The Economist Finds Success with a Magalog
Rare is the word that comes to mind when you hear that a client retains both the original copywriter and designer of a control effort to not only perform every tweaksave cover imagesbut to develop all the new test creative that tries to beat the control.
But that's exactly what The Economist, a weekly magazine that serves up international and business news with a global view, has done. For the past five years, copywriter Lori Fletcher and designer Jo Fox have updated, revised and tested against their own magalogwhich was produced in two weeks flat, as Fletcher recalls.
Up until 1996, The Economist mailed an envelope control that was written by freelancer Ken Scheck. Originally created as a 6" x 9", its distinctive style was knocked off by so many others, says Hilde Sprung, promotion manager at The Economist, that it became necessary to switch to a more upscale #9 envelope package.
This blockbuster control reigned for 15 years, until Sprung approached Fletcher and Fox about creating a magalog. The result is an 81/2" x 11", four-color magalog that was half control in September 1996, and the full control by December 1996.
Covers that Speak Volumes
In the previous control, prospects weren't seeing any visuals of the magazine, says Fletcher. Also, the magazine featured four-color images on the front cover only, up until its redesign this past May. Fletcher and Fox felt The Economist's dramatic covers were one of its selling points, so they capitalized on this strength by making them an integral part of the magalog creative.
For example, the front cover of the magalog has been updated over the years to keep the look fresh, but its image is always one that gives prospects a hint at the clever artistic direction found in The Economist. Previous covers have featured an illustration of the earth encircled by a string of Economist magazines, and a cartoon of two men on a city park bench, where the man holding a copy of The Economist is surrounded by birds reading over his shoulder. Fletcher reports that many of the cartoons are created by a freelancer who signs his work, "Kal."
While Fletcher and Fox want the magalog to look like a magazine so prospects open it, they don't want recipients to expect that there will be editorial content inside. So the "cover blurbs" are really a brief run-down of the offer details.
The inside front cover features a billboard of 20 Economist covers, separated by strips of adjectives, like "curious," "irreverent" and "riveting." Directly opposite is the first page of the letter, which is exactly where Fletcher wants prospects to begin learning about the magazine.
In the most recent efforts, the inside back cover is devoted to promoting the benefits of the Web site, which offers exclusive content just for subscribers. But Fletcher doesn't want to emphasize the Web site throughout the magalog, in the event that it drives people away from the mailing in their hands.
The back cover simply resells the editorial and offer, says Fletcher, but without using the same bullet points. It depicts the premium, another magazine cover and some promo copy on why prospects should subscribe.
The Letter Sizzles
"Our approach to magalogs is a little different," Fletcher explains of her and Fox's choice to sell the sizzle rather than send the steak in the form of sample articles. "My feeling is that if you pick the wrong article, then you turn off part of the target audience.'
And since The Economist doesn't take bylines, she points out, the emphasis is more on who reads the magazine, than who writes for it.
To explain the magazine's content, Fletcher devotes most of the second page of the letter to outline the topics covered, along with examples of recent coverage. These examples get updated with each new mail drop, which only requires a simple black plate change.
While Scheck's control featured copy that was heavy on what Denny Hatch called "snob appeal" in his book, "Million Dollar Mailing$," Fletcher's letter is "snob lite." Her copy might come across as flattery, but it's meant to be positivewhile at the same time not overselling the magazine to all people. Fletcher says her goal was to explain The Economist accurately, so that prospects would know if the magazine is right for them.
The Supporting Cast
Every direct mail effort needs a blend of both emotional and rational sales information. The center spread and page opposite the order card serve as a sort of brochure and lift piece for this magalog.
To showcase even more of the magazine, Fletcher and Fox fill the center spread with sample pages of the various departments and features, studded with captions. While the layout stays the same, this is another section that gets updated.
The page opposite the order card is an interesting blend of offer promotion and implied endorsement. The headline at the top reads, "Look who's receiving The Economist...," and is followed by the photos of four prominent subscribers. A recent magalog featured U.S. President George Bush and Playboy Enterprises CEO & Chairman Christie Hefner.
Fletcher explains that the name-dropping helps underscore the point made in the letter about The Economist being read by "heads of corporation and heads of state"a statement which she thinks can "float by" prospects.
Also shown on the page is a few more magazine covers surrounded by promo copy that emphasizes the no-risk offer of four comp issues.
A No-Nonsense Order Card
The reply mechanism is a Business Reply Card (BRC) that gets perforated off the surrounding 81/2" x 11" card stock panel. The offer copy is succinct.
To make use of the area around the BRC and add further credibility to the letter's claims, Fletcher and Fox share reviews from well-known news publications like The Wall Street Journal, Time and Newsweek.
On the back of the order form panel, there is enough space to sell the premium, a guide to world statistics on population, trade, crime and other topics. The premium is contingent on payment.
Secrets of Success
It's not that the magalog control has never been beat, because it has. Fletcher and Fox beat their own control with a 9" x 12" envelope package that featured brand-new creative.
But, the magalog control always wins on the back-end by bringing in better pay-up, say Fletcher. Another reason for its longevity is the format's adaptability to alternate media channels. The magalog gets inserted into Sunday newspapers, displayed in free periodicals kiosks in airports, etc.
"For an unbelievably overexposed mailing, it has held up quite well," Fletcher notes.
She adds that the great thing about this format is that they can always find ways to give the control new life, like the recent addition of a Fast 50 contest for a Palm Pilota give-away which fits the audience of affluent, educated men in their mid- to late forties quite well.
And, for some "insane" reason, she says, blind outers also work well as camouflage to prolong the life of the control. The Economist has mailed the magalog both in an envelope and with a plain outer wrap.
But the parade of quick fixes might come to an end. Four new test packages that were created by four different creative teams dropped in April. Do any of them have what it takes to beat this magalog with legs?