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Anthrax fears and alerts putting newsletter publishers' marketing plans in disarray.

The anthrax contamination of some post offices and media and government mailing rooms, coupled with the media-fed scare of a possible further spread of the bacteria, has newsletter marketers responding in varying degrees of panic, resolve, confusion, and ingenuity. Marketing plans are being adjusted, postponed, and even cancelled.

Probably the most extreme reaction we've heard of was one publisher's changing his DM package three times in one week, responding to each breaking news item ... a shift from the common #10 envelope to a self-mailer, then deciding that a poly-bag would look more "clean." This is an expensive and inefficient way to deal with the problem.

Cooler heads must prevail. And cooler heads are prevailing, on the part of both mailers and recipients. Lee McFadden, of Mosaic Media Inc., mirrors many newsletter publishers when he reports, "Clearly, both our b-to-b prospects and existing customers are opening their mail, and I suspect it's because it looks like advertising mail--preprinted Standard Rate indicia, commercial-sounding tease, window envelope, return address (usually with our logo, but sometimes not). We feel that making the envelope look like personal mail or sending it First Class would be a mistake right now."

Mailrooms

For some publishers, it's not a question of getting their prospects and subscribers to open their mail--it's one of even getting the mail delivered to them. Frank Joseph, publisher of the Federal Personnel Guide, says many of the government agencies he mails to are not processing incoming mail at all. Those mailrooms, he was told, "don't know when they will start receiving mail again. Decisions are being made minute by minute.... But the people we talked to seemed to be fairly positive."

Joseph's mailer, Dave Schultz, also called a few government agencies. "The person at the Education Department told Dave he believed all business mail would be processed eventually, regardless of First or Bulk Class. They will eyeball the mail more closely for suspicious looking mail. I presume that doesn't include mail like ours."

Professionally developed vs. individually posted mail

The Direct Marketing Association, working to differentiate professionally developed and processed direct mail from anonymous individual letters, stresses that marketers who use direct mail already have tight controls on the production and dissemination of mailing pieces.

The Friday Report reports, "The DMA stresses that commercial mail is carefully accounted for and often goes from production sources to delivery units, bypassing postal sorting locations. Moreover, to educate the public about the safety of direct mail, The DMA has prepared and distributed Public Service Announcements (PSAs) for radio."

DMA Antrax guidelines

You've probably come across some of this advice already, but here are the guidelines The DMA (www.the-dma.org) has issued to help reassure customers about the safety and integrity of business communications via the mail:

* Avoid using plain envelopes. Printed envelopes, especially those using color, are less likely to appear like the hand-prepared envelopes involved in the incidents so far.

* Use a clear and identifiable return address. Consider including your company logo in the address.

* Consider including a toll-free phone number and/or URL address on envelopes.

* Use an e-mail and/or telemarketing campaign in conjunction with a letter drop to notify customers that mail will be coming.

* Consider temporarily delaying business-to-business mailings because of potential logjams in receiving mailrooms.

* Contact your lettershop and other production services to stress the importance of security.

* Consider performing a security audit throughout your operation.

* Evaluate your campaign approach and consider that personalization is temporarily less likely to increase response rates.

Online marketing

Stepping into the breach left by the anthrax scare are many online service providers. One prominent in the newsletter industry posted a letter in the Newsletter & Electronic Publishers Association's marketing listserv, saying now more than ever publishers should move "in a hurry" to the internet. Although he made a good point, he was promptly taken to task for using the listserv and the crisis to advance his own commercial interests.

The internet, however, is fast becoming more important in newsletter publishers' marketing mix and publishing repertoire.

An article by Rob Williams posted on sharpermedia.com, titled "Should Marketers Abandon Direct Mail?," quotes Massachusetts based Forrester Research, market researcher and internet cheerleader":

"Having e-mail addresses for typically only 30 percent to 40 percent of their customer base, even the most sophisticated email marketers will not be able to quickly shift their direct mail efforts to e-mail....

"Now is a good time to help customers register for electronic communication," Forrester continues. "As a proactive service, marketers should send postcards that ask customers how they prefer to receive marketing communications. Then, firms must be prepared to deliver on customer expectations-ceasing all direct mail if the customer asks them to."

Concluding advice

Recounting her own and others direct marketing concerns and experimentations in light of the anthrax scare, Lauryn Franzoni, of Gilder Publishing, offered this anonymous quote to a NEPA listserv: "Live by what you trust, not by what you fear."
COPYRIGHT 2001 The Newsletter on Newsletters LLC
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:The Newsletter on Newsletters
Date:Oct 31, 2001
Words:821
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