When ROI matters direct mail delivers

By Darryl Danielli, Monday 15 October 2018

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In July, well before the peak autumn period, PrintWeek partnered with Konica Minolta to pull together some of the leading lights in direct mail and discuss some of the key challenges and opportunities in the sector.

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While a multitude of topics were covered, there were two recurring themes – the need to fully understand your clients’ objectives and the imperative of those self-same clients to fully understand the ROI that direct mail delivers.

Because if those two stars align, anything is possible. 

Darryl Danielli There’s been a lot of talk of late about the renaissance of direct mail, is that fact or fiction?

Patrick Headley There was last year, I think we all saw that, didn’t we?

Danny Clarke Yes, from our perspective, volumes were up on direct mail and I think we all got our hopes up that there would be a renaissance this year, but we’re yet to see that materialise. From our perspective, off the back of GDPR, a lot of people are understanding the value of direct mail, but a lot of people are very nervous at this moment in time: a lot of legal departments, across our customers anyway, were advising against sending out mailings. So, immediately after GDPR we’ve seen some attrition.

PH I reckon it’s like a pitch invasion at the end of a cup final, there’s a few people ready to go, but they’re just waiting for the mass invasion where everyone feels comfortable and gets out there and immerses in the media again. Or is that just a pipe dream?

DC I think that’s a good analogy. One of our key customers, a big user of direct mail, gave me these metrics: they generated £1.40 for every pound they spent on direct mail, £1.10 on digital and £1.20 on TV. But their legal department had told them not to do any mailings until they saw what other people were doing. And I think that’s probably what we’ve all seen. We probably all saw a peak in mailings around May, around re-permissioning, and then we saw a dip.

PH I think that’s right.

clarkDanny Clark


Has there been an uptick since then in non-addressed mailings?

PH You would have thought so. [Laughter].

I’ll take that as a no then?

Mark Cruise The Royal Mail Market-Reach and Whistl incentives on door drops haven’t pushed any volumes up then?

PH I’ve got a feeling we’re a bit British and we like addressed mail, Mark.

Lorna Glynn I think we’re all seeing more personalisation and less volume.

DC They were very late to market. If you look at some of the work like, in fairness, Lettershop did around that partially addressed mail door drop product, we were all very excited about it. But we asked Royal Mail around 18 months ago to go live, but it only launched in January and then only as a test product – they didn’t have the price points at the time. So, we were taking it to customers, and they were interested, but it just wasn’t brought to market quick enough. It’s still in its infancy.

Do you think it will be a big opportunity?

Robin Sumner Someone has to be the first, I think it will be chicken and egg. But when it comes to GDPR, I think the Royal Mail can lead on that too. It’s continuing to do direct mail and we can use it as an example of an organisation that responsibly uses direct mail without worrying about the ICO [Information Commis-sioner’s Office] trying to pin a big GDPR fine on them. Of anyone, our clients would expect Royal Mail to be pretty clued up on GDPR, surely. So, we should use them as a driver to incentivise our clients as a leader. Don’t wait for your oppos to do it, let Royal Mail be a leader and tell people ‘industry leaders do DM, if they can, you can’. From a partially addressed perspective, I’m not convinced.

That it will have an impact?

RS That it will work. I think it’s a lot of complication for clients to get their heads around and until someone has done it and you have a case study of how it’s been successful for two years, say, Royal Mail will need to heavily incentivise it for 18 months to prove it works.

PH I think to Danny’s point, they have been very late and it is something we need to get our heads around. In Germany it is massive, and it does make a lot of sense and gets around GDPR. But what is GDPR in reality?

How do you mean?

