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Newsletter marketing strategies come 360 degrees over 40 years.

"Everything old is new again," Anne Murray sang some years back.

It does seem to me that newsletter marketing over a period of more than 40 years is essentially coming full circle.

Basic. Straightforward. Simple.

Ed Brown of Atcom, later the first president of the newsletter association, launched his first title (from his dining room table, not kitchen, he liked to point out) in the 1950s. He sent a sample issue with a one-page letter that said, "The industry information you've always wanted is now available. Return the form below with your check for $59."

"There might have been 40 or 50 more words," he recalled, "but that was pretty much it."

Ken Callaway founded Capitol Publications, which became one of the most successful multi-title newsletter firms, in the mid '60s by paying undergrads at his old college fraternity $2 an hour to stuff promotions. That's where I came into the business in the spring of '68, inserting 10,000 4-piece packages: letter, sample issue, order form, reply envelope.

More "sophisticated" approaches

Through the '70s and early '80s newsletter marketers became more "sophisticated." Sampleissue mailings? Pah! "No single issue of a newsletter can convey all the editorial benefits of a full year's subscription as effectively as a well-crafted sales letters...."

Publishers journeyed to meetings of the Direct Marketing Association and Folio: to sit at the feet of industry legends like Dick Benson and Bill Jayme. Longtime NL/NL publisher Howard Penn Hudson held the first of several International Newsletter Conferences. The newsletter association was founded and soon brought in top names like Rene Gnam and Ed McLean (the man who first wrote, "The list upon which I found your name tells me....") to present workshops.

Carrier envelopes began to crawl with teaser copy. Sales letters got longer (and longer). Discounts deeper. Editorial premiums bigger and better, and guarantees more elaborate and air tight. Glen King Parker at Market Logic proved you could sell charter subscriptions to your newsletter for at least 20 years.

But by the mid-'80s reaction seemed to be setting in: conference participants bemoaned not just that you couldn't get into the mail for $250/M any longer, but also that "response just isn't what it used to be."

Then in the late '80s we came to a fork in the road. Consumer titles, largely investment and health letters, went their own way with ever more elaborate packages, full of bells and whistles, 12-page letters, seven premiums or even 10-all the way to the 24-page, 4-color magalog.

The forced free trial

Meanwhile, in a sense, business-to-business titles went back to the basics. Pick your best prospects and send them a series of live issues--the "forced free trial." If Sid Goldstein of Pace Publications didn't invent the technique, he certainly popularized it with his proselytizing at newsletter meetings. FFTs may cost ten times as much as a DM package, he allowed, but the results will be ten times better or more.

The FFT worked for a lot of publishers, but they did cost a fortune, so marketers looked for ways to pare costs. "Send fewer issues in the FFT but more notices" was the usual answer. Cut six free issues to five and then four.

My own theory for why FFTs worked for mature titles was that every good prospect list contained a number of names that simply weren't going to be sold by a DM package. They had to see an actual issue (or issues). The FFTs brought them in. Results began to tire when, after a while, you had those guys too.

In the mid- and late '90s I saw people again returning to what, given industry conventional wisdom, they didn't want to call "sample issue" mailings. When I worked at UCG, almost every title in the house tested the wrap format, and many other publishers did as well. It's a compiled sample issue with a 4-page letter and order form wrapped around it.

In addition to wrapped samples, Ragan Communications, among others, mailed a lot of vertical 9x12" window envelopes containing an order form and a sample. At Health Resources Publishing, Bob Jenkins had success with what he called a "one-issue trial." (It looked a lot like a sample-issue mailing to me.)

Where are we in 2001? NL/NL recently profiled Mark Eversman at Paris Notes, who is having his best-ever results from what he calls his "humble package" (NL/NL 4/30/0 1). It's a 2-page (one sheet) letter from the publisher, an order form and a courtesy envelope. My latest consulting client has been successfully mailing a "control" with the same contents.

Basic. Straightforward. Simple.

If you build it, will they come? Has the internet changed everything? Sure, everyone has a web site and everyone gets some orders through it. But that's not really a change.

Every newsletter marketer knows that inquiries, the folks who find their way to you pleading for a sample issue, are your very best prospects; people who are motivated enough to find their way to your web site are similar. They will buy.

But how much success are people having attempting to drive prospects to their web sites--with banner ads, links, targeted e-mails? I don't see that happening on a large scale, but the sales copy that captures them will have to be basic, straight-forward, simple.


Over the years I've talked to countless would-be publishers with "a great newsletter idea." To the common observation that most of them overestimate the number of prospects who will actually subscribe and underestimate the price they will pay for the newsletter, I found these two misconceptions that they had about the newsletter business:

* Marketing strategy: "We'll send a sample issue and an order form, and they'll have to order."

* Size of necessary prospect universe: "Well, there are 2,000 registered widget firms. They'll all "have to have it."'

Don't bet on it.
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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Author:Goss, Fred
Publication:The Newsletter on Newsletters
Date:Jun 15, 2001
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