Strategies for Direct Mail Success

What do commercial printers need to do to get the most out of their direct mail services? -According to Leo Raymond, the answer is pretty simple: Everything. Raymond is vice president of Postal and Member Relations for the Association of Marketing Service Providers (AMSP), the national trade association for the mailing and fulfillment services industry, so he has a bird’s eye view of the issues.

“Our association is making the argument that there is no such thing anymore as a one-trick pony who is just a printer, just a mailer, just a fulfillment company,” he says. “You have to be able to do all these things for all people.” For more than 93 years, AMSP has been working to improve the business environment for mailing and fulfillment companies and to provide opportunities for the learning and professional development of the managers of these companies.

Like the rest of the world, the direct mail industry itself is in motion. “It’s changing,” Raymond confirms. “Like everything else, the whole Internet thing is making it different. Now the challenge is how you figure out a way to make hard copy messaging relevant in an electronic world to people who are not 35 years old or older, and think the world is what they get on their smartphones. How do you do that? That’s an area where ad agencies and creative agencies can sit and talk ad infinitum about what can be done.”

Get Involved!

Telling somebody what to do to improve the benefit of what he’s producing for a client “is sort of looking at the wrong spot to fix a problem you’re not sure you’ve got,” explains Raymond, who was formerly the association’s director of Postal Affairs and served as interim president from August to November 2008.

“If you are simply a printer and all you do is print—you take something that someone has given you and put it together—then you are just in the middle of the stream. You don’t have much effect over whether what you’ve got is going to be good for the purpose the person who paid for it intended to accomplish.” Thus, he adds, the question must be narrowed down to determine to whom one is speaking “and how much control that person has.”

Success can be a matter of how involved the printer is in the overall process, Raymond maintains. “If they are simply taking the product—‘Here’s the PDF. Turn it into a 20,000- or 100,000-piece mailing and send it someplace else to be put into envelopes and mailed.’—then there’s not much they can do, right or wrong, aside from the technical aspects of colors and sizes and trims, and all the things that have to do with the mechanical construction of the piece. If they do their job well, then they’ve done their job well and have a nice life.”

The effectiveness of the piece “is beyond the control of the printer,” he suggests. “It’s not within the purview of a person who prints in the narrow sense of the word.”

Change is the Only Constant

A major goal is to figure out a way to integrate things like QR codes, PURLs, and augmented reality. “We have all these clever little things to animate the direct mail piece and connect it to whatever it is you’re trying to make this person want to do,” says Raymond, who came to AMSP in March 2003 (when it was still known as MFSA), upon his retirement from a career with the US Postal Service that spanned more than 35 years. “In some ways it’s making paper messaging, paper catalogs, paper whatever relate to the electronic world so they work well together.”

The axiom, he adds, is that catalogs work best when coordinated with electronic media such as emails and a website. “There are certain places where people want to have paper, and others where they want to have electronic media. So the trick for anybody in direct mail is figuring out how to make direct mail play nice in an electronic world, and vice versa.”

Direct mail is always going to be around, Raymond insists, and will continue to evolve and adapt to the latest technologies. “I don’t know what could possibly be the next technology; some three-dimensional capability perhaps—like Obi Wan Kenobi appearing in Star Wars—where you have some kind of printed technology on the catalog page that you can scan with your smartphone so the sweater you want to look at popped up in the air in three dimensions. That could be the way to get it into someone’s hands so he can think about it while he’s eating breakfast. Is that what’s going to happen? I don’t know.”

And what to do today to prepare for the future?

“The simplest thing is just to pay attention,” Raymond concludes, “not to bury themselves in, ‘Did I buy the right kind of ink? Is the accountant covering my tax liabilities? Is the roof of my plant leaking?’ Your business is going to depend upon making sure that what you’re producing is going to be relevant in the future. In order to know how to position your business, you have to keep up with what’s going on. Don’t keep your head buried in the sand.”

Learn more about the Association of Marketing Service Providers (AMSP) at