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December 2006 BY ERIK CAGLE
Senior Editor
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WHEN YOU think about it, the direct mail industry boasts some of the most formidable enemies and loyal friends today—just another way of saying there are “challenges and opportunities.” But it’s not tired, cliched rhetoric. It seems that the tougher life gets for the mailing community, the bigger the potential payoff.

As this edition went to press, the ‘Lame Duck’ Congressional session was winding its way down and, with the Republican party so severely beaten, the likelihood that meaningful postal reform could be hatched prior to the final whistle seemed quite remote. But for some producers of direct marketing materials, the farther away cost certainty wanders, the closer they seem to gravitate toward their customers.

Postal costs may be out of the printer’s hands, but that’s no reason to view the future of the segment sans optimism. It is those elements than can be controlled that sets one direct mail printer apart from another.

“We’ve had the most success when we begin conversations with customers very early in the process,” notes Dave Colatriano, senior vice president and general manager, direct marketing, for Vertis Communications in Baltimore. “It’s important for printers to understand their customers’ goals, audience and budgets. With this knowledge, they can work together to define solutions in the areas of formats, targets and multi-channel approaches.”

A brief look at each of the three areas:

Formats. According to Colatriano, printers must collaborate with clients to create formats that garner attention, enhance brand recognition and improve response rates. Together, they can strategize production and distribution timing to maximize postal rates.

Targets. A highly targeted and relevant message produces the highest response rates. “Marketing service providers that can support clients with consumer research, data solutions and the latest technologies will deliver more effective campaigns,” he notes. An example is the 4-State Customer Barcode technology.

Multi-Channel Approach. Colatriano points out that by combining direct mail with targeted e-mails, personalized URLs (PURLs) and other forms of communication, clients can reach their customers “when and where they’re most likely to pay attention.”

Paper Proves Costly

Colatriano noticed an uptick in volumes as 2006 progressed and believes clients were feeling the pressure to raise response rates. An increase in paper costs, he says, likely factored into a slower summer period.

It was a busy year for Vertis Communications, which purchased 10 Océ VarioStream digital printing systems for its Bristol, PA, facility. USA Direct, of York, PA, was acquired, and the company developed solutions for enhancing direct marketing campaigns, such as ¡Alcance! Hispanic tools, and the Vertis OnDemand Web portal enabling print-on-demand fulfillment of direct mail and marketing communications. The company also expanded its variable data digital color capabilities at two of its production facilities.


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