"Most holiday cards are pretty impersonal," notes Gary
Slack, Chairman of B-to-B marketing agency Slack Barshinger.
"It's a time of the year when people are looking to be
communicated with personally. Many of us hope we get a lot of
cards - it's not junk mail - and the more original the better.
If you can do that effectively, you can really stand out."
So, every October for the past 15 years, Slack's asked everyone
on staff (not just the creative team) to brainstorm ideas for
that year's card.
The resulting cards really stand out. For example, last year's
was a giant photo of a cookie pan with a decorated gingerbread
man cookie representing each staffer. And, during the darkest
winter of the recession, the card was a booklet of inspirational
Slack says the cards have definitely helped build and maintain
"I hear about the card all year long. I'll go to clients'
offices and see it on their bulletin boards four-six months after
the holidays. I don't want to make more of it than I should, but
it's nice to see. Every business needs a distinctive tradition
that helps them stand out."
While sending cards to your customers and hottest prospects is a
given, Slack also strongly recommends businesses set up a program
to send cards to past customers, to key customer contacts who
have switched employers, to press, and to other connections.
"For people you lost touch with, it's a great way to stay top of
mind without being a pest."
The only problem is keeping your database current enough so your
cards reach their destination.
"Each year 15-25% of business contacts have wholesale changeovers
- entirely new addresses and companies. It's probably closer to
50% across all your listings that one significant field will
change - a phone number, a title."
Slack invested $10,000-15,000 in his Company's card program every
year. How could he make sure the database was clean enough so
the money wasn't wasted?CAMPAIGN
Whenever anyone at the agency meets a new business
prospect or other useful contact, that staffer has a 24-hour
deadline to enter the contact information into the agency's
Each databased name is assigned a primary agency contact, plus
there are fields for secondary and tertiary contacts.
"If you are the primary contact, you own the quality of the data
in each of those listings. It's your responsibility to make sure
Slack himself is the primary contact for about 50% of the
contacts. The average senior person on his team has about 150-
250 contacts to manage; juniors may have 10-50 names each.
Client, key prospect, and current vendor records are updated
throughout the year the old fashioned way -- by phone calls and
manual research such as checking LexisNexis ("It's my secret
weapon.") If an individual name changes companies, the agency's
primary contact must both find out who the replacement is, and
also track the old name to his or her new position.
Records for people that the agency isn't routinely in contact
with are generally updated in a massive 4th quarter push just
before the holiday cards go out. "We do a lot of database
manicuring and grooming then. I'll probably personally spend 100
hours every 4th quarter on database management," Slack says.
Could there be an easier way?
Like many of us, Slack has received a growing deluge of automated
contact management emails from business associates using systems
such as Plaxo or GoodContacts this year.
On one hand he found the automated format and canned layout
unappealing. On the other hand, an automated email blast could
save a huge amount of research time and effort.
"I had a little trepidation about doing our own. I wanted to
make sure we were not lumped in the same boat with people sending
these fairly impersonal notes asking for contact updates."
So, he asked his creative team to design an email campaign that
would enhance the agency's brand, stand out in the mailbox, and
get results. (Link to sample below.)
The email was "from" the primary contact in the database for that
name. The subject line read, "Please help us with the Slack
Barshinger Holiday Card"
The agency's logo was in the upper right corner - but not so
large or omnipresent that the email appeared to be self-
promotional. Instead, your eye was quickly led to a brief, warm
note explaining that the agency wanted to make sure your contact
information was correct so you would get a postal mailed holiday
Pictures of famous past holiday cards were displayed running down
the left side of the note to inspire a higher recognition and
The individual recipient saw their name, title, organization,
street address, and phone number already pre-populating the reply
form under the note. They could correct things or leave them
unchanged. To reply, they simply had to click the "submit"
button at the end.
It was clean, elegant, easy.
Slack decided against sending this email to clients. "If I were
a client and I got one of these emails asking me to update a
database, I'd have to scratch my head and wonder why my agency is
uncertain about reaching me. If we have key contact updating to
do - we do it the old fashioned way. Our client listings should
be 99.9% accurate year-round."
He even fretted a bit about sending it to other contacts because
many businesspeople are inundated with Plaxo-type requests this
time of year. "I was nervous."
So he sent a small test batch in mid-November, and then when
there were no complaints, rolled out the rest of the list a few
41% of contacts who received the email responded to the
campaign - and 42% of these changed their records. So hundreds
of records in the database were updated almost instantly.
The hard bounce rate (email rejected mainly because addresses
were not good anymore) was 21%. This was invaluable information
because Slack's team could target their further hands-on research
efforts on the contacts most likely to require updating.
No recipients complained about the campaign.
The final database cleaning was finished last week, and Slack's
team spent this weekend signing cards to be mailed December 15th.
Again they relied on the database to make the signatures more
personal feeling. Each name's primary agency contact was in
charge of getting their particular card signed. Primary contacts
carefully routed each card in their care, so just the people at
the agency who were directly, personally involved with that
contact signed his or her card.
No cards were sent with generic or pre-printed signatures. After
all -- the goal is relationship building and that takes a
personal touch.Useful links related to this campaign:
Sample of the emailed campaign asking for corrected contact info:
ExactTarget - the email services firm Slack uses for broadcasts
On Monday, November 28, 2005 1:20 PM, Sherpa Reader Sharon Ainger wrote in:
Would you believe that I still have Slack Barshinger's 2001 holiday card/inspirational booklet in my desk? I'm not even on their mailing list: I met one of their reps at an Adobe workshop in Chicago in the fall of 2001, and he personally inscribed the booklet and mailed it to me even though I wasn't a prospect or useful networking contact for him. On the heels of your blog about personal contact in networking, Slack Barshinger slam-dunks that topic, too.
Thanks for the thoughtful e-newsletter, as always.
Sales Support Specialist
Martin Business Group
501 Commercial Court
Lake Geneva, WI 53147