You’ve Got Mail: Effective Direct Mail Campaigns

BY Barbara Atkinson



One of the most effective ways to get your name and information about your expertise directly into the right hands – current and potential clients -- is by mailing them marketing pieces. Yes, there still is a place for actual, ink-and-paper marketing, sent by direct mail. With direct mail, you can completely control the messaging, and get the exact material you want your audience to see by placing it right in their mailbox.

The term "direct mail" encompasses everything from newsletters to client alerts, white papers, personalized letters, postcards, and any other marketing pieces which allow you to educate your reader and develop or further a relationship with both firm clients and prospective clients.

While there are many ways you can approach a direct mail campaign for your firm, from outsourcing the entire project to doing as much as possible yourself (or at least in-house), the main components stay the same: a mailing list, solid content or copy, collateral graphic design (brochures, inserts, postcards, etc), the production of the pieces, running the mail merge and personalization, overseeing the postal distribution, and running post-campaign analysis.

Mailing List. The typical list to use for a direct mail campaign is one compiled of clients and prospective clients; a high-quality list is critical to the success of your campaign. Things that can doom your efforts include misspellings, duplicated records, missing zip codes, and out-of-date addresses. You can have the most compellingly crafted copy on the most eye-catching brochure, but if it does not reach your intended audience, your terrific messaging is simply a brightly-colored waste of your time and your money. Take time to have your list checked or have a solid list generated by an outside research marketing firm, if needed. You may need to send out a small preliminary campaign to test your list; the return on investment (ROI) will typically improve as you hone in on your audience and continue to define your focus.

Copywriting. Direct mail content tends to be most compelling when the copy is direct, helpful and includes calls to action. Interpersonal headlines which will help solve a problem or meet a need, such as "Have You Been Injured?" and "Planning for Retirement?" tend to work better than dry statistics. Make sure you include your website URL, all of your contact information, and testimonials or other material which helps the reader get a sense of your expertise. As always, keep in mind that state bar regulations about what you can and cannot say vary depending on your location; check to make sure your messaging is compliant. Also take time to educate yourself and your writer about the right content buzzwords and the potential buzzword pitfalls.

Collateral. Ideally, the initial design and the copy length dictate the existence of each other; do not decide you need a trifold brochure and then have to instruct your copywriter to fill all that white space, or only plan on a postcard and cram every inch with copy in an almost invisible font. Your collateral needs to be eye-catching enough that it is not immediately tossed in the trash, but not so garish that it raises eyebrows. And size will matter, especially to your wallet: a multi-page pamphlet will cost you multiple times the amount of a two-sided letter, plus postage.

If overseeing the project yourself, you will want to get paper samples from the printer to check quality and weight; if you are outsourcing it to a marketing firm or an independent graphics professional, ask them to supply you with samples. How a mailer looks on the designer's computer screen tells you little about what your client will actually receive. Can the paper handle being run through postage machines? What happens if the pieces are delivered in the rain? Will a little damp air make the binding buckle, or the ink smudge or run? The piece must get to the names on your list as pristine as possible – what will that take?

Mail Merge and Personalization. Pieces can be addressed as simply as having an intern with a box of labels and a printer affixing them to envelopes, to a system which prints names and addresses on the front, and personalizes the inside salutation.

Postal distribution. For a smaller run, one you handle yourself, deciding on postage is as easy as taking a sample down to the post office and having them weigh it. If it is a larger run, one managed by a direct mail company, they will manage the postage and roll it into the overall price. Keep in mind that postage is a fixed cost, while printing is a variable cost. You can't cut back on postage, but you can downsize your project (the size, the paper weight, the number of inks you use, etc), if your budget demands it.

Post-Campaign Analysis. There are multiple ways to track how well your campaign does, from directing your audience to your website and asking them to enter the code you included on your mailer, to simply asking new clients how they heard of you.

To be successful, a direct mail campaign must focus on the audience, the service offered, and the package in which it travels. Experts tend to agree that roughly 40 percent of a campaign's effectiveness comes from a solid mailing list, 40 percent by the service offered, and 20 percent from the creative package. Those numbers can shift somewhat from campaign to campaign and from client to client, but overall, the right list, the right approach and an appealing design all work together.

Direct mail marketing can be highly lucrative for practice-area specific campaigns, especially areas such as criminal law or workers compensation, where access to public records allows a deeper development of your mailing list. Your target clients will undoubtedly receive a high volume of direct mail letters and brochures – your focus should be on how you can stand out with quality materials, solid design, and messaging which speaks directly to your reader.

Barbara Atkinson

Barbara Atkinson is a former Bigger Law Magazine staff contributor and editorial board member.


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