 11, we contact them via e-mail to see if they want to continue."


The list of those targeted was compiled by the company based on job function from public information on the Internet.


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