Aperture’s Dana Cowsert on Tried-and-True Direct Mail Practices
Dana Cowsert, marketing director of quarterly fine art photography magazine Aperture, faces a rare duet of challenges: Not only does she have to sell a “niche of a niche” publication in an economy that is increasingly difficult for traditional publishers, but she also has to do it on a nonprofit budget. (Aperture is published by Aperture Foundation, a not-for-profit founded by, among others, Ansel Adams and Minor White.)
Here, Cowsert reflects on how some tried-and-true direct mail practices and a hands-on approach to problem solving have helped her keep Aperture’s mail program in focus.
TG: Tell us a little about your direct mail program.
DC: Direct mail is a large percentage of our new business. It’s been an integral part of building the subscriber file for many years. … We mail renewal letters also.
[We target] photography lovers, photographers, mainly people who have some disposable income because our magazine is expensive. We produce a very high-quality product, we make an effort to use the best printers, we print in Italy, we use really heavy paper and we work very closely with the artists to reproduce the work in a way that they want it to be seen. It’s pretty labor-intensive and time-consuming, and as a result, it’s expensive. We also have been trying to target students more lately, and we do have a special subscription price for them. But besides our renewal efforts to students, we don’t do separate direct mail campaigns with that student price.
TG: I understand you are doing a lot of testing right now, what are some of the things you have found?
DC: Up to the last couple years … [we] would test different premiums [and] offers, but our control package hadn’t changed much. … It’s a #14 envelope package with a two-page letter, order card, buckslip and a very expensive brochure with a unique fold—we tested an accordion fold and it didn’t do as well—but it looks really dated. On the order card is a Paul Strand photograph—a classic black-and-white shot of a very somber looking young boy from 1951. We’ve made an effort to highlight more contemporary, abstract photography [in the magazine], so we’ve tested various images on the order card, and none has done as well as the Paul Strand. But that’s not really a good reflection of the foundation or the magazine … anymore.