Direct response marketing mishaps

August 19, 2014       The NonProfit Times      

1-800-SAVE-BAY. Easy to remember, but some people wanted the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to print it in their direct mail materials as 1-800-729-3229. No problem, said Direct Marketing Manager Danielle Green, except the number was misprinted by one digit. Even worse, the wrong number directed donors to an – ahem — “adult conversations” line.

Green, along with Meg Ferguson, Debbie Young and Erin Monfort, shared some common direct marketing mishaps and how to handle them during the recent Bridge to Integrated Marketing and Fundraising Conference in Oxon Hill, Md.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s misstep is an example of what the presenters call a Level Three mistake: obviously, the most serious kind. “An apology is necessary,” said Monfort, annual giving campaign specialist for Catholic Relief Services, based in Baltimore. “You have to make good on whatever you wanted to do. You’ve got to do it fast, as soon as you realize a mistake has been made, and your vendors will have to work with you to understand the importance.”

Less serious mistakes don’t necessarily warrant that immediate response. With a Level One mistake such as a typo, you might just need to let your manager know. Most errors of those types “go unnoticed by the recipient,” said Monfort. For a Level Two mistake such as a broken web link, it’s probably enough just to resend the email or, while costlier, the direct mail piece.

Ferguson, director of operations at direct marketing firm PMG in Columbia, Md., said some of the most common types of direct mail mistakes include the components not fitting in the envelope or they’re folded wrong; the scanline was forgotten; the address block is cramped; variable content is causing a different flow; instructions are not complete or clear; and, United States Postal Service (USPS) regulations are not being followed.

“Mock it up,” said Fergusun. “Get out the paper, the scissors and the ruler, and fold some stuff. Make sure everything works logistically.”

While email mistakes don’t cost money in the form of resending materials, they do take time. And, according to Young, senior project manager at The Engage Group, based in Columbia, Md., email might lend itself to more mistakes than direct mail. With email, she said, “a last minute change can be made before recipients get it. It often has copy, query or design changes. Having QC (quality control) and prevention is critical in making sure changes don’t have some other impact.”

One of the most common email mistakes is a placeholder. “’Hi, [firstname]’ is probably the most common error in email, said Young. She said to test your personalization every time, and know your formatting code for each delivery system. “People are often working off a Word doc, and it looks like some kind of code but it’s not specific to that program,” said Young. “The practice we have is to get the personalization code down first. Don’t use placeholders.”

Young suggested a pre-send checklist for preventing mistakes. The trick to a checklist, she said, is starting over every time you make a change. “Along with that, no matter how diligently a project manager does her own QC, we use the third set of eyes rule. Get another person far removed from the project. Sometimes you’re so close to a project that you don’t look at it the same as someone farther away.”