Friday, December 18, 2009

Marketers: Take Environmental Responsibility

By Jennifer Spitzer

This morning I listened as President Obama addressed the world about the responsibility we have to each other and our planet to do a better job protecting our environment. Building up to the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, I was appalled by statements from politicians here at home who suggest climate change isn’t a critical issue, and I breathe a sigh of relief knowing the current administration is committed to working with nations around the world to protect the environment.

Corporations, industries and individuals need to take responsibility too. As direct marketers, we have an opportunity to make a significant impact. A few years ago, none of the printers in my vendor mix were FSC Certified. Today I find that printers are taking the initiative on their own, rather than as a client requirement, to join the Forest Stewardship Council.

Paper mills and printers aren’t the only ones who can make a difference. Agencies responsible for developing and managing those print materials in the form of direct mail marketing can also take steps to protect our natural resources.

The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) has a volunteer program called the “Green 15 Marketer Pledge”. The program asks marketing organizations to pledge that they are taking certain steps throughout the direct marketing process to improve their environmental footprint. While some suggestions on the list could be somewhat difficult for a small business to adhere to, there are others I consider “no-brainers” for anyone in our industry.

1. Maintain a Do-Not-Mail file for prospects and customers who do not want direct mail – and actually use it as part of standardized data processing procedures. There’s no sense in mailing to consumers who don’t want the extra paper in their mailbox.

2. Maintain a clean mailing list. While this may seem like such a simple thing, you would be surprised by how many businesses out there are mailing to addresses that have NO chance of being delivered. I once reviewed a client’s mail file and actually found an address field that read “brick house behind the gas station”. Running that through any address standardization software will bump that record off the list. Unfortunately, not everyone processes their mail file properly and guess what… the postal carrier probably doesn’t know which gas station you’re talking about.

3. You can reduce your waste by reducing print order overruns. Talk to your printers and mailshops about making changes that minimize setups and only print what you REALLY need.

There’s more to the pledge than data hygiene. As I read through the list to formalize my company’s commitment, I’m pleased to find that we’re already doing our part in many ways. But, I also see suggestions on the Green 15 I never considered. Starting today we will do even more. No matter what industry you’re in, I hope you will make a voluntary pledge to make a difference too.

*To check out the DMA’s Green 15 Marketer Pledge, go to

**To find out more about the great work of the Forest Stewardship Council, go to

Friday, December 11, 2009

No Surprise to See USPS Starting FY in the Red

By Jennifer Spitzer

Fall is typically a busy time of year for mail delivery, yet mail volume for October seems to support a grim projection for 2010. According to a report today from the Direct Marketing Association, total volume for October was down 17.3% compared to the same period last year and the net operating loss for the month was $221 million. The two primary categories that account for 90% of mail volume, Standard Class and First Class, were both down as well - 11.5% and 22.2% respectively.

Last month the USPS filed its 2009 year-end financial results. Despite $10 billion in cost savings efforts which included a $4 billion reduction in required payments for retiree health benefits, the USPS still posted a net loss of $3.8 billion for the year. I find it interesting that the reduction of retiree benefits was passed into law in fiscal 2009 to “allow the USPS to maintain fiscal solvency while continuing to provide affordable service”. If this is solvency, I’d hate to see what it would look like if they really took a hit.

Unfortunately for the USPS and the direct marketing industry, attempts to fix the financial problems are making matters worse. Current economic conditions have forced advertisers to work within very tight budgets. When you add back-to-back increases in postage rates over the last two years, what ends up happening is a reduction in what big mailers are able (or willing) to spend, driving overall mail volume and USPS revenue down even more.

Postmaster General John Potter said the USPS will not raise prices on Standard Class or First Class mail in the coming year. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the Postal Service is going into their new fiscal year already expecting a $7.8 billion net loss. And what’s worse is that the Postal Service will face the same financial woes year after year.

