Weekly Reader Does Its Homework to Boost Subs

Weekly Reader Corp. will drop 4.5 million mail pieces this month and next to increase subscriptions for its newly repositioned and redesigned 16 classroom periodicals.

Targeted to teachers, principals and administrators nationwide, the campaign focuses on generating new classroom subscriptions in elementary schools. Timed for spring, the effort also seeks renewals from current subscribers in the pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade market.

“Our challenge is to persuade teachers that Weekly Reader magazines will help them achieve their goals and to use their scarce funds to subscribe,” said Caitlin Rotchford, executive vice president at Weekly Reader, Stamford, CT.

The campaign comes at a time when teachers are being asked to demonstrate that their class time is used to meet the objectives of the mandated curriculum.

So despite being a leader in the classroom periodical market, Weekly Reader has had to change its content across publications, as accountability for teachers and principals becomes stronger.

Created by Grey Direct, New York, the direct mail package will include the relevant Weekly Reader title with a more contemporary patina. A revised teacher's guide will instruct teachers on how to use the Weekly Reader title to meet their curriculum goals. Also in the package are planning calendars to alert teachers in advance what the issues will cover and how the articles relate to state and national education standards.

The titles being promoted vary from the Weekly Reader series from pre-K to grade 6 in the elementary market to Current Events, Current Science and Career World for middle and high schools. Combined circulation of all 16 titles owned by Weekly Reader was more than 8 million paid subscriptions to students last year. The company claimed more than 11 million in pass-along readership.

While reinforcing the curriculum is important, so is a better visual appeal for the titles. Hence, the changed covers. Other tweaks include different icons on the covers and more reader friendly layouts and better labeling on inside pages. Even the stories are more tightly integrated with curriculum standards.

This year's mailings also will draw more attention to the Internet. Weekly Reader currently allows subscription renewals on its Web site. Now, it has launched a WR Toolkit. This feature offers subscriber-only access to current issues, the archive and the World Almanac for reference articles. Creative in the spring mailer stresses the point that Weekly Reader titles engage students while reinforcing curriculum and helping teachers meet required education standards.

While these changes are afoot, Weekly Reader's dedication to direct marketing remains unchanged.

“Weekly Reader's principle mode of selling is direct mail,” Rotchford said. “Our strategy is to go to our existing customers and prospects with this message of meeting your curriculum needs and having fun. We also revisit former customers with this message.”

Each year, Weekly Reader contacts its 250,000 existing teacher customers with four to eight mail drops. Targeted prospects receive anywhere from one to four mail pieces. Overall, Weekly Reader sends more than 7.5 million mail pieces a year. The majority of Weekly Reader's subscribers are acquired via direct mail. Mailings occur many times a year. The first round kicks off in the spring when schools buy products for the next academic year. A second mailing goes out in late summer when schools reopen.

Another series of mailings is aimed at expiring subscribers to promote renewals. Former customers and prospects, both teachers and school administrators, get one or more solicitation efforts that use targeted creative based on job function and past purchase history.

“The decision maker here is the teacher,” Rotchford said. “However, it must appeal to the ultimate user, the student. We don't mail to students.”

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