PH Well, they put some rules out and we all got excited thinking nobody is ever going to use email again. I don’t know about you, but all I noticed is the fact that there were people at Waitrose and they mailed me religiously to get me to opt in, and I thought I’ll be a bugger and won’t and I didn’t. Now they don’t mail me anymore, and I buy a lot of wine from Waitrose, as you can imagine, I’m an active customer [laughter]. But every other bugger, who I don’t buy wine from, just sent me their privacy statement and continued to mail me. It really was just a sharpening of the fines, the rest of it, nothing’s really changed. The nuts thing is that the ICO can impose 4% of global turnover and when you’re a bank or a big retailer, that’s ‘gulp’. But if you really look at it it’s about the flagrant disregard of people’s privacy, not a double enclosure. And first-party direct mail is considered legitimate interest, so what’s not to love? But the world is holding its head in its hands wondering what to do. 

glynnLorna Glynn


Was that one of the problems, though? That there was too much confusion around GDPR, too much was left to interpretation?

RS Anybody that read GDPR compliance would realise it was nothing. We probably shot ourselves in the foot, because as a business we told clients ‘do nothing’ don’t do a [GDPR related] mailing, just update your [privacy] policy and the next time you do a mailing, reference a link to it. 

MC As an industry though, the people in this room were ready for GDPR long before anyone else was. Clients are still struggling with that bottom line potential fine figure and what they are doing to make themselves ready for that, if they do something wrong. But the truth is that provided people treat their data properly, which the vast majority already were, they will be fine. The mailing houses all have the correct security practices in place.

Did you all have clients coming to you asking for advice about GDPR?

Sam Neal The way that some of the contracts are written are just mental. They missed the point of GDPR, they were just trying to remove their responsibilities for the fines if they did something wrong, clients were looking at ways to pass the risk down the chain. We don’t play in that large-volume direct mail world. But for the clients we talked to, there was a genuine fear [of GDPR] because of misinformation and a lack of desire to read the regulations and understand them. They thought it was just too complicated. 

PH GDPR consultants did very well out of GDPR. [Laughter].

SN I think the bigger challenge is that probably 70% of clients have a complete lack of understanding of how to do a direct mail campaign, how to go about it, who to talk to, where to start, where to start with the justification and how to ‘talk’ to their clients. There’s a 10-15-year knowledge gap sitting in too many client organisations, whether they be agencies, end users or print management. What I mean is that 20-year-olds from 10-15 years ago are now getting to be account directors and the account directors from then, who are in their fifties now, have either left or changed roles. So, too many organisations lack the experience of planning a direct mail campaign. So, GDPR, as far as we’re concerned is a real nothing and I see it as a massive opportunity for our business to start conversations around acquisition targeted, relatively short-run direct mail.

sumnerRobin Sumner


Is it [GDPR] an opportunity for your businesses to be experts, then?

SN We’re are going to have to go and tell our clients how to do it, we are going to have to spend a lot of time consulting with them, to give them the confidence to do it. That’s something as a business we’ve never really had to do in the past, and we need to get our heads around how we can do that, as I haven’t got spare people or, for that matter, people used to doing that for clients.

RS You’re absolutely right, the consultative sale, where you’re having to demonstrate everything and almost hold hands through the entire process – is extremely difficult. The reason I know this is because I’m trying to recruit new sales people...

All Good luck. [Laughter].

RS I deliberately haven’t had a sales person for years, we’ve just marketed and grown through that and had client services only. But I started to think that perhaps we were missing something by not having a sales person, so I grasped the nettle again. Long story short, there was no one out there with a consultative sales approach. This is new territory for a lot of our people and these skills are only going to get more important. It’s something that we and the entire industry needs to learn.

Is that because clients’ needs are changing or your businesses’ needs?

RS A bit of both. Clients’ needs are changing, but with the technology now and the need for clients to talk to their own clients in a way that suits their preferences, then we need to be able to give our clients the right tools to talk to them across those media platforms. But we need to go back and retrain them, if you like, because at the moment a lot are still in bunker mode.

PH I read a really interesting column in the Sunday Times by Luke Johnson. What he was talking about is that we’re all too data led when it comes to advertising. Great insight is fantastic, but reading that I think rather than have a strategy that says clients are going to carry on a campaign for a period of time, it’s almost like they’re letting the results feed back into their strategy constantly. So, it’s a bit like if we used TripAdvisor and all went and ate at the best restaurant on the site, then I guarantee you that some of us are in for a very disappointing evening. It’s almost like, with the amount of reviews it gets, then inevitably the best restaurant is the vanilla option – and I think that’s the danger with clients relying on data to set strategy. I can see why it happens, because if you look at CMOs, there are a scary number of interim positions out there, because they’re not trusted by the chief executive and they have to get quick results to keep their jobs.

