DIRECT MAIL: An Integrated Approach


Integrated communications are nothing new for sight-impaired charity RNIB, claims senior communications officer Paul McDonald. "For many years there has been strong integration, both within communications and other parts of the charity, such as our campaigning work." This integration is growing, however, as technologies such as SMS and the internet play bigger roles. "It is vital for RNIB, like all charities and businesses, to bring activities together in a strategic, brand-driven way, to convey key messages coherently," he says.

This approach was demonstrated recently during RNIB's Children's Eye Health Week, running from 2 to 8 June. PR, direct mailings and advertising employed the same messages and used the same case study, and the campaign was extended through in-store promotions and telephone-based fundraising.

Early indications are that it has been a resounding success, but McDonald offers some words of caution.

"Planning is more important than ever when you are running an integrated campaign," he says. "Getting the timing of everything right is the main thing. For example, make sure you don't undermine your PR work by sending out direct mail leaflets containing a big headline that you were planning to release to the press later on. In the same way, there can be a lot of critical path analysis needed to ensure that media campaigns overlap with direct mail activity to best effect. But, despite these management complications, we believe that integrating the two disciplines is extremely worthwhile."

Direct mail has been the mainstay of charity fundraising efforts, and with good reason. But donor fatigue has led some charities to combine their mailing campaigns with longer term brand-building. Alex Blyth reports.

Direct mail forms the backbone of UK charity fundraising, and for good reason - it works. The past decade has seen a massive upswing in the usage of the medium, and charities have been at the forefront of this trend.

Some of direct mail's key advantages play straight to the needs of the sector. It's less expensive than TV advertising, it builds relationships and it provides an ideal call to action mechanism (hence all those free pens and reply envelopes in mailpacks).

Indeed, so important is the medium that, according to figures from media research organisation Thompson Intermedia, charities spend more on direct mail than they do on all the other channels put together. In 2002 direct mail accounted for more than £118 million in spend, while TV took up a little under £22 million.

There is a worm in the apple, however. Response rates have been falling - partly as a result of direct mail's very success.

"Charities are very good at sharing best practice, so they tend to copy each other fairly rapidly," says Marc Nohr, managing director of integrated marketing agency Kitcatt Nohr. "My 70-year-old parents receive about 10 pens a week from different charities. Consumer fatigue means that charities must begin to differentiate themselves in the eyes of potential donors in order to survive."

One approach has been for charities to combine fundraising direct mail with a wider branding campaign. The idea is that such an approach can not only raise the profile of the charity and build stronger relationships with its supporters, but boost its financial performance, too.

"Not-for-profit organisations that succeed in achieving integrated marketing can expect to see a 10 to 25 per cent boost in competitive performance," says Angus Jenkinson, a professor at research organisation the Centre for Integrated Marketing. This bold claim rests on findings from some 25 leading organisations, including several not-for-profit bodies.

One strand of integration is so-called creative synergy - taking full advantage of the brand message by ensuring that direct mail visually and thematically reflects the advertising. Charity chief executives have for a long time been urging brand communicators and fundraisers out of their silos, demanding that they produce co-ordinated campaigns that generate maximum value from limited budgets. Jessica Mannix, supporter strategy manager at the NSPCC, describes how this has produced benefits for the children's charity.

Greater impact

"We work closely with the communications department to deliver combined messages that create a greater impact," she says. "Our spring 2003 campaign on the issue of supported parents meaning safer children was a good example.

The message was very strong in our sergeant major drill TV adverts, and was also carried through into all of our direct mail. The campaigns are effective, but complex, so both departments needed to work very closely together."

Debbie Ramsay, the new head of fundraising at VSO, argues that increasing inter-departmental co-operation offers charities an opportunity to develop a single view of individual stakeholders and so communicate more effectively with them.

"In recent months we have seen increasing co-operation between the communications and fundraising divisions," she says. "By working together we intend to build both a stronger brand and a stronger supporter base. We believe there are similarities between the attitudes of potential volunteers and potential donors. Indeed, over their lifecycle, they could well have done, or at least considered doing, both."

Using customer relationship management techniques, VSO aims to maximise contacts with its supporter base.

"Volunteers and donors may have different motivations and are often at different life stages, but may become lifelong supporters if we manage the relationship effectively," Ramsay argues.

Another argument is that donors are more attracted to strong brands per se.

"We ran bursts of brand response TV advertising in October 2002 and February 2003," says Anthony Newman, head of donor marketing at Cancer Research UK.

