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David Cements Goliath

Here’s another for the David-slays-Goliath books. In this case, David will be played by a small group of environmentalists in New York’s Hudson Valley, while St. Lawrence Cement gets the part of Goliath. You can already guess how the story ends, but it’s interesting along the way – thanks to the interjection of that friend we know and love: direct mail.

Six-and-a-half years ago, Canadian-based St. Lawrence Cement announced plans to build a massive coal-fired cement plant in Hudson and Greenport, NY, along the majestic Hudson River 120 miles north of New York City. At first, area residents welcomed the idea of jobs and prosperity that the $350 million project would bring. But then Sam Pratt and Friends of Hudson came along and started asking questions. With only 42 members, though, their voices weren’t very loud. Enter Ken McCarthy, Internet marketer and DM specialist, with some much-needed advice on how Sam could boost membership using mail.

As executive director of Friends of Hudson, Sam listened and learned. Over time, the organization’s membership grew one-hundredfold to 4,100 dues-paying members, and more than 30 other environmental groups joined the fight against St. Lawrence. This louder noise got the attention of state officials, who finally ruled that the project was inconsistent with policies designed to protect the Hudson River. After spending nearly $58 million on its own campaign (plus lobbyist and attorney fees), St. Lawrence Cement abandoned its plans late last month.

“We weren’t able to saturate the people’s mailboxes the way St. Lawrence did, but we certainly caught enough attention,” Sam told me the other day. The group avoided inflammatory language in its mailings, instead opting for a factual approach. “Our key goal was to prove to people that we knew what we were talking about,” Sam said. With Ken’s guidance, the group went from leaving fliers on store counters to doing mass mailings, targeted mailers to specific areas, newspaper inserts and more. They also built a Web site, but mail proved to be most effective. “With the demographics that we have here, if we had relied on just the Web site we would have had a lot less success, though e-mail was tremendously effective in keeping up people’s interest in between the mailings,” Sam said.

So, what’s next for Friends of Hudson? “We’ll do another mailing at the end of the month and some public meetings to explain how we see our role now that our primary mission has been accomplished.” Sam and his friends have more work to do.

Tad Clarke is editor in chief of DM News. His editorial appears Mondays on www.dmnews.com and in our e-mail newsletter. You can subscribe to our e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters

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