DC The average tenure is 14 months apparently.

PH Is it really? Danny and I didn’t compare notes by the way.

DC We just live the same dream, or maybe nightmare. [Laughter].

PH It’s very difficult though. It’s a great opportunity for everyone around this table, because if you went back 15 years and you were trying to be an evolved print-related business – you were laughed down by the ad agencies. People like Unilever would go to Saatchi’s, or whoever, and give them a pile of money and say, ‘spend this for me Maurice’. It’s not like that anymore. People are looking at much more fragmented ways of getting their products to market, and the good news for us all is we’re not discredited anymore. The fact that we can do an end-to-end marketing solution is a good thing, a really good thing. But to maximise on that you need a new kind of salesperson/account director – a story teller. Someone who can get in front of a CMO and help them flog more stuff, basically.

DC I completely agree with you and Robin. I think one challenge that sits across that is the integration within customers. When you talk about CMO positions and that customer single view journey all the way through to digital, some customers aren’t even integrated. They have a digital only department, they have IT managing the customer single view, someone else managing direct mail...

LG I completely agree...

DC So, if you have someone who is really good, a purple unicorn from a sales perspective, but you will very rarely get all those people from the client around the same table to discuss strategy at the same time. Sometimes they’re not even on the same page. Imagine trying to organise that meeting at Sky, Mark.

MC Not a feckin’ chance. It would be a long time trying to make that happen. Even now. People are working towards it, but it’s not happening yet.

LG I also think it’s about training. People that are in that digital space and have, if you like, grown up in that, don’t really have any idea about paper-based marketing. And getting back to Pat’s point on data, at the opposite end, I think there are still a lot of companies that don’t have enough to be able to utilise it properly. It’s about getting the balance right.

nealSam Neal


Does that make dealing with medium-sized clients more attractive for a lot of you then, because you’re more likely to have a relationship with a decision-maker, a stakeholder who might be more open to trying something new?

SN It’s about having the right mix. You need some of that regular volume that’s relatively easy to get and then the long hard sells that are worth having and deliver something else. It’s the nature of a manufacturing industry that is operating on tight margins – you have to have that mix. But on what we were saying before, even trying to talk to some of those clients [that aren’t really familiar with print] about what’s possible from a manufacturing perspective, forgetting data, forgetting being clever, forgetting an integrated approach – to be able to show something and say this, physically, this is possible, this is something we can produce as an industry and they sit there amazed. But just getting that knowledge into clients is sometimes really hard.

RS But that’s the perfect opportunity for us, we’re the largest unknown industry.

DC It’s only in the past 12 months that the IDM [Institute of Direct Marketing] introduced a direct mail element to their training programme. So, before that was introduced, everyone that went through it came out with a digital first mindset. So, everyone that graduated, and they’re the marketers of all our customers, hadn’t had that formal training – so when we speak to those people they already think that digital is relatively cheap, and print and direct mail is relatively expensive – because they’ve not necessarily been taught about the ROI. 

MC Which gets us onto another topic on Darryl’s agenda, the JICMail [Joint Industry Committee for Mail]. Is that not a more positive message, because it offers a measurement of the effectiveness of direct mail?

And coming at a time when there are question marks over the true value of programmatic advertising online, so when we talk about a trusted media – now’s the perfect time for print surely?

LG It’s definitely a positive, but it was launched around the same time as GDPR – so I think it’s impact was a little bit lost. I don’t think it’s been marketed very well.

Kevin Walker I totally agree, and it’s only been around six months.

RS How many of our clients have actually signed up to it?

All Not many.

RS We’re promoting it ourselves at our own cost, which is fine, because it’s an industry advantage. I think it’s a fantastic idea, but as an industry we need some support to make it work and even then it will take time.

headleyPatrick Headley


Who should provide that support?

