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 Working Lunch Thursday, 17 October, 2002, 12:04 GMT 13:04 UK
Mountains of mail
The DM Show is a big event for the direct mail industry
If you've ever thrown much of the morning mail into the bin unopened, you'll probably know all you want to about direct marketing.

One survey claimed half of the junk mail put through our doors never comes out of the envelope.

But don't use the J-word at the DM Show at Earl's Court in London, a showcase event for the industry.

It's fought a long battle to persuade consumers of its value and is repositioning itself through better targeting and the use of digital media.

But even if the junk mail tag is gradually being shrugged off, legitimate companies now find themselves tarred with the spam e-mail brush.


However, all is not gloomy.

While companies are spending less on TV and newspaper advertising, direct marketing has been booming. UK industry figures show a jump of nearly 10% in the second quarter of this year.

Angela Walledge of the Walledge Agency
Angela Walledge: "Every penny has to work"
That's partly because it can be easier to track direct marketing, says Angela Walledge, who runs her own agency.

"With budgets becoming scarcer, every penny has to work, and if it doesn't work you have to know why," she explains.

Every year the Royal Mail handles five billion direct mail items. That's doubled in the past decade and that is expected to grow further as competition in the postal sector drives prices down.

The industry says we each spend more than 500 a year in response to direct mail - that's a total of 25bn in sales.


But legislation has gradually given consumers more ways of opting out of mailing lists.

Last Post
If you want to stop receiving direct mail through your letterbox, you can:
Phone the Mailing Preference Service on 0845 307 7707
Go to its website at
You can tick boxes on forms so you don't get unwanted correspondence or contact the Mailing Preference Service to have your name taken off mailing lists.

And later this year the first edited electoral roll will be published, without the names of those who have asked to be omitted.

"At the end of the day people giving their permission for companies to market to them is the key," believes Nigel Codman of Equifax, "and marketers have got to work within that."

Jo Howard-Brown of consultants HBH Partnership agrees. "It all hinges on good data and good use of data," she says.

A delegate browses some material

Consumers can now be targeted by anything from income and driving habits to postcode and nationality.

That means companies are able to pinpoint the consumers they want, and should also mean less unwanted mail falling through letterboxes.


However, the growth of marketing by e-mail and text message - known as spamming - has brought fears that they will soon rival junk mail.

"It's now part of the marketing mix but some people are doing it better than others," says Nick McConnell of e-mail specialist Digital Impact. "The dialogues our clients establish are with people who want to hear from them."

The E-mail Marketing Association has been set up to bring best practice into digital marketing.

But there are clearly still many operating outside its parameters - one-third of the 300m e-mails sent in the UK each day are reckoned to be spam.

When you can buy a million e-mail addresses cheaply, it might only need a 0.01% response to make money. Cowboys won't worry that they've annoyed every other receipient.

Digital media is an important part of the DM Show
European legislation came into effect in August which is intended to tighten up on companies.

They must check that they are not e-mailing people who have registered with preference lists and all e-mails must clearly state that they are adverts.

Another problem is that spammers often don't provide a return address - that should also change.


It will be some time before the effectiveness of these measures can be judged. Meanwhile the computer industry is already taking its own steps with software that filters e-mails.

It all hinges on good data and good use of data

Jo Howard-Brown
HBH Partnership
Direct marketers are keen to distance themselves from the spam merchants. While for some businesses - such as those in IT - e-mails are an ideal marketing tool, in general digital media makes up only 5% of the industry.

"Digital media opportunities are actually supporting traditional media. You can get to someone quickly and easily but often you will need to mail material out to them," says Angela Walledge.

"But it's given us more opportunities. We can always weave it somewhere into the mix of things we do."

"The industry has changed dramatically in the 15 years I've been in it, partly because of legislation, but we are a very professional sector," adds Jo Howard-Brown.


Indeed it is, with its talk of customer relationship management and media-neutral planning. Yet the at heart the business is about putting things through letterboxes - 2.2bn every year and growing.

Mail International packages up magazines and leaflets and posts them. Business is up 10%.

"We're a mailing house that just deals with paper and polythene and we expect business to grow at the same rate next year," says the company's Peter Sharp.

Digital media is a new addition to the marketer's toolbox, but it won't stop our letterboxes bulging with mailshots just yet.

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05 Aug 02 | dot life
28 Feb 02 | Consumer
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