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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Big OOPS and Apology

Direct mail can be a powerful marketing tool, depending on your objectives. In a former career I remember reading that direct mail is 40-40-20: 40% creative (design); 40% list; and 20% message (offer). I could be wrong on the percentages but you get the idea. And speaking of, did you know that 67.3% of percentages* are made up?

But I digress.

So direct mail. Necessary? Maybe. Opened and read? Probably not. In fact, did you know that a 5% response to direct mail is considered effective -- and successful -- in some circles? Turn this around and consider that the whole direct mail industry is based on a 95% fail rate. (I heard this explained at an American Marketing Association conference this fall so I must give them credit.)

And I've digressed again.

Here's the real story:

A few weeks ago, I received a mailing at home from the National Jewish Health organization. It contained "holiday" labels with my name. The labels I could were clearly Christmas wreaths. I found this mildly amusing and showed my husband and several coworkers. Now I'm all about supporting all religions. I've always been fascinated by the Jewish religion and took a class on it in college. Before I married my husband, however, we both joined a Catholic church. My personal feeling is that we are all calling God. But we might be using different phones. And that's okay. I personally don't think it's up to me to judge a person based on a religious preference or no preference.

I give to charitable organizations from time-to-time, and one of my personal favorites is the American Cancer Society. My mom passed from cancer several years back and giving to this organization is my way of paying tribute to my mom. My guess is that the American Cancer Society sold my address to the National Jewish Health organization. I'm not a fan of this process, but I know it happens.

So there I was, amused by the fact that a Jewish health organization took a BIG chance and sent out a holiday label mailing - with Christmas labels no less! I showed these to my Jewish coworker and asked if she was offended (no, she was not) but she shared that she imagined some others might be.

I still haven't opened my pack of labels because I think it is way too amusing and it tells a great story. And no, I did not donate to the National Jewish Health organization. Not because I was offended, but because I've chosen to allocate my charitable donations to other causes. There are many worthy organizations out there and those who choose to give pick and choose where their dollars go.

So anyway, in today's mail I received an apology letter from the company who handled the mailing for the National Jewish Health organization. The letter itself is honest, but amusing to me as a marketer. Here's an excerpt:

"Recently, an error occurred in which address labels with potentially offensive holiday images were included in a fundraising mailing from National Jewish Health...We were responsible, and we are sorry."

"Jewish philanthropy is, and has always been, the foundation of funding for National Jewish Health. At the same time, the size and scope of the essential, lifesaving work they do make it necessary for them to also look outside the Jewish community to find other generous supporters. That's why Merkle produced two sets of address labels: one with traditional Jewish holiday imagery, and a second with non-Jewish images like Christmas ornaments and wreaths. A mix-up at the mailhouse resulted in some potential donors receiving the wrong set of labels."

There's more to the letter but this is the essence of it. They apologize profusely if anyone was offended and take complete ownership of the mailing glitch. The mailing also includes a second letter from the National Jewish Health organization's President and CEO, Dr. Michael Salem, who also apologizes profusely. He mentions that he heard from several people that they were disappointed or offended in the mailing and hopes this does not reflect upon their support of his organization.

Egad. His would be a tough job to have when that mailing hit. What would you do?

No, I was not at all offended but I sure want to open my Christmas ornaments to see what could have offended some people.

Yes, mistakes happen. Yes, this was a big risk for the organization to reach beyond the Jewish community for fundraising efforts. At the time I received the labels, I made the comment to my husband that some Christians may have been offended to receive a mailing from a Jewish organization and they definitely wouldn't donate. No, I was not offended but the mailing wasn't effective in getting me to donate. I'm in the 95% mentioned earlier. :)

So what's the moral of the story? I'm not sure. But I know that taking ownership for an error is a noble thing to do, and sometimes a difficult thing to do.

Oh, and now I know a bit more about the National Jewish Health organization and its fundraising efforts, so maybe I'm actually in the 5% category instead.

So - what's the best or worst mailing you've ever received, and why? I'd love to hear from you.

*Yes, I made this up, too. :)