RS The Royal Mail.

PH It’s a great idea, because it takes the cost of direct mail out of the equation, it’s about the ROI. Because at the end of the day, that’s what counts. The Royal Mail is a media owner, that media space is theirs and they need to be doing more to promote the medium. They’re getting better, MarketReach is doing good things too. But then operations will stick the price of postage up, because at the end of the day they’re doing less volumes.

DC But that’s their strategy, Pat. I’ve sat in the rooms with the analysts and that’s exactly what they say they’re going to do.

PH I think when we talk about a renaissance in direct mail what we’re really saying is that it’s not going to get any worse. Volume decline will arrest and there could even be a slight recovery and certainly last year, we saw some customers coming back to direct mail. At the end of the day it’s just common sense.

Getting back to your earlier point though about the challenge of churn in the agencies and marketing teams, how do you combat that?

PH I think you need to speak to CEOs nowadays, or the FD because they’re really interested in what’s cutting through. Because there seems to be a mistrust of marketing these days, primarily because it’s a massive investment for a lot of companies – when you look at PPC [pay per click] some of the figures tier-one brands are spending are eye-watering.

RS It [PPC] is like a drug, and we need to help get them off it.

PH And we can do that by productising things like JICMail, so that people know what it is. And we need to promote the great success stories of mail out there. It’s all about growing the channel. It’s doesn’t matter if the job goes to me, Danny, Lorna, Robin – it’s all about growing the channel, because that’s good for all of us.

SN How easy do businesses like yours or Danny’s or Lorna’s find it to get high enough up to get a real decision made? How long does it take?

PH You need to have a compelling enough business proposition. A good business, of any size, needs to have a great proposition, delivered well. If you have evidence of something that delivers cut-through and discredits PPCs, then you can get there fairly quickly – in terms of speaking to a good level CMO. There’s an adage in marketing that 50% of people’s marketing is a waste of time, but nobody knows which 50%. If you can prove that your medium works, people want to talk to you. It’s not easy, but it’s about having the right person delivering a good proposition and it’s got be around something that is keeping the client awake at night.

LG And about talking to someone that is genuinely interested in the outcomes. You have to identify that person in the organisation. And I have to say they’re not always in the C-suite, it can be the next level down. But you need to know your client and understand their business to figure out who you should be talking to.

PH I think another point, Sam, is that it might have to be you that starts those conversations. If you want to talk to someone senior, if your sales team try, it doesn’t necessarily work.

LG It’s about that story telling we mentioned earlier.

DC I think the approach also depends on whether we’re talking about an existing client or a prospect. From a cold perspective, if it’s new business getting to the right person can be very difficult unless you have a very compelling story at C-suite level. We work anywhere from six to 18 months to win a cold, contracted new customer – that’s the typical sales cycle. But if you’re already in with the customer, then you can get a meeting at the right level very quickly.

cruiseMark Cruise


Is it about taking a strategic approach too and perhaps approaching the client through multiple angles?

SN You can get lost, even when it does work. We delivered a campaign for a client around five years ago and it still sticks in my mind as our biggest failure. We wrote to 400 people, spent a fortune on 400 packs. They were to people who were in the position to buy a £100,000 product, but had never bought from that brand before. After the campaign, they got 103 people to buy the product.

KW Out of 400. Wow, that’s amazing.

That’s a failure?

SN We got a thank you from the board. But they said resources were tight and we got nothing else. The went off piste and did something really creative, the agency worked really hard to get it to happen. It happened. It smashed it. Then nothing. And I was sitting there thinking: what else can I do? It took five months to get the project to a prototype and it was a wonderful idea and it did really well. And it delivered. I thought it was going to snowball, but it didn’t.

PH One of the guys that runs one of our divisions is a former CMO of a few different businesses, and he said that door drops were his dirty little secret. He never spoke to his boards about them, he just talked about the latest advert. It’s a little bit like above the line is still sexy and it still what keeps everyone enthralled, because it’s awareness, not ROI.

