Another Year, Another Catalog Conference, Another Dog-and-Pony Show, Another Thank You!

It’s that time of year again, readers. Catalog conference time — or to be more precise, Annual Conference for Catalog and Multichannel Merchants (ACCM) time. This year it’s in New Orleans., and despite that love New Orleans and the music especially, once again I’m not going. 

I had planned to go this year. I even set up some meetings. But then some other meetings took precedence. Truth is, however, I have mixed feelings every year about going.

What I love most about going to the ACCM and other direct marketing events is the camaraderie I feel with industry peers. To me, it’s a chance to reconnect with people I normally don’t get to see throughout the year.

Oddly enough, the people I’ll miss the most are the vendors I’ve worked with over the years. These are the people who’ve allowed me to do my job to the best of my abilities. I truly believe that the job of a direct marketer is just as much externally focused, if not more, as it is internally. 

While I’m internally responsible for my objectives and my team, it’s the vendors I choose that can make or break how the results turn out. These folks have saved me more times than I care to recall. They’ve turned me into a hero by keeping my costs in line, met some ridiculously short deadlines at times, found solutions for me that I thought didn’t exist and even played catalog psychotherapist. 

And they get very little credit for this. This is why I believe in the term “vendor-partners,” and this week, I salute them.

So to all the people in the printing, design, premedia, service bureau, co-op databases, list brokerages, etc., I’d like to use this forum to thank you for your service and your friendship. (You know who you are.)

As you’re standing on your feet all day at the conference, doing the dog-and-pony show, know that when the parties are over and your bones are aching, what you do makes us better at what we do!

On another note, the thing that I dislike about the big conferences in general is the fact that you’re bombarded with information in a super-short period if time. Some people can do “speed learning.” Personally, I can’t. I like my information and my instructions meted out in slower, smaller increments.

So if you’re not at the conference this year (or even if you are), feel free to continue reading my blog. Certainly this Website and Catalog Success magazine are great learning resources for you.

FDMA Catalog Marketing Summit From The Basics to Beyond Thurs 4/16

FDMA Catalog Marketing Summit From The Basics to Beyond!

Host: Florida Direct Marketing Association

Date: Thursday, April 16, 2009
Time: 11:30am – 2:30pm
Location: Westin, Fort Lauderdale
Street: 400 Corporate Drive (I-95 and Cypress Creek Road
City/Town: Fort Lauderdale, FL
Phone: 786-357-3275


Description: Catalog Marketing: From the Basics and Beyond.

What does it take to manage a multi-channel catalog and thrive in this economy? Come join us on April 16 as our frank 5 person panel of experts teaches you from the inside out. Each expert has been hand chosen due to their expertise in specific area’s of catalog management. After each panelist makes their presentation, you will be able to get hands on and ask questions. Topics include: 

• Knowing your customers! – Metrics, business intelligence, LTV, and repeat behavior.
• Printing – Optimizing size, page configuration, postal discounts, co-mailing.
• Creative- designing catalogs to sell. A case study in redesign.
• Operations – Insource, outsource, case studies call call center and fulfillment.
• Lists – a broker’s inside info that will help you challenge and get more from your broker.


Fatemeh Khatibloo, VP of Strategic Services Binger Catalog Marketing, Inc.
Kathy Duggan-Josephs, VP, Multichannel Marketing, RMI Direct 
Tim Holody, COO, Seta Corporation (Palm Beach Jewelry Catalog) 
Scott M. Kaczmarek, Sales Manager, Quad/Graphics, Inc.
Fred Neil, President, Spectrum Management Associates, Inc.

Moderator: Jim Gilbert, President, Gilbert Direct Marketing, Inc.

11:30 a.m. – 12:00 pm Registration Check-in and Networking
12:00 pm – 1:30 pm Program and Lunch
1:30 pm – 2:15 pm Expanded Bonus Speaker Tracks

Register early to avoid additional $10 walk-up fee. 

Interested in attending our Board meeting at 10:00am and learning more about getting further involved with the FDMA, please let us know at 786-357-3275.

Thursday, April 16, 2009 11:30 AM – 2:15 PM

Westin Hotel Fort Lauderdale
400 Corporate Drive
(I-95 and Cypress Creek exit)
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33334


How to create catalog split test scenarios that matter

In part one of a two-part series on the value of creating mail tests that produce measurable, and telling, results for your catalog, this week I tell the story of one cataloger and how its testing proved to have inexact results.

Catalogers these days are racking their brains thinking about ways to decrease costs. Many have turned to changing their books. But as I illustrate below, making universal changes to your catalog can have mixed results. Some of the earliest direct marketers called their work “scientific advertising.”

