Doner ad mailings seek quick reply

A DIRECT APPROACH, WITH CLASS

April 19, 1993|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Staff Writer

Tony Everett grimaced as if he were holding something unclean. In his hands was an envelope designed to resemble a Federal Express package. Out of it spilled a crudely designed pitch for direct-mail services.

"That sort of stuff we will never, ever do," he said disgustedly. "This misleading dirty little trick they've used, how can that possibly be good advertising?"

Mr. Everett, managing director of W. B. Doner & Co.'s direct-response advertising division, is out to give "junk mail" a good name. His goal is not just to get you to open the envelope that holds hisclient's mail solicitation. He wants you to be glad you did.

According to Mr. Everett, direct response is any kind of advertising that is designed to get a reply directly back from consumers, as opposed to inducing them to make a purchase at a store. If it gets you to send in for a free booklet on hearing loss from Miracle Ear, call an 800 number to join the American Association of Retired Persons or send a contribution to the World Wildlife Fund, that's direct-response marketing.

Doner Direct is one of the fastest-growing business lines of Baltimore's largest advertising house -- an "agency within the agency" that rang up $35 million of Doner's $450 million in billings during the last fiscal year.

Jim Dale, Doner's chief executive, said Doner Direct is anything but a sideline business. Instead, the direct-response arm allows Doner to offer its clients a total marketing package.

"It has become a critical tool for our general agency clients," said Mr. Dale.

The man behind Doner's growing presence in direct-response advertising is Mr. Everett, a lanky 48-year-old Englishman who learned the direct-mail trade in 1960s London, where it was a new and vaguely disreputable adjunct to the more proper British advertising business.

Mr. Everett said direct-response advertising has become far more sophisticated than in those early days, when one of his mail campaigns ended up sending 10,000 solicitations to a single address in south London. (No sale.) No longer confined to the mailboxes, it now encompasses print, radio, telephone and television as well.

But Mr. Everett said direct marketing can become too focused on getting an immediate response, to the detriment of the client's long-term interests.

For instance, Mr. Everett said, direct-mail marketers have traditionally been delighted with a 5 percent response rate. "Our question is what happened to the 95 percent who saw the advertising and did not respond to it?" he said.

To Mr. Everett, junk mail is an untargeted mass mailing that puts information into the hands of consumers who don't want to be bothered. "We don't do junk mail," he said.

Because Doner's approach is "on target and doesn't treat [recipients] like idiots, they don't put it into the category of junk mail," he said.

In Mr. Everett's view, each mailing should contribute to the recipient's positive image of the client. Even if consumers don't buy right away, Mr. Everett figures, a good advertisement might help nudge them in the direction of a future purchase.

Mr. Everett also said that with a properly crafted campaign a good marketer can build up a data base on past and potential customers that can be useful in targeting future mailings. For example, customers attracted by the offer of a free booklet can be sent a questionnaire. From there, he said, the client can build up a relationship with a customer.

While Mr. Everett switches back and forth from TV and print advertising with ease, there is one area of direct response he avoids: the dreaded early evening phone solicitation. "Our experience is that kind of cold-calling on the telephone is inefficient -- that it does not work."

Mr. Everett and his family came to the United States in 1979 when he took a job as marketing director with an international marketing group, intending to stay two years. He's still here.

"We didn't realize we were emigrating when we first got off the plane," he said. He was recruited to join Doner in 1984 after a chance encounter with a Doner executive on an Amtrak train.

In some ways Mr. Everett's urbane, polished exterior can be deceiving. The schoolteacher's son from Dorsetshire never graduated from college, having been kicked out of school at 17 for what he calls "various nefarious deeds."

Occasionally, the Tony Everett of the early years rises to the surface. One one occasion, he accused a demanding client of being a "volcano."

Sharon Krager, marketing director for the American Association of Retired Persons, was that client. While she and Mr. Everett have had their run-ins, she praised him for sticking to his guns instead of nodding at whatever the client says.

"Tony has some very strong principles about what is the right thing to do," she said.

He's also persistent. Despite a very successful TV campaign four or five years ago, which Mr. Everett regards as his best work, Ms. Krager said she dropped Doner for a subsequent campaign after some creative differences.

She recalled that instead of walking away, Mr. Everett went ahead and did research at Doner's expense to prove his point.

"He wouldn't give up," Ms. Krager said. "He kept pursuing it, and they did come up with some good thoughts, and we're turning them into direct-market mailings."

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