RS I disagree slightly, no one watches TV anymore do they, it’s all on-demand?

MC Research suggests TV still works.

DC Also, in terms of where a CMO would like to spend their time, I suspect that being on the set of TV advert is probably slightly sexier that coming down and spending the day in Dartford. [Laughter].

PH But that gets me back to my point of CFOs, because at the end of the day they’re more likely to question the value.

DC But TV is getting cheaper and cheaper, Pat. If you look at spend across the channels, you can get a lot of TV for your money. And that’s one of things we need to educate people about DM on: yes, in black and white terms it looks expensive, but this is what it returns. Because if you look at all the other channels, PPC fluctuates, but the others, they’re getting cheaper. But we keep telling people how paper prices are going up, postage is going up. So, if you’re not pushing the message that DM will drive more sales and generate more money, clients will look it from a commodity perspective.

PH And let’s not forget, each household only has one letterbox. It might have five tellies, three iPads, four smartphones – but only one letterbox.

You mentioned input prices going up, has that had much of an impact?

KW It’s had a massive impact. We’ve seen over the last 18 months, probably five paper price increases. Five. Obviously, we have to pass those increases on, the margins just aren’t there to enable us to absorb any price increases. We speak to all our clients to advise on how they can minimise the impact, but there’s only so much you can do.

And are clients accepting of the increases?

KW It varies from client to client. But ultimately there’s no choice.

PH Paper price rises in reality aren’t the biggest concern, it’s postage costs.

RS I’m going to defend Royal Mail on that. I think they’ve been very proactive in keeping costs down where they can. Yes, business costs have gone up, but on the marketing side they’re pretty static. When I started my business, it was 19p to send out a second-class item. Now, with all the relevant discounts it can still be around 19p.

DC There was a circa 5% increase around January though.

RS But if you use the right service, some of our clients didn’t see any increase.

walkerKevin Walker


But surely that’s just shifting the costs to you as you then have to do more or invest more to achieve those discounts?

RS Just bring in Mailmark, if they weren’t using that before. I know some of the big guys were already doing. But clients that were doing sub 100,000 mailings, who were doing high sort before can now bring in Mailmark, you can add it to poly – Royal Mail are being more proactive now than they ever have been before. I’m not saying they couldn’t be more proactive, though. I just don’t think postage is the problem.

MC It certainly is an issue. I had to sit in front of marketing and explain that costs are this and they’re going to go up to this. If you’re already doing everything to qualify for the discounts, then the increases are very real.

DC I wouldn’t say that your view matches that of the SMP [Strategic Mailing Partnership] either, Robin. If you do the analysis of everyone who sits on the SMP, then we’re only relaying what our customers are saying to us. We’ve seen letters from our customers telling Royal Mail that if they increase prices they will reduce volumes. I understand what you’re saying that if you’re clever, you add value then you can mitigate them. But if you’re already doing that then there’s nowhere left to go.

RS You’re also in the top end, tens of millions of items a year. Our average client run is between 20,000 and 100,000 and in that end of the market...

DC But without our volumes, what do you think would happen to your pricing in your end of the market?

RS I get that.

SN Also the bad press, that is the challenge. When Royal Mail put its prices up the client notices and they start talking about it, and even though the impact might be minimal on them – it starts them thinking about how to save money by cutting volumes.

PH And on paper, the thing that frightens me is not so much the price, but the availability. That piece PrintWeek wrote recently, about mills switching products to favour packaging, weighting production to Europe rather than the UK. It is a worry, but it’s a watching brief.

SN I almost wish the mills would pick a price that they could live with for a year, put us though the pain once and then let us get on with it, rather than having to go back every few months.

DC and LG Completely agree.

RS This is a question though; don’t the merchants forward buy anymore?

MC They’re not allowed to in many instances. Many mills will say, here is my uncoated stock, here’s my machine making it – it’s now full until the end of the year and you, Mr Merchant, are on allocation. You can no longer order any more of this until this time. It’s unprecedented; I haven’t seen that in 20 or so years.