As direct mail marketers, we depend on the USPS to provide an affordable way to reach customers and prospects. We need good delivery service to help maintain good response rates. Afterall, direct mail still holds bragging rights for one of the best performing marketing tools available. Without immediate reform, there’s no financial light at the end of the tunnel for the Postal Service and marketers are going to suffer along with them.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Only 31.2% of Black Friday Shoppers Are REALLY Crazy

By Jennifer Spitzer

An article published earlier today by The New York Times reported that, according to the National Retail Federation, 31.2 percent of Black Friday shoppers were waiting in the parking lots of their favorite stores before 5 a.m.

I'm one of those crazy consumers.

I don't know what it is that compels me to get out of bed hours before the sun comes up after eating and drinking way too much the night before. I certainly do not need a $20 microwave and I would still buy my dad that Blu Ray DVD player for Christmas, even if I had to pay a few dollars more because I chose to sleep in. My family thinks I'm nuts, but the truth of the matter is that I get just as excited about Black Friday as I do Thanksgiving itself. Within my family, I am alone in this sentiment but I'm sure 31.2 percent of you can appreciate my experience.

In preparation for my shopping event, I traditionally take my father-in-law's Thanksgiving Day newspaper and strip it of all the ads. By the time I'm done, my stack of ads is about two inches high compared to the actual newspaper which would now be flat on the table. My in-laws have been retired for several years now and as a result, cancelled their newspaper subscription. I make my brother-in-law drive me around to find a store open on Thanksgiving Day so I can start my Plan of Retail Attack.

After perusing what my favorite retailers have to offer, I decide to start my Black Friday at Target. After all, who can pass up a $17 razor scooter? I'm buying two! I go to bed that night with my clothes laid out so I can get dressed in the dark without waking anyone, but I can't sleep because I'm too excited. I'm dozing in-and-out throughout the night and finally I see the clock hit 4 a.m. That's good enough for me. Target doesn't open its doors until 5 a.m., and they're only five minutes up the road, but hey - I can stop and get breakfast at Cracker Barrel or Starbucks before I shop.

I pull into the parking lot of Cracker Barrel with thoughts of hot coffee, biscuits and eggs on my mind. Closed. Surely, Starbucks is open. And, there happens to be one right across the street from Target. Closed. Now it's about 4:15 a.m. and I'm without coffee on the biggest shopping day of the year so I decide I'm just going to pull into the parking lot and wait for Target to open their doors. I get there and I can't believe my eyes... the lot is full of cars and the line of people trails the full length of the shopping center. Normally it would not shock me to see a line like this 45 minutes before the doors open but I honestly expected fewer people - not because of our economic recession, but because of the freakin' weather! I think to myself, "look at all these crazy people out here... it's dark, it's drizzling and if it were just a few degrees colder it would be snowing!".

I park my car and walk up to the entrance to get a better look at how long this line really is. I can't help but notice the two people at the front of the line. They're sitting in chairs with their blankets, umbrellas and coolers. "Wow, I bet those two have been here all night. Now that's really crazy". Apparently I'm not as hard core as I thought... I cannot stand in this line for 45 minutes. It's just too cold. There's only one thing to do: wait in the car until the doors open and then rush in as fast as I can with the rest of the crowd.

Black Friday has the potential to cause major mayhem. If you recall, last year someone was trampled at a Wal-Mart. I think most retailers were much more careful this year. Target certainly did a good job herding shoppers into the store and the other retailers I visited, like Victoria's Secret and Old Navy, had good bargains and organized checkout. A woman I met while shopping (who, by the way, had already been shopping for six hours because the Toys R' Us opened at midnight... now that's really crazy), described an incident that made me cringe. According to her, the local Toys R' Us wasn't prepared for such a large crowd. They let everyone through the doors at midnight and it turned out to be too many. She said the fire marshall and police had to come to remove people from the store and by the time they did, four children were already lost.

All-in-all, it was a successful Black Friday for me. I found every item on my list and I didn't have to push anyone down in the process. And, best of all - I found a great deal on a new microwave for my sister - 20 bucks! Next year I'll do better... there's a 24 hour GoMart just up the road and they serve some very strong coffee.