25th Anniversary Issue: It’s a New World for Insert Programs

The list and insert brokerage industry is very different 25 years after DM News debuted. There are probably only 15 list and insert managers with any significant staff that existed 25 years ago. Yet many new, vibrant broker/management companies have filled the void.

Nor is the list rental business what it was, and the same can be said for insert media: It is not the alternative that it was positioned as 25 years ago. Now, most list and insert brokers are managers, and most managers are brokers.

When Publishers Clearing House and other sweepstakes-generated lists were in their heyday, a broker could earn an excellent living with just one or two clients who rented these lists. An entrepreneur could have an idea, a kitchen table, an energetic list broker and be in business overnight.

Growth of Specialty Catalogs

The growth of specialty catalogs was a bonanza for the list rental and emerging insert media businesses. Many current broker/managers built their businesses on serving the new catalogers. The willingness of the new mailers to open their lists to rentals and their packages to inserts enlarged the marketplace for all parties.

The mail-order public benefited from computerization, FedEx delivery and reliable use of credit cards.

Those of us in the insert media end of the list business remember the Betty Crocker insert and its expansion of the industry. The offer, which was $1 for the first of the continuity book series, worked in every program that could be found. This created a need for insert brokers to find new programs and was the first significant expansion of the fledgling insert brokerage industry.

Who remembers American Holidays, which was a “must” for every insert broker? How about GRI World of Beauty, whose buyer scheduled mandatory 30-minute meetings with each broker at every Chicago DM Days?

Twenty-five years ago, the direct mail industry was becoming the direct marketing industry by adding telemarketers and creating the Direct Marketing Association. Many companies used lists and inserts to cream the markets. Who remembers Me Books, which was a great idea of personalized children’s books and subsequently became a source of revenue to its new owner who milked the trade before expiring? What about the original Frederick’s of Hollywood with its inserts that were considered racy but not that racy? And what about Ira Smolev, who was covered in the fledgling DM News? How about Jewelart, at that time one of the largest users of inserts?

Insert programs increased as demand for distribution and rising postal costs encouraged mail-order companies to place the inserts into their packages and statements and to create co-ops. Where are the co-ops today? Only Madison Direct has survived the brutal postage costs.

But do you remember Drawing Board, the first business-to-business firm to open its packages to inserts? Betty Crocker and many other female-targeted offers jumped on the bandwagon, recognizing that most office managers and staff then were women who responded to the Drawing Board offers.

Ambassador Leather King of ’79 Show

The convention for the 1979 Direct Mail Marketing Association, as it was called then, was in New Orleans. Ambassador Leather Goods with its unique personalized wallets was king of the show. Every list and insert broker wanted to work with it.

When I reviewed my Day-Timer from 1979 (no Blackberry back then), half the companies with which I had appointments are out of business: Lakeshore Records, American Holidays, the old Brecks, Especially for Mothers co-op, Old American Insurance, Nashua Photo, Precision Optical, to name a few.

But the industry is stronger than it was 25 years ago. There is an unspoken acknowledgment that spurious use of lists and inserts is unacceptable. The dollars being made by mailers, program owners and, of course, by brokers/managers are too great to allow for anything but attention to detail and performance.

I entered the insert industry by accident in 1956 with an idea, the basics of which are the same now as then: to bring together two marketers who could benefit by their association. Originally, program owners were supermarkets, drug stores and shopping centers that took advertising on their grocery and drugstore bags and, subsequently, into their statements, mailings and related exposure to their customers.

The mailers went from brands to public utilities, to the fledgling mail-order companies such as Spencer Gifts, Ambassador Leather and others. List brokerage firms ignored inserts, which then were called things such as “media interactions,” “alternatives” and, by Len Holland, “package inserts.”

The competition among Holland, me and several other marketers who saw the potential created what is now called insert media. It now has its own DMA council, its own Insert Media Day and generates several billion dollars a year in revenue for mailers, broker/managers, program owners and suppliers.

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