I think the price increases are usually worded as ‘deliveries from this date’ which presumably means that it doesn’t matter when it’s ordered, if it’s delivered after that date the merchants pay the new price?

PH The cash impact of forward buying is massive too.

In the past, didn’t the merchants used to have to commit to certain volumes that they would buy from the mill, and if it got to the end of the quarter or year and they hadn’t hit that target then there we’re some deals to be had?

DC You’re right, we all used to love those days.

SN But when you have to let a customer know that paper prices have gone up every couple of months, it makes it very hard to then steer the conversation towards doing some creative, or new projects – it almost becomes a not very funny joke that we only talk to customers to tell them that prices have gone up.

LG And it makes it doubly hard to have conversations with CMOs or CFOs if all you’re ever telling them is that prices have gone up again.

SN The idea is that we take problems away from clients, if all we’re doing is telling them about price increases, whatever they’re for, then we we’re bringing them problems, not solving them.

Are some of the challenges you’ve been talking about, digital bias, input prices, staff churn, are they stifling creativity and innovation?

SN I see that. We probably used to do 10-12 really spectacular projects a year, it’s nowhere near that anymore. I guess, no one has ever got sacked for spending their budget evenly, getting a sensible return. Whereas taking a bit of risk, despite the potential benefits, if it doesn’t work then there’s a problem. So, that bravery and confidence has definitely taken a bit of hit in the past couple of years.

It is still happening though? I often still see some great DM.

SN Of course, there’s still some fun stuff out there, but nowhere near to the same volumes and regularity. 

What’s driving innovation though?

SN There’s an awful lot of knowledge in our business, all our businesses I’m sure and our suppliers. Problem solving, creating something innovative for a particular challenge is innovation. One of the most difficult questions I get asked is ‘can you tell me something really cool to do in direct mail’. It all depends on what’s it for, who it’s for, what audience...

What budget...

SN There are million things. But once you hone in on a reason, a market, the goals, if we have all that information then we, as printers, can add a lot of value to the client. We’re the guys that go to all the trade shows, listen to people like Konica Minolta, talk to all the paper guys, we know what’s possible, what isn’t – we’re the people that have all that knowledge and generally, as we’ve said, that knowledge isn’t held at clients, agencies or print managers anymore because they’re much leaner than they used to be. Sometimes innovation isn’t really that new, it’s just something that the client hasn’t heard of or tried before.

KW People come to us for help in designing products, because we know what’s possible and what boundaries can be pushed. I suppose when we talked about the churn on client side, maybe that’s the real opportunity? Because we hold that expertise now.

Is that something the vendors can help with, there are some big brands in the market, so they might be able to open doors with the big clients and show them what’s possible?

MC Some are very willing to help, I’ve been to shows like Fespa, Drupa and seen some great solutions. It’s the lack of information, well, knowledge on the client side that’s the challenge.

DC Innovation means different things to different people. We regularly get asked to innovate, it’s about what is the brief – is it driving sales, is it creativity, is it saving money. What we need to know is their innovation brief. Do they want us to talk about an omni-channel approach, programmatic mail – innovation is such a broad topic. You can only innovate for a client if you understand their business strategy.

LG If you know what outcome they want.

DC I think there’s a big opportunity for technology to change the way we interact with our clients, and for us to have a much greater impact. We’ve got some great success stories within the business, because we truly understood their objectives, but it’s probably no more than 20% of clients that we’re having that depth of conversation with – so there’s a huge untapped potential.

PH It’s like going on holiday to Australia for a weekend...

DC You go on holiday a lot, Pat. [Laughter].

PH ...you put all that money into a flight, and you’re only going to stay there for a weekend. At the end of the day, if you’re going to pay for a premium delivery, because that’s what mail is, you want to spend a bit of time on thinking about and making sure the offering is right. Generally speaking, if you give the right offer, to the right person, at the right time – the propensity to buy will shoot through the roof. We all have the ability in this room to deliver that.

One of the things I wanted to talk about was consolidation in the sector. There’s been a lot in recent months.

PH That’s all Paragon’s fault. [Laughter].

