Profile - The Utne Reader (1,651 words)
Editor's Note: This article contains information originally reported in the newsletter Who's Mailing What! and the book "Million Dollar Mailings" by Denny Hatch.
In the days of vaudeville, the great performers---Jack Benny, Eddie Cantor, Fannie Brice----were constantly traveling across the country. Each time they appeared, they would try a new bit of business----maybe a new joke, a new dance step or whatever. If the audience responded positively, it would remain as part of the act. Fifty-two weeks later, when these performers came back to perform your town, it was basically a new act, one that had been gradually changed and perfected over the last year.
Direct mail control packages could be thought of as great vaudeville performers where the material can be constantly tweaked and tested. You try a new letter; test a token on the order card; cash in on a recent news story. If a small change can improve response 5 percent here, 7 percent there, you'll have a control getting stronger, rather than weaker.
This creative process is called "adaptive"—as you adapt what you have. (The opposite kind of creative is known as "innovative"—where you create an entirely new package from scratch.)
The current Utne Reader control exemplifies the adaptive creative process. It is an updated version of the 1985 launch package by the legendary Bill Jayme and his ace designer, Heikki Ratalahti.
How powerful is this package? According to new Utne Reader circulation director Jeanne Gallaher, the Jayme package is the backbone and lifeblood of the magazine.
When the Jayme package began to lag from familiarity, some adaptive tweaks were performed to the original. Former Utne Reader circulation director Jim L' Hereaux said the envelope has been changed about eight times in the past 12 years.
The Jayme/Ratalahti original launch envelope is where the funky message explained in the lift letter first appears. On the outer envelope: Welcome to the Alternative Press Reading & Dining Salon. Your table is ready. Also adorning the envelope is the only spot of color: a bright, red circle with "FREE" in white. This package mailed for about six years. Then it started to fatigue.