Why are we always under pressure to defend our industry?

Andrew Smith, planning director at Publicis Dialog, argues the case for direct mail in light of recent reports bemoaning wasteful Government spending on “junk mail”.

Andrew Smith
Andrew Smith

It’s an easy target, especially printed mail, simply because it can be labelled ’junk’ when in actual fact the vast majority is received with open arms. A lack of understanding is the root cause of the problem, so continually challenging misconceptions is a vital role in supporting ourselves and our beliefs.

Indeed, there are far greater waste producers; just look at the food industry which contributes 20m tonnes of CO2 equivalent per annum in waste, but that’s a story for another day.

If it’s figures that’ll make you feel comfortable take heart; direct mail only contributes 2% of all household waste in the UK and our industry commitment to DEFRA to recycle 70% of all direct marketing material by 2013 is on target.

But that’s only part of the story. Comments made in a recent Sun story by Francis Maude MP seem to accuse the Government of hypocrisy – having asked companies to reduce spending on DM, they then went on to spend £100m on what he refers to as ’junk mail’ themselves.

Financial figures always get everyone going so spending £100m where there are no visible outputs will always be an easy headline grabber. But that’s the exact point; it’s not £100m on direct mail alone. Maude needs to consider the wider picture.

Whilst I don’t often find myself actively supporting our dear friends in Government, on this occasion they’ve clearly got it right, understanding that spending a small amount up front pays dividends and saves in the longer term both financially and in terms of physical waste. In essence, cutting back is exactly what the Government plans to do; their £100m involves sophisticated data mining and segmentation to increase targeting capabilities. And the industry is clearly getting better as the DMA code of conduct promoting better targeting means the quantity of direct mail is 88% lower than 3 years ago.

Naturally I’m all for the reduction of junk mail and I’m sure many practitioners across the industry would agree. We come to work to drive response, not pump out wasted communication.

The value of all forms of direct communication is its timely arrival, relevance, and ability to be saved for future reference. Whilst we should all be given the opportunity of opting out there’s plenty of people who value direct contact and that’s why the current MPS needs reforming so opt outs can be tailored. A real life example from last year was the challenge from Zurich to generate revenue from customers who had opted out of marketing communications. The mailing inspired 3.5% of customers to opt back in.

Our research uncovered that not only had opting out become a default decision for people wanting to avoid junk mail but that conversely individuals hated thinking they’d miss out on a great deal. Our idea was not to talk to people to make them realise that they were in fact missing out. We changed the conversation by sending a blank letter which dramatised the fact that despite having lots to say, we could do nothing unless they opted back in.

Should Francis Maude like to understand a little more I’d be delighted to have a chat and should he need an ambassador to champion effective, measurable, direct marketing he need look no further. And no doubt I’d take the opportunity to mention that the DM industry accounts for 9% of total UK spending and contributes £43bn to the UK economy.

Sources: Future foundation, Confederation of Paper Industries, Royal Mail, WRAP.

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