Catalogers separate themselves from brand marketers by measuring their results and learning from their successes and failures. That’s why catalogers must consistently stay true to the principles of scientific advertising and test everything. I know you’re desperate to reduce costs. But I implore you to test before making any universal changes to your book. To illustrate my point, let me share with you a story — more like a cautionary tale — of a company that shunned the notion of a test before rolling out a major change to its catalog’s paper.

The Backstory

A client of mine decided that upgrading the paper it used in its catalog would result in increased sales — just a gut instinct. I warned them about testing first, as well as running some profit and loss scenarios, to determine how the additional costs would affect their catalog’s break-even point.

They scoffed at the notion of running a pro forma break-even analysis to determine how much revenue they needed to offset the additional paper and postal costs. In fact, it took the convincing of their paper merchant, printer and service bureau reps, along with myself, to convince them to set up a test before changing their paper weight. We set up a straightforward scientific A/B split test. We took half their customers and prospects and sent them a catalog printed on their regular paper. The other half were sent the book with the upgraded, more costly paper.

To keep the test scientific, the service bureau chose every other name from each list segment. In scientific terms, the A portion of names represented the “control” group and were mailed the “before” catalog; the “test” B group was mailed the catalog with the upgraded paper stock. The goal was for the test group to outperform the control group.

The Outcome

When we analyzed the results of the test, the client and I came to two different conclusions. They concluded the test was a success. After all, there was a marginal increase in response rates driving in a few new customers in some, but not all, of the list segments.

On the other hand, I saw something entirely different.

Yes, results were up slightly in some prospecting segments, but response rates were down in the housefile, especially single buyers segments. This meant it was converting fewer new customers (who were just trying the products) to multibuyers — a key metric and clear indicator of future success.

Just as important, the incremental cost of the higher grade of paper was not covered by the slight bump in sales. Prospects were costing more to acquire, and the mailer was losing slightly more money up front — money that would have to be made up in future mailings and orders. Customers were accounting for less profit on a per-order basis.

So who was right?

The client at that point was willing to lose a bit more up front to increase sales and put out a sharper-looking product. Eventually, the increased costs would catch up with it, however. The business suffered and the paper grade had to be scaled back.

Next week in the final part of this two-part series on the value of creating mail tests that produce measurable, and telling, results for your catalog, I continue my story from this week by providing some key pointers you can take away from this example, as well as listing some tips to help your company run successful and subjective tests.

Getting the Most Out of Your Catalog Printer

Marketing via catalog can be a daunting task.  Just printing a catalog has it’s own set of core competencies that you’ll need to develop.  Here is some information you’ll need in order to start…

Getting Print Bids From Catalog Printers:

If you look at a catalog printer’s price quote, and you’re not already in the catalog business, you may be awfully confused. I know I was the first time I got a catalog print quote.

The thing is, with a catalog printer you’re not just getting a quote on printing alone. The most efficient catalog printers — and the only ones from which you should get quotes — also do the following:

* Bind the catalog and any other materials, such as an order form, together. Many times I’ve had materials printed in addition to the catalog that were bound or blown in. Most companies don’t bind in order forms anymore. However, other inserts, such as special offers for different market segments, still get bound in. Many times this printed material gets printed elsewhere and shipped to the printer for binding.

* Print the customers’ names, addresses and associated postal barcodes on the outside of the catalog and inside the order form. They also print additional messages and special offers on the outside of the catalog and the order form.

* Sort the catalogs out to take advantage of postal discounts, and then palettize them based on this sortation.

* Truck the catalogs closer to the end reader by delivering them — on the same truck as other catalogs to save money — to the Bulk Mail Centers (BMC) and Sectional Center Facilities (SCF).

All of these processes, plus plate making, shipping bounceback copies to your offices and other miscellaneous charges, get line items on your price quote. 

Which is why I say that it’s a good idea to make friends with your printer. 

Seriously, a good printer rep will be looking to mail your catalog in the most efficient way possible. Work with it to determine the most efficient trim size and number of pages.

Catalog postal rates are determined by the weight of the catalog. Also, since catalog printers have different press efficiencies, ask yours whether plates of eight, 12 or 16 pages work better. Also, ask which trim size fits its presses for the best pricing.

Once you’ve discussed all of the possibilities with your potential printer, have it take the quote and put it in a spreadsheet, projected out by the amount of catalogs you’re planning to mail. I regularly plan out an entire year in advance, but for the purposes of long-range planning, I’ve had printers develop print models for three to five years out.

When getting print quotes from multiple vendors, take the first quote you get and use that as a standardized form. Get each printer to follow the same format.

As always, please feel free to fire off a comment using the form below.  For more info see next weeks article.

Jim Gilbert is president of Gilbert Direct Marketing and a professor of direct marketing at Miami International University of Art and Design. He can be reached at