Audition Division Evolves Its Media Mix to Turn Around Its Business
Is it possible in this economy to reinvent and save a business that relies on direct mail, and turn around plummeting response rates?
The answer is a resounding "yes!" when you talk to Jerry Kau, the owner of Audition Division Ltd. (ADL), a firm that auditions children for Chicago-area modeling and talent agencies.
ADL invites parents to submit an application to audition their children. It then selectively sends the parents a no-cost audition pass. With a confirmed appointment, the child is auditioned in the firm's studios. If there is potential, ADL requests professional photos and demos to use when working to get clients signed by modeling and talent agencies.
But by 2009, the dynamics of Kau's business had changed.
"Due to the economy, our business took a turn-down as did other businesses. For 38 years, we had used direct mail to generate 3 to 4 percent response rates, but in 2009, it dwindled to around 1 percent. We had to make changes," reveals Kau.
In February 2010, with limited Internet savvy, Kau asked his assistant to look online for some inspiration. Through organic search, they came across the website of direct marketing firm Hennerberg Group Inc.
After a couple of conversations, it became apparent that the media dynamics had changed and that an integrated direct mail and Internet presence was going to be essential to attract younger aged parents. A strategy was devised that included a low-cost #10 direct mail package, a new website and URL, search engine optimization efforts and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising.
After crafting the new website, freshening the direct mail piece and evaluating lists, the first mailing was dropped in April 2010. The number of Web-based applications rose, yet overall response rates were still only 1.75 percent. Disappointed, but not defeated, Hennerberg Group learned more about ADL's clientele. That led to simplifying the creative a bit, working closely with list and data services firm American List Counsel to uncover more potent lists and mailing again in June 2010.
These tweaks delivered a solid 6 percent response, with nearly 70 percent of the applications being submitted online at ADL's new website.
"I couldn't believe it," admits Kau. "For years, direct mail by itself was the engine that drove our business, but now I'm a believer that it takes direct mail plus the Internet."
ADL's marketing has now expanded to include PPC advertising. After just a month, these paid search efforts are bringing in business at a fraction of the cost of direct mail. While PPC hasn't been able to deliver the volume of applications ADL needs to survive, the activity generates enough audition applications between direct mail campaigns to keep the pipeline of inquiries fresh.
Another key aspect of the Web-based program is that ADL's new website was optimized by Hennerberg Group so it could be found via organic search and on local search sites. After going online in April, the ADL website now attracts a significant amount of organic traffic from more than 100 combinations of keywords.
While a market for a service or product may remain strong over the years (in this case, an almost endless supply of new parents of adorable kids), the lesson here is that marketers must must stay relevant and evolve as buyers' habits shift. Otherwise, those old, tried-and-true methods lose their punch—to the point of invisibility in a changing world.