Why The Mail got it wrong on ‘Junk’

A year is not a year without the spread of moral panic over the rise of “junk mail”. Last year we had the Panoroma investigation into shady industry practices and this, a Daily Mail headline warning the public to expect an “avalanche of junk mail” in the coming years.

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The cause of the rather apocalyptic prediction? Royal Mail’s annual results, which revealed advertising mail – both addressed and unaddressed – accounted for almost half of UK letter deliveries made by Royal Mail. But what really triggered the Mail’s ire was chief executive Moya Greene assertion that it would look to grow its share of the market by increasing the volume of mail sent.

Not that the famously spiky Greene needs assistance but there is a need to right a few wrongs in the reporting of what was a perfectly reasonable intention.

Firstly, this does not necessarily mean an “avalanche of junk”. It could just mean the same volume but a greater share stolen from competitors such as TNT Post.

Secondly, Royal Mail is doing what it can to focus efforts on improving what has been a perilous financial state of late. It was not so long ago that it seemed to staring down the barrel by racking up large losses. Re-aligning a business to focus on potential growth areas (advertising mail) and away from those in terminal decline (letters) makes good business sense especially ahead of the anticipated part or full privatisation.

Brands would not choose to use Royal Mail’s advertising mail services, or indeed advertising mail at all, if it didn’t work for them. The mail operator is therefore meeting a demand, not creating one.

Thirdly, when launching Market Reach – “a one-stop shop for firms that want to use junk mail”, as The Mail put it – earlier this year Royal Mail set itself a rather lofty ambition to grow its share of the advertising market. To achieve this would, of course, lead to more direct mail being produced at the expense of other channels.

However, the only way Royal Mail can convince enough brands to turn to the channel is to demonstrate it offers creative, integrated and most importantly data-driven targeting. The only way DM is going to succeed is if it consistently gets in the hands of people who are warm to the overture and the creative execution. Market Reach is not about finding surreptitious ways to carpet bomb, it is about improving targeting and perception in the hope of ridding the channel of its “junk” tag.

Direct mail and mailers still have a long way to go to convince the majority that they are not a national ill. There are still huge issues to address in targeting and use of data and much improvement to be made to ensure the effectiveness of opt-out services such as the Mail Preference Services and the yet to launch Door Drop Preference Service. Environmentally, the industry, led by the Direct Marketing Association, needs to keep its side of the responsibility deal on reducing waste, signed a year ago.

The important thing to note, however, is that efforts are being made. It’s about time that this is recognised by those forever seeking to demonise the industry.

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