Rantings of a Direct Mail Copywriter
Several columns ago, I climbed up onto my soapbox to decry the use of vouchersor "benefits" packages as some have chosen to call them. I said I felt they were deceiving, unethical, and a sign of desperation in our industry for cheap response numbers. I said they were ruining the industry. And I hypothesized that the reason mailers were selling their souls to these sleazy things was because of the media-hyped accusation that "conventional direct mail doesn't work anymore."
Well, brace yourself. I've just driven a big, sharp wooden stake into the heart of the accursed voucher! I've beaten a voucher control package withdrum roll, pleasea 9" x 12" poly! The response numbers were large enough to justify the higher cost of producing the 9" x 12" poly. Imagine that.
So toss your hats in the air! Break out the noisemakers! Pop the champagne! Real direct mail is back!
"So what?" you say. "What's your point?"
Soapbox Item No. 1Real, honest-to-goodness direct mail created by real, honest-to-goodness direct mail writers and designers can still generate the results we're all looking for. We don't have to resort to duping consumers into thinking they've already responded and are now merely being asked to pay their billas I contend is the modus operandi of vouchers.
The key is placing the fate of your direct mail campaigns in the hands of writer/designer teams who know what they're doing and have verifiable track records of successand telling the charlatans to sniff up somebody else's tree.
So tonight, when you're getting ready for bed, and you look at yourself in the mirror, repeat these words out loud: "I will quit my addiction to vouchers. I win when I wean!"
Before I step down from my soapbox, I've got a few more issues I'd like to get into this month.
Soapbox Item No. 2Returning phone calls and replying to e-mails, i.e. lack thereof. We veteran writers and designers learned long ago that to some clients, we rank right up there with the guy who comes to fix the copy machine in terms of respect for what we do.
So it should come as no surprise to us when we give you a call and leave a voice mail, or send you an e-mail, we seldom get a reply back. But it still stinks. And it's pretty unprofessional. Not respecting us for what we can do for you, your career, and your company's business is one thing. Ignoring us is quite another.
Did you know your company can't survive without us (unless, of course, you're addicted to vouchers)? Did you know YOU can't either? You need us. We need you. Please keep in mind we're professionals who perform a valuable service. We expectand most of us deserverespect for what we do, and for what we've done over the years. So please return our phone calls. Reply to our e-mails. Even if you want to tell us to go away. At least you've acknowledged our existence. That in itself would be a big improvement.
Here's another thing. Creative peoplethe good oneshave egos. Some bigger than others. But egos just the same. Egos that like to be stroked. (But not coddled.)
We like to know when you like our work. We like to know when our packages do well. We like to know we've done a good job. We like to know there may be more work coming down the line. It makes us happy. It makes the hard work, lonely late nights and hours spent staring at walls and blank computer screens all worthwhile.
It revs our engines, recharges our batteries and rekindles our creative fires. It makes us better. And that means good things for you.
So every once in a while, send a little applause our way. A tip of the hat. A kudo. A big thumbs up. My golden retrievers like it. My wife likes it. My kids love it. And I need it.
Soapbox Item No. 3Returning samples. We writers and designers live and die with our samples. And I, for one, am generous to a fault with themsending them all over the country to people I don't know, but trust to return these valuable examples of our genius.
Most people are good about returning samples. But I've lost so many over the years. Please! Always make an effort to return writers' and designers' samples. Even if you don't discover you have them until years later while you're cleaning out your office. We can always use them. And some are irreplaceable.
Soapbox Item No. 4Kill fees. Discuss your kill fee policy with your creative team before the job gets under way, and make sure everyone understands. Kill fees protect you from having to pay a full fee for shoddy or unacceptable work. At least they're supposed to.
I had an experience recently with a major publisher that had a convoluted interpretation of a kill fee which none of the three creative teams were aware of until it was too late.
The publisher defined the "kill" in kill fee to mean the postponing or eliminating of the mail date. Huh? So even though all three teams submitted great work which was accepted, approved and taken to final disks, none of us were paid our full fees because the publisher put the mail date on hold. Rather than being paid 100 percent of our fees, we were told we'd get only 50 percent. The rest would be paid when and if the packages actually mailed! What? After we stormed the building in midtown Manhattan with torches and pitchforks in hand, the company reluctantly agreed to cough up 75 percent of our fees. But we were still shortchanged several thousand dollars each.
So the lesson is, make sure everybody understands what your kill fee policy is and how it works. In this economy, every dollar counts, and getting ambushed at the tail end of a project wreaks havoc with a freelancer's cash flow.
Soapbox Item No. 5One last rant: Don't ever, EVER change a writer's copy or a designer's typeface, color or photo selection without discussing it with the writer or designer first.
Nothing makes us boil faster or hotter than seeing printed samples of "our" packages that have been futzed with by the in-house gang who couldn't shoot straight. You'd be amazed at how often it happens.
It's the same as paying good money for an architect's plans and then deciding to move a doorway on your own at the last minute when the builder shows up. Look out for that load-bearing wall!
Talk to us first. We won't bite. Well, most of us won't!
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, TX, and Aspen, CO. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.