DC Come on, Pat, you’ve done your bit too.

It isn’t just the bigger companies, it seems to be happening at all sizes. But do you think that the barrier to entry into the direct mail space is too high now for smaller companies?

RS It’s an interesting question, and no disrespect to the larger companies, but maybe the analogy of the turning circle of large oil tankers is apt. To innovate at a lower level, you need to have the flexibility to be able to react, but you might not have the financial ability to invest in some of the technology. So yes, there is a barrier to entry, but that’s the way it should be in any market, isn’t it?

SN There’s definitely a barrier to entry to compete with people like Pat, Danny or Lorna – who would even entertain that?

DC You would have to be nuts. [Laughter].

SN And have very deep pockets, and that’s before you even started to think about trying to find staff with the right skills. But I will still say that there are a lot of smaller companies, giving a very good service to smaller clients and that will be around for a long time. But serious DM is pretty much exclusively being done by the people it should be being done by.

DC More and more clients are also very hot on the accreditations now, and those infrastructure costs, probably more so than the machines, are probably the biggest barrier to entry.

PH Then there’s things like encrypted data at rest, the costs associated with that are huge. If I was looking at starting a direct mail company today, I would probably say forget it.

RS The required investments in technology and security are growing exponentially. Are clients willing to accept us passing those costs on? I think we all know the answer.

DC That’s a good point. I know I was moaning about paper and postage rises, but fundamentally we can pass those on. Infrastructure costs, though, are a different matter.

Do you think that direct mail will go the way of the web offset sector though, and the market will be dominated by a handful of large players?

DC I think at the large end, not medium to small, we’ve already seen that consolidation. You’ve got Pat, Lorna, ourselves, Adare, MBA, Lettershop and Real Digital – outside of that, you don’t have any scale players. And I think if you rolled back 15 years, I think the number would have been at least double that.

PH Don’t tell Paddy [Crean, Paragon chief executive], but I don’t think there will ever be a situation where there will be one supplier in the market place, because that just wouldn’t work.

LG [Laughs]. Clients wouldn’t want or allow that anyway, because of benchmarking and buying power.

PH Absolutely. I think there will always be a place for sub £10m companies. There probably will be more consolidation, what that will look like I don’t know. When you look at actual margins in our industry, they’re not that bad – they could be better, don’t get me wrong. There will be more casualties, no doubt.

DC I think we’re all looking at growth, and in a slackening market, how do you get growth? Through acquisition. But it’s about finding the right business at the right valuation.

Final topic: what do you see as the key opportunities, your hopes and dreams if you like, in direct mail?

RS To summarise it, I would call it ‘the death of the boring brochure’. Everything’s got to be dynamic, fully customer-centric and represent an opportunity to talk and sell through print that is personalised – so no generic catalogues or brochures, that’s my goal.

MC I want the industry as a whole to seize the opportunity of saying how brilliant print is and start talking about the results it delivers.

LG And how full personalisation in combination with multi-channel communications and an even better understanding of your customers and prospects can achieve amazing things.

PH For me it has to be around the fact that there’s one letterbox, one house and unlocking the full potential of one-to-one marketing. Also, I think that we as an industry, we have a real opportunity to take on agencies. Everything we’ve spoken about today has been about marketing, not how fast a machine is. If this discussion had happened 20 years ago we would have all been talking about our presses and what they can do – that’s indicative of how the industry has changed.

KW Well, without wishing to contradict Pat, for me it is still about the technology and unlocking the potential of it to deliver on clients’ objectives.

SN I would like to be able to remove the fear of being creative in direct mail. And see more boundaries being pushed, making things look so beautiful that people can’t help themselves but open them. Direct mail offers stunning ROI, but I want more people to see the even better ROI that stunning direct mail can offer.

DC A summary of what everyone has said really. We very much see the future as being that personalised one-to-one approach, individually targeted packs delivering the right message at the right time. But, most importantly, I think we all need to shout louder about what direct mail does. We’ve all got so many customers that have built their businesses off the back of direct mail – we should never forget that. 

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