If You Ask Me: A Little Input Goes a Long Way
In my September 2003 column, "Mining for Direct Mail Gold," I discussed the information I like to get from my clients before I start to write a direct mail package for a consumer magazine: media kit, press clippings, research, reader letters, past issues of the publication, previous mailing pieces and access to the Web site. What I didn't mention was the all-important input session.
In an input session, which either can take place face-to-face or via a conference call, all the significant parties are made available to the copywriter and designer. For a magazine assignment, that list includes the editor, art director, circulation director, circulation manager, any other circulation staff members involved in the project, and the consultant (if there is one).
The purpose of the input session is to allow the magazine team, especially the editor, to share its "vision" of what the magazine is about and to give the creative team the chance to ask questions to learn what the magazine purports to do for people.
Input sessions are useful for the success of any direct mail project, but they are "a must" for a new magazine launch. There is simply no substitute for listeningas I haveto magazine leaders, such as Tina Brown (Talk), Kurt Andersen (Inside), Steven Brill (Brill's Content), Francis Lear (Lear's), Jann Wenner (Men's Journal), or Alan Webber and Bill Taylor (Fast Company), talk about their new babies. Their enthusiasm is infectious; their vision, inspiring. And you truly come to know each magazine as more than just an idea; it becomes a living, breathing entity with a soul. I have walked out of those meetings so juiced that I was ready to write the whole package right then and there.
But I want to let you in on a secret: These input sessions are only as good as you make them. That's right, you. Because even though the editor may do most of the talking, it's your job to make sure he or she talks about the right things. You have to guide the discussion. You have to get what you need to do the job you were hired to do: Sell the magazine!
Here's what you want to come away with when the meeting is over:
Now, young copywriter, go forth into battle, knowing you are sufficiently prepared to enter the all-important input session with confidenceand that you will leave with the makings of a dynamite package. Think of input sessions as the final rung of the ladder you need to climb to get to all the "big ideas" floating overhead. Just watch your step.
Ken Schneider is an award-winning direct mail writer/designer specializing in magazine, book and newsletter promotions. With more than 35 circulation direct marketing awards, he has been honored more than any other individual or direct mail organization. Ken splits his time between Houston, Texas, and Aspen, Colo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.