DIRECT MAIL: Green Letter Days

Robert Gray

DMA director of development & postal affairs The Producer Responsibility Scheme is very much a long-term deal for the industry. Over the past three or four years, the big issue for the direct marketing industry has been data. It's my belief that the big issue for the next three or four years will be the environment.

We have developed a self-regulatory scheme that avoids legislation. It gives us a marvellous opportunity to really make our case with consumers.

We hope the direct mail that is sent out is always well-targeted, but if it is not, we can ask consumers to put it in the kerbside collection boxes for newspapers so that the material doesn't go into landfill. Most will probably be recycled for newspaper print.

We haven't even gone live with the Planet Ark campaign yet but already 50 local authorities have signed up. Plant Ark will provide generic ads to local authorities using a proven campaign mechanic. But we also need the local authorities to help us by really promoting kerbside collection.

We have demand in terms of the mills wanting this paper. And unlike other schemes, we have created a user responsibility that starts with the advertiser.


1. Make sure your direct mail is effectively targeted to avoid a wasted mailout

2. Weed out any errors at proof stage so that whole print runs don't have to be scrapped

3. Move communication to electronic delivery where appropriate

4. Only send out thank you letters if donors desire them

5. Follow DMA guidelines on suitable materials for direct mail packs.

As the Government gets tough on the issue of waste, the use of direct mail is showing no signs of decline. Robert Gray looks at the implications for DM campaigns, and their environmental consequences.

The UK produces enough rubbish to fill the Royal Albert Hall every hour, former Environment Minister Michael Meacher pointed out earlier this year. It is a sobering thought and reflects concerns over the long-term sustainability of dumping massive quantities of rubbish in landfill sites.

With this in mind, the Government unveiled its Waste Strategy in 2000, which set out ambitious targets for drastically reducing household waste going to landfill, and increasing the recycling of used materials. A cornerstone of the strategy is that producers are made responsible for the recovery, re-use and recycling of products after they have fulfilled their intended purpose.

One area of specific concern to the Government is the amount of 'post-consumer waste' generated by direct mail campaigns. According to figures from the Direct Mail Information Service, the use of direct mail has snowballed over the past decade from 2.2 billion units in 1992 to 5.2 billion last year. DMIS figures also show that charities account for 7.4 per cent of direct mail to consumers, equating to a hefty 292 million items a year.

Yet at present, only a paltry 13 per cent of all direct mail is recovered for recycling. The Government is putting pressure on the direct marketing industry to improve performance with the threat of regulation if matters do not take a drastic turn for the better over the next few years.

In August, it was announced that the Direct Marketing Association had signed an agreement with the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to implement a producer responsibility scheme for direct mail and promotions waste. As part of the agreement, the DMA has committed to achieve ambitious targets, starting with taking the proportion of recycled direct mail up to 30 per cent by the end of 2005, rising to 55 per cent by the end of 2009, and escalating further to 70 per cent 10 years from now.

This will be achieved, says the DMA, by implementing measures to increase the collection and recycling of direct mail and promotions material; publicising the services available to consumers who do not wish to receive the direct mail they view as junk mail; and improving the targeting of direct mail and promotions material. The DMA has also produced a guide to the acceptable materials, chemicals and contaminants that should be used, or avoided, in the production of direct mail.

Planet Ark, the environment foundation that was co-founded by tennis star Pat Cash, is working with the DMA to educate consumers and local authorities about the Mailing Preference Service - a register of consumers who prefer not to receive direct mail.

"The impact of this on charities is likely to increase as the public becomes more aware of the issue, particularly following the launch of the DMA-backed awareness campaign headed by Planet Ark," says Whitewater planning director Bryan Miller.

"If this is successful, then I'd expect increasing numbers of charity supporters to be looking to their chosen charities to see whether they are playing their part in environmentally aware mailing. Forward-thinking charities should be taking steps now to prepare for this, not only establishing and following through on production guidelines relating to mailing data hygiene and the use of recyclable materials, but also making it clear to their supporters just where they stand with regard to direct mail."

On a donor recruitment mailing that Whitewater created for client the RNID, the reverse of the carrier envelope carried a clear message explaining why the charity uses a particular kind of mail pack. The text sets out how much it costs to print and post the mailer, and the states that more than 90 per cent of RNID's income is dependent on DM appeals.

Clearly, it is vital for charities to stay in touch with supporters' preferences in terms of contact media - whether they prefer electronic communications over letters, for instance. And if letters are used, how important it is to the supporter base that the solution is as environmentally friendly as possible.

"Direct mail has an uphill struggle in terms of the press it receives that portrays it as junk mail," says Jessica Mannix, supporter strategy manager for NSPCC. "If we as an industry are not seen to be overtly responsible for the mail we put out, the Government will legislate and make our jobs even more difficult."

