Media: Junk mail cans its image

It's still not sexy, but the one-time joke of adland - direct marketing - has moved into TV, radio and print. And the likes of Tesco, First Direct and Direct Line are reaping the benefits. By Richard Cook

Direct marketing has a lot to answer for. The pile of suspiciously glossy mail that daily lands on your doorstep is just the start of it. The fact that a quarter of all TV ads now include a telephone number is down to its influence: ditto the fact that six of every 10 radio spots now - in the jargon - include some sort of response mechanism, and that 85 per cent of newspaper ads feature either a coupon or a phone number. Direct marketing will never make stars of its leading practitioners. It will never have the effect of a Gold Blend or a Guinness telly ad on our collective consciousness. But, better than that, it is quickly and quietly changing the way companies go about the business of selling.

The direct marketing business was worth pounds 5.5bn in 1995, according to the Direct Marketing Association. The DMA is currently preparing figures for 1996 but expects the final figure to top the pounds 6bn mark. Not bad for an industry that is full of people who wanted to get into advertising, were delighted at breezing through the interview and were then several weeks into their new career before it dawned on them they were never going to write the new Levi's ad.

"That's exactly how I got into the business," laughs Sarah Owens, the managing director of direct marketing recruitment specialists Direct Recruitment, "but the image of direct marketing has certainly improved out of all recognition since then, as companies like Tesco have got involved."

When Tesco embarked on its direct marketing programme, by launching a loyalty Clubcard to build up a database, it was roundly mocked for so doing, not least by its supermarket rivals. But since launching the card, Tesco has moved from strength to strength and become Britain's biggest grocer. And the supermarket has paid generous tribute to the efficacy of direct marketing along the way.

"One reason why direct marketing is doing so well at the moment is that we can quantify the effect we have in a way that other marketing disciplines just can't," says DMA chief executive Colin Lloyd. "We reckon, for example, that last year people spent around pounds 24bn directly as a result of the pounds 6bn of direct marketing expenditure."

Ironically it was the recession that helped propel direct marketing into the premier league. Previously the resource chiefly of charity and financial service companies, direct marketing started to attract big names looking for a more cost-effective advertising approach.

"There's two real reasons why direct marketing has really started to take off," agrees Simon Hall, chief executive of direct marketing agency Barraclough Hall Woolston Gray. "The first is that clients started to think really hard about their advertising budgets and about accountability during the recession, which sent them towards us. The second is the improvement in computer systems, which have enabled everyone to target customers ever more effectively."

This reliance on technology is certainly changing the face of the business, not least by providing a host of opportunities for young talent. Barraclough Hall, for example, employs 170 people, but with an average age of just 25. And right now the direct marketing industry is crying out for all the young talent it can get. Fortunately, it can now also offer that talent more than the opportunity to pen a little junk mail.

"The rewards are starting to match the new status of the industry, and the improved calibre of the people choosing to join it," confirms Owens, "Someone with just 18 months experience can expect to earn around pounds 18,000- pounds 20,000, and there are very good prospects. I've just placed a 29-year- old in a job paying pounds 50,000, and that's by no means unusual."

It helps that the industry has one of the best-developed industry training schemes around. The diploma administered by the Institute of Direct Marketing is recognised around the world. The Institute takes around 450 students a year - both from direct marketing agencies and from advertisers. Typically around 360 of those proceed after two years to the diploma. Everyone is sponsored by their employer and the course is structured so that it can be completed by a mixture of evening classes and intensive one- or two- week training sessions.

"We're also trying to get direct marketing on to the syllabus at colleges and universities," says the Institute's membership director Neil Morris. "When we first went to them and said direct marketing should be taught on its own and not included in some general marketing course, we didn't get very far. But people have seen how companies like First Direct, Direct Line and even Tesco have built their businesses using DM, and they are increasingly starting to take notice."

Certainly the sheer volume of information that marketers have now started to collect about the public is impressive. They know where you live, what you earn and how you prefer to spend it. They know this because they are prepared to spend pounds 600m a year just on compiling databases of information.

But where the industry is now starting to develop is in the creative ways that it uses that information. You are no longer impressed just because it is your name on the envelope or because the letter is addressed specifically to you. But if you are expecting a baby in nine months time and get sent free a magazine packed full of tips for mum's-to-be along with a little discreet baby-related advertising, then that's a different story. If you then get sent another magazine to guide you through the first months of your baby's life, and another when it reaches six months, the chances are the words junk mail will never pass from your lips. Yet that's one of the ways Tesco is currently exploiting the database it has developed.

"There's been a revolution in direct marketing over the last couple of years," says Barraclough Hall chief executive Simon Hall. "It's always been more intellectually demanding than other advertising disciplines, but now it's starting to get more creative as well. The profile of our industry is soaring, and if that profile still lags behind the rest of advertising I don't care. They are the dinosaurs and we already have greater importance with the client companies. We shouldn't mind too much if our profile is still lagging behind the reality"n

Suggested Topics
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
Life and Style

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
Northern soul mecca the Wigan Casino
fashionGone are the punks, casuals, new romantics, ravers, skaters, crusties. Now all kids look the same
Life and Style

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Programmatic Business Development Manager

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: As the Programmatic Business Dev...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Trainee Recruitment C...

European Retail Sales Manager, Consumer Products

competitive + bonus + benefits: Sauce Recruitment: My client is looking for an...

Sales Director, Media Sponsorship

£60000 - £65000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A globally successful media and ...

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past