Insert Media Day: Then and Now

On Sept. 10, 2003, the Direct Marketing Association’s Alternate Response Media Council (now the Insert Media Council) held its first Insert Day. Turnout exceeded our wildest expectations.

As head of programming for the council’s Operating Committee, I chaired the opening session, “A Futuristic Look at Insert Media.” Panelists included Leon Henry, Sandra Roscoe, Robin Neal and Ben Giordano. I opened the session by giving a historical perspective as to how the insert industry began, listing some of its “growing pains” and where we are today.

The interesting thing was that more than 60 years ago, when the first package inserts were placed, the growth of insert media faced virtually the same obstacles as today.

In the early 1960s, the biggest hurdle was to get shippers of mail-order items to accept inserts in outgoing packages to their customers. In 2005, the successful mailers who have an insatiable appetite for insert media are besieging their brokers to find new and innovative media opportunities for the distribution of their promotional material.

In the early years, it was tough to convince direct marketers, who already used mail successfully, that package inserts were a viable customer acquisition channel. Today, we face a similar problem: the lack of new mailers offering products and services different from the typical ones we see on a daily basis, and who compete for limited space in packages, statements and co-op mailings.

Leon Henry, CEO of Leon Henry Inc. and one of insert media’s most vociferous proponents, spoke that day about his vision for the future. He commented that Insert Day begins of the acknowledgment of a medium used heavily by many mailers but unknown to many more. He emphasized that by achieving greater recognition for the insert medium, more insert programs will become available and more and new mailers will include inserts in their media plans.

Sandra Roscoe, senior vice president at Singer Direct, spoke of how insert media should take advantage of the pending imposition of government regulations on direct mail and telemarketing. These new rules should afford insert media a tremendous opportunity to become a larger part of every mailer’s media mix. She put the onus on insert industry leaders to educate non-users about the power of inserts.

Robin Neal, then a vice president at PlusMedia and now senior marketing services director at ClientLogic, offered excellent insights into the client side of the business, having spent almost 20 years with several mailers. While acknowledging the industry’s opportunity for growth, she emphasized the importance of educating “non-believers” to insert media’s vast potential.

She stressed that part of the education process must be to understand how insert media works, from developing appropriate creative to finding the best media for a given offer. As a mailer, she explained how the integration of insert media into a total media plan, if used smartly, could benefit bottom-line revenue.

We concluded our general session that day with two goals for the future. First was the development of new insert programs. We must encourage companies that have any number of touch points with their customers to include inserts in their outgoing packages, statements and other types of direct-to-customer communications.

Next was the promotion of insert media. A concerted effort is needed to communicate the positive features of insert media to the uninitiated as well as to those who have tried insert media but met with unsatisfactory results. Attendees were charged to uncover the next generation of mailers like Grolier, Oreck, Fingerhut, Guthy-Renker, Bose, the check and label companies and the book and record clubs.

With so much promise and anticipation for the future emanating from that day in 2003, let’s look at the insert media industry today. By far, the greatest growth has been in the proliferation of catalog blow-in programs. The quantities are many times the number of packages most catalogers offer and therefore have become a fertile source of new insert media. Yet many catalogs still, for whatever reason, have failed or refused to let inserts mail with their “books” to customers and prospects.

New programs. Development of new package insert programs, however, has been a bit slower. New programs are on the market, but we have made no inroads with companies not traditionally associated with direct marketing. To ensure the future success of insert media, we must let them see insert media in a new light, one that can become an integral part of the multichannel marketing mix and a valuable source of incremental revenue.

The targeted co-op mailings have taken a big hit as increased costs and declining response rates have rendered profitability tougher to achieve. This will heighten the need for new insert opportunities.

Overall, however, very few inroads have been made. Many large companies with a substantial number of customer touch points remain on the sidelines.

In several instances where I had personal experience, I found these companies to harbor archaic notions as to how inserts affect their image. They are concerned about the reaction their customers may have upon opening packages or billing statements and finding promotional literature for goods and services not offered by the carrier. Also, they use their own subjective reactions to deny DMers a chance to test this potential fertile source of new business.

How do we get around this negativism? Education. And, sadly, we, as members of the insert media community, have not effectively met the challenges these companies have placed before us.

New mailers. Little has changed here. There have been no new major insert mailers since Bose and Oreck. When I look inside the envelopes contained in different package insert programs, co-op mailings and ride-along efforts, I see virtually the same inserts. And believe me, we are grateful for their participation.

Mailers like Bose, Lenox, Gerber Life, Oreck, The Bradford Exchange, Guthy-Renker, Custom Checks, Education Direct and BMG, to name a few, have kept these programs alive and well. But if we, as an industry, do not aggressively educate nontraditional mailers on the benefits of insert media, we will have lost an incredible growth opportunity.

DMA CEO John A. Greco Jr. has recognized that unless and until we convince all advertisers that direct marketing is an integral force in the multichannel marketing mix, we will have fallen immeasurably short of our destiny. I agree.

It may well be that the Insert Media Council will have to seize the moment and, with the DMA’s help, focus on educating these “uninitiated” companies and their agencies as to why insert media deserves a place in their media plans.

Advertising agencies. Very little effort has been made in understanding how these agencies work with their clients. This is a terrible mistake, as the agencies can be an excellent source of new opportunities for all of us.

With that in mind, one of our concurrent sessions for Insert Media Day 2005 will focus on understanding agency perspectives of insert media. Several agencies representing well-respected brands will explore how insert media has been used in conjunction with other media.

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