Under the DMA's Producer Responsibility Scheme, both client and agency are deemed to have a role in ensuring best practice. The onus is on the advertiser to make sure the pack complies with the code and that suppliers are aware of that code. Agencies are expected to ensure contaminants are kept to a minimum, as much recycled paper as possible is used and that the mailing is primarily a paper-based product.

"It's incumbent on agencies to lead the charge on this," says Richard Marshall, director of DM agency Tullo Marshall Warren. "It can only be good for the industry to be aware of the issue. The last thing we want to do is spoil the relationship with consumers by being seen as anti-environmental."

Cost factors

Marshall concedes there is still a considerable way to go, however. Production planning meetings tend to centre on issues such as cost, format and the look and feel of direct mail rather than its impact on the environment.

Marshall adds that few DM creative teams sit down and contemplate curtailing the use of paper so as to be less wasteful.

"Cost is most people's primary concern," adds Ben Rogers, creative services manager at Kitcatt Nohr Alexander Shaw. Before moving to the direct marketing agency, Rogers was design manager at Friends of the Earth. He argues that recycled paper still commands a price premium, which can be about 10 per cent, over virgin paper. This can act as a disincentive to certain charities.

All charities are accountable to their trustees and supporters for their spending and strive to keep costs to a minimum. The following question needs to be addressed: what is the greater priority, saving money on paper or behaving responsibly towards the environment?

Those committed to environmentally friendly policies may wish to ensure that their DM material makes use of chlorine-free paper and printers that use vegetable-based inks. Rogers says he often uses Tradewinds, a London-based printer with sound eco-friendly practices. Moreover, a number of printing groups are working towards achieving the ISO 14001 environmental management standard.

WWAV Rapp Collins fundraising strategist Tracey Waite says that charities will have to think carefully about the inclusion of 'involvement devices' such as pens in direct mail. The evidence points to increased consumer responsiveness when items such as pens are included. The convention is for consumers to be encouraged to return the items if they don't want them, but clearly many aren't returned, thereby creating more waste. Friends of the Earth has addressed this issue by including a recyclable pen in its mailings (see case study).

Lawrence Stroud, managing director of The Data Processing Company, excoriates some charities for inadequate DM targeting and using a scattergun approach that is not only a waste of money, but also a waste of trees. These deficiencies can be addressed simply and cheaply by good data management, he argues.

"Nowadays it is possible to clean a database of millions of names in a matter of hours, and very cheaply, leaving a list of recipients who will be interested in the mailing," says Stroud. "At the end of the lengthy process that a direct mail campaign has to go through to get to the distribution stage, surely this is an essential step to ensure the mailing actually goes to the right address."

A shift to electronic marketing channels could theoretically help reduce the amount of paper used, with charities asking supporters whether they prefer to receive material such as newsletters via email. Yet it is unrealistic to expect digital media to replace direct mail.

"Sometimes getting email addresses from donors is difficult and there are issues surrounding emailing cold lists," says Samaritans direct marketing manager Annette O'Connell. "I'd rather build up an in-house list where we have consent to use people's email and SMS details."

But taking the electronic route will take time. Direct mail is not going away. Far from it - it continues to grow. In the coming years, marketers and fundraisers will come under increasing pressure to ensure they use the medium responsibly.


Friends of the Earth ran a recruitment campaign for new direct debit supporters. Using a mix of cold lists - mainly sponsored names, mail-order buyers and profile data - the charity mailed 300,000 consumers.

The pack comprised a white window outer envelope, a manila reply envelope, A4 letterhead with donation form attached and duplex laser Friends of the Earth recycled pen.

The pen barrel was made from recycled paper, while its other components were also made from recycled materials, including the ink. The charity sourced the pen from Ampro, a company in the Netherlands.

"The pens added around 4p to each pack," says FoE senior direct marketing officer Dylan Parkes. "We didn't compare the cost of recycled against non-recycled materials in the pack as it is not something we would consider." The overall return on investment of this pack exceeded another pack that FoE had used in the previous three years.

"We believe the overall look of the pack, with minimal elements, no images and recycled materials, would be in keeping with what supporters would expect from Friends of the Earth," adds Parkes.

VIEWPOINT - John Sauven

Greenpeace communications director There is no reason why every bit of direct mail cannot be sent out on 100 per cent post-consumer waste recycled paper. Every organisation should draw up an environmental procurement policy. And if they do need an element of virgin fibre, it should be paper certified to the Forest Stewardship Council standard to show it comes from sustainable sources.

But with direct mail the question of waste is about good targeting, monitoring the results and improving the efficiency of what you do. You've got to analyse how to get the best response rates.

Direct mail is only one aspect of fundraising and a variety of other means are used. But direct mail is going be a part of the mix for the foreseeable future, so people just need to use it in a responsible way.

We print information about recycling on our direct mail and reports as it helps get the message across about responsible recycling behaviour. We also hope that because we produce high-quality work, it will help destroy some of the prejudices against recycled paper among those people who think it isn't as good. With what we do, we prove that isn't the case.

VIEWPOINT - David Robottom

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