Panel Talks Industry's Costs, Complexities

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NEW YORK -- The risks and rewards of insert media were the focus at the Direct Marketing Association's Insert Media Council annual luncheon Sept. 19 at the Harvard Club in New York.

The gathering featured a panel of representatives from advertisers: Littleton Coin Co., Ortega Publishing Pty Ltd. and Vista Print. Each shared marketing strategies and challenges as well as how inserts affect their bottom lines.

"The last dollar we spend in search engine optimization is not as good as the first dollar we spend in insert media," said Ellen Sante, manager of print and alternative media at Vista Print, which has U.S. headquarters in Lexington, MA.

A veteran in SEO, Vista has just begun testing insert media in the past two years, she said. The company aims to reach new markets with the channel, and the results for now are the "tip of the iceberg."

"We don't necessarily expect to break even in insert media," she said.

Vista calculates a customer's lifetime value in addition to tracking new orders and cost per sale. The company cut costs by printing oversized postcards for package insert programs in-house but accrues extra costs for programs with smaller or lighter mailing requirements.

"It's all about risk and rewards," said Jeffrey Marsh, senior vice president of marketing at Littleton Coin. "It costs more to go with different sizes and formats but sometimes the rewards are higher."

New Hampshire coin company Littleton has used inserts for 35 years. The company shifted more offers into credit card statements recently, facing higher costs due to bank mergers, which create larger consumer groups to receive the creative.

Other complications Ms. Sante cited include understanding the variation of program costs, correctly attributing online traffic to offline efforts, being too aggressive with offer deadlines and rounds of legal disclaimers.

All panelists said an experienced, well-connected broker reduces costs and complications.

"[The insert industry] is not for the faint of heart," Mr. Marsh said. "It's not easy to get the media to work for you, but it is doable."

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