December 10, 2002
Case Study

Clever Pre-Show Direct Mail and Web Campaign Generates Solid Leads

SUMMARY: "So many pre-show mailings are all glossy stuff saying 'Stop at our booth.' I wanted to do something very different," Mark E. Johnson told us.

He created a (very) low cost mailer that was so clever that out of 400 pieces mailed, 406 people visited his Web site! Plus, he landed at least five solid sales leads at the show.

By the way: If you are a freelancer or consultant, this Case Study will inspire you. Yes, creative samples are included.
As an independent copywriter, Mark E. Johnson is up against a lot of competition when he pitches prospective clients.

Johnson knows that hiring a copywriter requires a lot of trust on the client side (a bad campaign can lose the client a lot of money) and a great personal relationship because you will be going back and forth quite a bit during campaign development.

He relies heavily on networking and attending events.

This fall he decided to invest in attending a related business association's trade show in Las Vegas. Hotel, tickets and travel would add up to at least $1500, plus he would lose possible income from three working days.

It was not a guaranteed home run. Plenty of other client-hungry copywriters were also attending, duking it out for the attention of potentially fewer potential clients than average due to the recession.

How could he stand out from all the other people pitching services at the show, and get qualified prospects to approach him in the show hallways and cocktail parties?

Johnson decided to create a pre-show marketing campaign to catch the attendees' attention. However, he knew lots of exhibitors were also sending out mailings at the same time, so his had to stand out in the crowd.

"So many pre-show mailings are all glossy stuff saying 'Stop at our booth.' I wanted to do something very different."

Step 1: Picking an Offer

Johnson knew his target audience, subscription newsletter marketers, love to read case studies, about their peers and competitors, hoping to find ideas they can steal to improve their own sales.

He also knew from experience, that when trade shows offer attendees the chance to get their marketing campaigns critiqued by consultants, those consultants often land new accounts because of it.

He created a one-two punch offer: Everyone who went to a special Web site could see "possibly the most successful newsletter promotion ever created" plus, they could sign up to get a no-cost, 30-minute, creative review of their current DM package while they were at the show itself.

Step 2: Developing Creative

Instead of relying on one main Web site, Johnson prefers to create special sites for each niche audience he is marketing to. For example, Johnson does *not* have a site called '' but he does run a site called, ''

He explains how he picks the domain names, "It needs to be descriptive of what you're offering. It's not about me. It's about what I can do for my clients - like the title of a book describes the content not just the author's name. I got the idea from a Denny Hatch article years ago. He said for a self-promotional Web site pick two words that describe what you do."

Since this show was for newsletter marketers, Johnson decided to name his site (Link below.)

He used five clever tactics to make sure the site impressed visitors and generated sales leads:

a. Limiting the content: Instead of including heaps of potentially distracting information, Johnson limited the site to just 12 focused pages including the home page.

"I wanted people to get to the point, which is to contact me. It's just like building a DM package - you lead people up to the result you want. You want them to take action - to respond."

b. Including just five case studies: Johnson has more than a hundred samples of his successful work for clients that he could brag about. However, he limited himself to showing just five of them on the site.

Why? He knew busy execs generally have only a few minutes to visit a Web site before they are distracted by other things, so offering more than five stories might mean time was up before they got around to responding.

Johnson picked the five carefully so they were a representative sample of his work, including a big brand name client, a client with unusually good results, and several different sorts of campaigns. Hopefully all visitors would find at least one story that matched their particular situation.

c. Logos of the two most prominent trade associations that Johnson's prospects belong to (one of which was the association throwing the show) are displayed with the words "Member of" next to them at the very top of the site's home page.

The prominent placement gave Johnson's site a 'credentialed' which hopefully meant visitors would take the content below more seriously. (Note: Many marketers put logos like this at the bottom of site pages instead. You might consider switching that placement.)

d. Links to the special show offer at both the top and bottom of most pages, instead of just on the home page. Plus, Johnson also included a shortcut link each part of the site as part of the standard navigation bar at the bottom of each page.

Visitors could take a linear site tour, clicking the "next" button at the end of each page. Or they could take control and move to the section that interested them most.

e. A specially chosen typeface to increase branding. Johnson decided to have the entire site created using the Loveletter font, which resembles type from an old-fashioned typewriter.

"I wanted something that suggested copywriting and my style which is letter-orientated."

After the site was completed, Johnson created a simple printed flyer that matched the site's colors and typeface. (Link to sample below.)

The copy was incredibly short and to the point. Again he wasted no words or reader attention on anything but the point:

Possibly the most successful newsletter promotion ever created. Log on to see this camaign plus a free offer for Las Vegas conference attendees"

Aside from this copy printed in big black letters on a simple piece of copyshop canary offset paper, the flyer featured the association's logo together with the word "MEMBER" over it.

Johnson mailed it in a #10 (business-size) closed-face envelope. He printed his name and address on the top left corner and the recipient's name and address in the middle, both in Loveletter font. Then he mailed it using a live stamp.

"It's a good old-fashioned communication. You don't get many of those in the mail anymore. It looks businesslike but like it was prepared by a human being. I did the whole mailing on my kitchen table. Ran it off on my laserjet and bought 500 stamps at the post office."

Johnson mailed the package on October 29th, a solid five weeks prior to the show.

Step 3: Choosing the Mailing List

Johnson decided against the obvious choice of just mailing to show ticket holders. Instead he rented the association's entire membership list, figuring that some people had not made up their main about attending yet, and others might take advantage of his offer even if they did not attend.

However, he did not waste his money mailing the whole list without culling first.

"I dropped vendors, foreigns, other copywriters, and professors." Although the association's list had about 600 names, he only ended up mailing about 400.

Step 4: At Show Follow-Up

The one thing everyone does while networking at trade shows is hand out business cards.

Johnson created special "tent" cards just for the show to maximize the impact of his pre-show campaign and get more attention. These cards (link to sample below) are larger piece of card stock folded in half to standard card size.

Instead of making what he calls "the mistake" of putting his name and contact info on the front of the card, Johnson treated them like mini-DM packages. The cover features teaser copy, the inside features the offer with the URL, and the back side has Johnson's contact info.

He decided to make these white to be more business-like, but the typeface was yet again Loveletter.

Johnson laughs, "I laid the card out on my PC and took it to the printer who's printed plenty of my cards. She said, 'Oh we'll typeset this nicely for you.' I said, 'No! This is camera-ready art.'"

Because of this campaign, Johnson says, "This was best show I've ever done in terms of sales leads. It was super. I had people from big companies approaching me."

Although you never know for sure until you get a signed contract, Johnson is happy to report that it looks like at least five of his leads are "solid" and will probably lead to work.

The site, which was only promoted via his mailed flyer and his "tent card' at the show, got more traffic than you would expect.

Here are the (outstanding) numbers (remember the mailing of 400 was sent October 29th via first class mail, and the show was December 4-6th):

Oct - 163 visitors
Nov - 189 visitors
Dec - 54 visitors between Dec 1-9th
Total - 406 visitors viewing an average of 4.23 pages each

Useful links related to this article:

Samples of Creative: DM, Web site and "tent" business card:

Johnson's special site was created by this design firm:

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