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Designing the ideal renewal series--or anatomy of The New Yorker's.

In a recent issue (NL/NL 9/17/04) Publisher Paul Swift had praise for the renewal series from The New Yorker. He especially liked the straightforward one-two-three nature of the copy in a late effort.

As a confirmed procrastinator who didn't get around to sending a check until after-expire, I saw the entire New Yorker series and found a lot to like but also a few things to carp about.

1. (plus) Early in the series the first two efforts were clearly labeled RENEWAL NOTICE. These efforts came three and four months in advance of expire and since, at that early point, you're looking for checks from the converted, there's no harm in alerting them to what is inside.

2. (?) The standard rate mailing carried a live stamp, affixed slightly akimbo. This was probably done by machine. I've always considered the idea that response increases with tilted stamps on the outer envelope to be a direct marketing urban legend, but perhaps somewhere there are test results from some huge mailer like Publishers Clearinghouse that confirm this.

3. (plus) Several of the letters in the series are headed with a cartoon. "Sure," you may be thinking, "It's The New Yorker." But some experts content that renewal mailings are the one place in direct mail where humor can be effective.

As it happens, an entire archive of New Yorker cartoons is available from www.cartoonbank.com, if you are interested in them for your own use. But while you can license one for use in a "presentation" for $19.95, and use one in your newsletter (circ. under 25,000) for $125, it takes more persistence than I had to learn what they might charge to use one in a renewal mailing.

4. (minus) Every piece came in the same #7.75 window envelopes. To avoid the "Oh, another dun from The New Yorker" reaction, I might have put at least one in a closed face #10.

5. (minus) Should your renewal sales copy be "real-time?" The New Yorker has been "hot" this year, especially with Seymour Hirsch's series on the prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq. Feature this in your renewal copy? I'd say no. People who liked the investigative journalism (or the first-ever endorsement in a Presidential race) will renew.

Any reader who might have been turned off by these articles doesn't need to be reminded of this in the renewal letter.

6. (minus) In renewal-copy theory, each piece in the series should stand alone. Don't refer to past efforts (reinforcing a tentative decision not to renew) or coming pieces ("Not something I need to act on today"), but The New Yorker copy includes: "... we've had no response to our previous notice that your subscription is coming to an end." I wouldn't have written that.

7. (minus) The offer is straightforward throughout the series, one-year full-price, paid orders only. There is however, a discount offer for the second year in a two-year deal. It should have been played up more.

Just looking at the prices--$49 for one year, $79 for two,--I didn't really notice that this was a very attractive offer: $20 or 40 percent off on the second year. If you make an offer of that type, be sure the subscriber notices it.

8. (minus) Almost immediately after the "final piece" in the series, I received a gift sub mailing. And the price for the first gift (or your own) WAS ONLY $39.95--$10 reward for dithering.

I would have dropped the subs at the end of renewal series from the gift mailing. I wouldn't want to either reward them for waiting or "muddy the water" with the idea of giving gift subs while I'm trying to get that renewal check.

9. (minus) And then a month or so after expire and just a few days after I finally sent my check, a discount offer arrived--dropping the price to $29.95(?).

Train your readers to renew early, not late. Next year I will wait to see if this discount offer arrives again.

When I last renewed, two years ago, I got a follow-up offer to extend for a second year at a discount price. I took that one.

But The New Yorker has taught me (has spoiled me) to hold out for a better offer. Don't do the same. Make your best offer first, or at least early, not last.

RELATED ARTICLE: Four quick tips to improve your renewal series

At the recent NEPA marketing conference in New Orleans, four people offered tips on how they've tweaked their renewal series to boost response.

Nancy McMeekin, Oakstone Publishing, "At expire, we use a bright red, glossy envelope stating, 'This is your last issue.'"

Kyla Westfall, Business Valuation Resources, "We went to 4-color renewal notices on earlier efforts. It's a more professional presentation which impresses subscribers."

Ed Peskowitz, UCG: "Wrap the last issue."

R.D. Whitney, Kennedy Information: "Towards the end of the series, send a hand-written fax."
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Title Annotation:DM Notebook
Author:Goss, Fred
Publication:The Newsletter on Newsletters
Date:Nov 30, 2004
Words:830
Previous Article:Leading publishers outline their strategies for new product development.
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