"The point is that we are not just asking for money, we are raising awareness of the problem of cancer and describing how we are working to alleviate, and ultimately eliminate, it. Because people feel a connection to the brand they want to become donors and so call the number displayed on the screen."

These organisations are using striking and involving advertising work on television to create long-term donor relationships, as opposed to using a short-lived emotional hit to get a one-off donation, as is often used with fundraising direct mail.

This is not to say that direct mail no longer has a place. In fact, since only large charities such as Cancer Research UK can afford TV advertising, it is likely to assume an even greater importance as the medium through which most charities will build their brands.

"A brand is about more than just the charity's cause," says Paul Farthing, managing director of direct marketing agency Target Direct. "Getting media coverage of the cause is just one element in building the brand. In the commercial sector it has been estimated that it can cost £50 million to build a brand. Those in the third sector will never have budgets that large and so must rely on the relatively inexpensive medium of direct mail in order to build their brands."

Future shock

Newman and Farthing predict a future for the not-for-profit sector in which the brand is king. Tony Masters, senior partner at strategic management consultancy the John Watson Partnership, agrees.

"Successful charities have either a niche cause or a strong brand," he says. "It is those in between, that are either too large to have a clearly understood mission or too small to have the resources to build a defined brand, that struggle to raise funds. In the future, brands will be essential to fundraising."

This is all well and good, but there is a snag. Effective branding and successful fundraising do not always go hand in hand. "We may not always give priority in integrated campaigns to messages that best suit fundraising objectives," points out Mannix. "Strong campaigning messages about the physical punishment of children do not tend to attract many donors. We might ask people to campaign on it, but we wouldn't expect to use it for donor recruitment."

Masters identifies this issue as the greatest problem for charity integration.

"Charities usually need to see short-term returns from investment in direct mail," he points out. "This is why emotional pulls are often preferred to reasoned arguments that build longer-term attachments to a brand. It requires brave and forward-thinking trustees to stick by a campaign that might take four or five years to provide a return. However, set against this, there is compelling evidence to suggest that the more it costs to recruit a donor the longer you are likely to retain them."

Integration is undeniably a long-term strategy - brands are not built overnight - but more and more in the industry are recognising the potential of the integrated approach and are beginning to propose it to colleagues and clients.

However, Jenkinson offers some words of warning to charities who may embark on this. "There is considerable ingrained resistance," he says.

"First, there are many senior people with high levels of expertise who will be threatened by change, or will fail to grasp new concepts. Second, departments are accustomed to focusing on their part of the problem exclusively and fighting over a small budget to achieve it. Sharing budget and building a common initiative to solve multiple problems is often a solution, but people first have to open their minds."

Brand strategy

But Nohr suggests a greater problem for charities is they tend to lack a basic grasp of brand strategy. "Charities have traditionally been weak on branding," he points out.

"This is partly because they have confused brands with values, believing that if they stand for something then they have built a brand. Also, some organisations see commercial brand management techniques as inimical to the spirit and culture of voluntary organisations. If there were only one development charity or one animal welfare charity then the detractors may have a point, but in a market with 200,000 players that just doesn't wash."

Another important point, Nohr suggests, is that those in charge of charity brands have tended to come from fundraising or campaigning backgrounds and so lack real expertise in brand management. However, the introduction of brand-literate commercial marketers such as Ramsay at VSO is a hopeful sign.

The writing is on the wall. An increasing number of charity marketers might do well to heed the advice of Mannix: "The market is changing and brand is becoming a key factor in raising funds. Those who ignore this do so at their peril."


Disability charity John Grooms has recently begun to integrate the work of its communications and fundraising teams.

"One of the first steps was to hire a specialist marketing agency, Bluefrog," explains head of PR and communications Avis Johns. "We then began geographical profiling to discover areas that had a high propensity to give and that were close to projects we run." Having selected specific areas of north London, the charity began by plastering some highly visible stickers over shop windows. These were followed by face-to-face recruitment, billboards, banners in free locations such as schools and businesses, and then a £3 mailpack to the selected area. This work was supported by ongoing PR activities such as a team of John Grooms residents assessing access facilities at local businesses and holding an awards ceremony for the winners.

"The results were incredible," he says. "Two weeks after the campaign ended our unprompted awareness had risen from 4 per cent to 39 per cent. We recruited many new donors, but, crucially, engaged with people from local businesses." Johns is planning further integrated campaigns. "Because we're a small charity, inter-departmental communication is easy - mostly shouting across the office. Our size also makes it crucial that we maximise the impact of our budget. Integrating our campaigns like this allows us to hit above our weight."

Paul Farthing is managing director of direct marketing agency Target Direct.

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