Gay Card Pack Program Eyes Category, Market Growth

Though Tribe Media Group has reached gay consumers with its Our Tribe card pack for many years, the firm sees potential for growth through new types of marketers and expanding the program's reach.

The first Our Tribe card pack mailed in 1996 when Tribe Media was formed after splitting from Strubco, which became the list firm Metamorphics and was subsequently purchased by Mal Dunn Associates in July 2002 and integrated into its list business.

“I had published gay card packs for Strubco, so when it moved into a different venture I was left with a client base and my knowledge of the market,” said Charlie Conrad, president of Tribe Media Group, New York. “I had a lot of things I wanted to bring to the card pack. I thought of it more as a magazine-quality lifestyle vehicle, and I wanted to bring high design into it.”

Card packs typically are on high bulk stock, and most are business-to-business programs.

“For our community I knew that people would be much more interested in something that looked and felt more like a magazine on cards,” he said.

To achieve his goals, Conrad mandated that all cards be printed on coated stock, encouraged clients to design four-color ads with high-quality images and stressed the importance of the response mechanism.

As a result, the program has grown and is still less expensive than solo direct mail. The base rate for participating in three national drops is $4,495 and includes printing of a coated stock card with four-color process on the front and black on the back.

“Currently we publish and mail three times a year, and each time the card pack reaches a different group of 75,000 direct mail responsive gay male households,” Conrad said. “Of the 75,000, currently 25,000 are in the metro New York City area and the rest are a part of the national edition.”

Each card pack generally has 40 or fewer advertisers.

“If we start to surpass that we will probably just increase our frequency,” he said. “We are working toward increasing frequency and circulation but it's a balancing act because we do have many small advertisers.”

About half of each mailing goes to subscribers who are requalified every so often, and the rest comes from direct response prospect lists including magazine subscribers, catalog lists, donor lists and community membership lists.

The first drop occurs in late February/early March, the next mails in late May to coincide with Gay Pride in June and the last drops in mid- to late October to hit before the holidays.

The firm is developing Los Angeles as another segmented metro area, Conrad said. The city currently is just part of the national mailing.

Though the majority of advertisers in the Our Tribe program have a gay-specific offer such as a gay lifestyle magazine, a gay resort travel offer or a gay dating service, other marketers have used the card pack as well. Mainstream marketers have included New York Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, American Express, Book of the Month Club and Columbia House.

“There is a high degree of education that must be done with mainstream marketers,” Conrad said. “They have a preconception of what a card pack is about, and we have to get them to take a look at ours.”

Though the numbers to mail in the gay community are relatively small, it is an untapped source of prospects for many marketers.

“Even the largest lists in the gay market are barely of interest to larger companies until something like a recession comes along and they are looking for new ways to reach new prospects,” Conrad said. “Then they realize that even though the numbers are small and it takes a little more effort, it is worth it.”

Reaching out to the market in a way that recipients know that you are intentionally marketing to them as a gay consumer tends to get better response rates, he said.

Regarding privacy issues, the card pack is mailed in a clear cellophane wrapper, Conrad said. To an untrained eye, the pack is not a gay-targeted mail piece.

“We do spend a significant amount of time designing a cover that allows people to understand what it is, and even the name Our Tribe with the triangle is a symbol for those in the know, but at the same time you don't feel outed by it,” he said. “It wouldn't be very effective if it came in a brown wrapper, but we make sure that the offer in the window is something that would appeal to the community but not say gay explicitly.”

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