NY's DMV Tests DM Ride-Alongs

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Some New Yorkers are getting direct mail along with their auto registration renewal notices.


The state Department of Motor Vehicles is in the midst of a three-phase test to 500,000 registered drivers in which advertisers bought inserts in its renewal mailings. The first mailing went to 150,000 drivers Jan. 31. The second went out in February. The last mailing drops early in March, after which New York will decide whether to sign a contract that would include license and registration notices to the state's 10.5 million licensed drivers.


"We want to see how this is going to work," department spokesman Joe Picchi said.


A long-term deal would amount to about 5 million pieces of mail yearly.


Under the deal, insert marketing company Imagitas, Waltham, MA, pays for printing and the state pays for postage. Picchi estimates New York could save $750,000 yearly if the state proceeds with a contract.


As part of the arrangement, Imagitas redesigns the state's registration renewal package to include an easier-to-use renewal form and an information guide detailing the most efficient ways to renew such as online, by telephone or by mail.


"It drives people to make the transaction online, drives people to the mail ... things that will keep people out of line at the DMV, and that obviously saves the DMV money, too," said Steve McClain, managing director of Imagitas. "It also gets people interacting with the government in a way that is more consistent with what others are doing in the private sector."


Advertisers in New York's test mailings include Ford, MasterCard, Viking Warranty and Geico Direct.


A brochure in the renewal notices claims the state does not endorse any of the advertisers. Also, the state can refuse advertising it deems inappropriate. The program will not accept alcohol, cigarette or tobacco advertising, McClain said.


Advertisers can target recipients by make, model and year of car, and ZIP code. Imagitas produces the ads. As for pricing, McClain said, "It's difficult to say because it varies so much by the category, the state and by situation. It really requires negotiation on a client-by-client basis."


The advertisers have no access to drivers' private consumer information such as name and address data because the program complies with the federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act of 1994.


Imagitas began negotiating with New York, the country's third-most populous state, more than a year ago. "Obviously, we had a lot of hoops to go through to work through a relationship with them," he said.


The company has similar arrangements with Massachusetts and Minnesota, which was the first state to sign up in July 2001. Imagitas has done similar mailings for Florida, Wisconsin and Maryland.


Imagitas is near a deal with Connecticut, according to McClain. The company is also negotiating with "several" other states that he would not name.


"The challenge of working with government is you having to be willing to wait a long time," he said.


However, having been on the market for three years makes negotiating with state officials easier. Also, states' current budget shortfalls are opening doors, McClain said.


"Finances are really causing some of them to re-look at programs like this where in the past they may have said, 'we're not interested,'" he said.


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