AFAR Magazine Starts From Scratch
One of the best things a direct mailer can do to help craft the most effective direct mail campaign is give the copywriter a sample of the product so said copywriter can personally study it and understand its benefits. But what if you have no samples to offer?
That's the quandary AFAR Media faced this summer with the launch of its first ever issue of AFAR magazine. The San Francisco-based experiential travel magazine needed to disseminate a mailer prior to its August launch. As a new publication with exactly zero finished issues, that was no small task, especially with an in-home date goal of June 3. "Obviously, one of the biggest challenges with the launch is that we didn't have a magazine out yet," shares Laura Simkins, audience marketing and planning director of AFAR Media. "So we were really writing without an actual product-of course it was all in process and all that. It makes it a little more difficult for the copywriter to really understand what the voice is and to reflect that in the package."
To overcome this challenge, AFAR worked closely with copywriter Joe Quint—of New York-based direct marketing design and copy studio Quint & Quint—who joined forces with the magazine's editor-in-chief, Susan West, and art director. The result was a collaboration that truly resembled the intended look and feel of the magazine.
Mailed in a 6" x 9" outer envelope, the default control has the teaser, "Any similarity between AFAR and other travel magazines is purely coincidental." That teaser was positioned below a photograph of native peoples swimming with a beautiful mountain range background, and a cover of the publication alongside it. On the reverse side, another teaser appears, "Special Charter Offer: Get a Free Trial Issue," above the window showing the recipient's name and address (Archive code #202-717785-0907).
Inside, AFAR doesn't skimp on the details. Included are a four-page letter signed by West, a lift note from one of the magazine's founders, a "Find yourself in AFAR" insert relaying travel stories, a reply card and a BRE. Along with multiple test packages, 700,000 pieces overall were mailed to affluent, well-educated, professional travelers who are curious about other cultures. AFAR magazine worked with list brokerage firm List Alliance to find the appropriate travel publications and catalogs, along with associations and the like, with audiences who matched the mind-set of AFAR's target customer.
The letter, which was vitally important to describe a magazine that wasn't yet available, is very easy to read and scan, incorporating direct mail best practices such as underlined text, subheads, bold font, bullet points and a P.S. The letter effectively lays out who the magazine is for, routinely conveying that the publication is not for everyone. Quint and West make no bones about going after experiential travelers—those that want to experience and immerse themselves in foreign cultures—and the copy describes what readers can expect from the magazine.
Dispersed throughout are reminders that you can subscribe for a free issue, with satisfaction guaranteed. And the postscript flips the script, balancing the body text that describes what AFAR is with a short quip about what the magazine is not. "I really feel like the voice of the magazine came through ... one of the goals was to really differentiate ourselves and show how we're different from the rest of the travel category," says Simkins. "Overall, I felt like the voice was really the piece that we wanted to make sure was very clear and conveying what we're about, and I think we did that."
Adding to the voice was the lift note from founder Greg Sullivan, discussing his passion for the issue and why he started the magazine. "We felt like if we could integrate his voice in the package, people would identify with that," Simkins notes.
Since this was a launch direct mail campaign, Simkins did much more testing than she's accustomed to. Mailing against this default control, AFAR sent multiple packages, testing different outers, order cards, price points and even the offer formats-the control uses a yes-no-maybe sticker involvement device, which was tested against two-year offers, "pay now to take $5 off" and ordering online.
With the first issue out as of Aug. 18, Simkins says AFAR Media was happy with the results and learned quite a bit from testing. The default control will remain the magazine's control mailer, with a few minor tweaks: The guts of the package will stay the same, but one of the test outers will actually be rolled out as the control.
Thanks to great communication and teamwork between the AFAR staff and Quint & Quint, AFAR was able to capture the vision of the magazine even with no point of reference from which to work. "The real challenge for us was not having a product to work from at this point," admits Simkins. "Typically for an established publication, you go to work with a creative outfit, you have a year's worth of magazines to send them, and they can really wrap their head around what the magazine is about and visually what it looks like. We were at a disadvantage there, but I really appreciate from our creative outfit to work very closely with our editor and our creative person to make sure that it hit on target.
"Obviously going forward, now that we have a magazine, it's going to make it easier, and we're testing integrating some of the design and look of the magazine to see how that works."
Give Them a Taste
When faced with offer after offer, consumers want to know just what it is they can expect from the product or service being pushed on them in the mail. It's even more important to give a preview when your product is brand-new. That's what AFAR magazine did with its "Find yourself in AFAR" insert in its initial direct mail campaign, which relays five individuals' experiential travel stories. "These are ... based on actual stories from somebody in their travel experiences," shares Laura Simkins, audience marketing and planning director for AFAR Media. "A couple of them appear in the magazine."