Getting past the gatekeeper

One of the great unknowns of business-to-business cataloging: the volume of catalogs that actually make it out of the company mailroom and into the hands of your target customers. It doesn’t help that many companies-mostly large corporations-have policies that prohibit mailroom employees from delivering catalogs and other direct mail.

“Increasingly, bulk mail is being tossed out as a part of cost control and human resources cutbacks to reduce clerical staff,” contends b-to-b consultant Ernan Roman, president of Douglas Manor, NY-based Ernan Roman Direct Marketing. In seminars he periodically gives for the American Management Association, “when this issue of mailrooms refusing to deliver bulk mail to employees comes up, a good third of attendees typically indicate that their companies have this policy,” he says.

At Colorado Springs, CO-based business paper cataloger Paper Direct, director of marketing Mary Ann Kleinfelter notes that some mailrooms will call you or send you letters about their policies. When she gets wind of a company with a catalog nondelivery policy, “we work directly with the staff of that mailroom to see how we can get our catalogs to the right people.”

While she can’t name names, Kleinfelter notes that some corporate mailrooms allow Paper Direct to address a package of catalogs to the mailroom along with a list of those employees it wants to receive the books. “Some mailroom supervisors tell us they can have the catalogs in the mailroom and have the employees come down to get them,” she says. “Others suggest we ask employees for their home addresses on the phone and mail our books directly to their homes; we’ve done a little of that too.”

Milwaukee-based National Business Furniture recently had one of its catalogs returned from a large company along with a note from the mailroom chief. “He gave us addresses and asked that we please not send any more catalogs to those people in the company,” says list manager Don Buck.

Aside from such exceptions, though, mailroom blockades are not yet a widespread problem for the mailer, Buck says. “But it’s something I want to check into further. I might consider mailing some books inside plain white envelopes.”

Telephony equipment cataloger Hello Direct simply removes from its database any companies that it knows to have a nondelivery policy. But the San Jose, CA-based mailer took a different approach to a related problem: mailroom supervisors throwing out catalogs addressed to people who no longer work at the companies, rather than forwarding the catalogs to the employees’ replacements. Last year, says direct marketing manager Tim Wade, Hello Direct employees contacted “hundreds of companies” to which Hello Direct mails at least 25 catalogs and asked for the names and addresses of the mailroom supervisors. The cataloger then mailed out questionnaires to capture up-to-date information on prospects or customers, listing all the employees from each company to which Hello Direct was mailing books.

“Sixty-five percent of the mailroom people filled out the forms and returned them,” Wade says. “Not only were we able to remove those who had left the various companies, but some mailroom people even wrote, ‘Oh, you should send a catalog to this or that person too.’ All told, we found about 25% of the people on these lists were no longer at these companies, and we saved a lot of money by removing them from our mailing list.” The survey was conducted at a minimal cost of employee time, he adds.

Some catalogers contacted say they don’t focus much on the problem because they believe it’s more prevalent among larger corporations-an audience they don’t target. Most smaller offices don’t have no-deliver policies, says Jack Miller, president/CEO of Lincolnshire, IL-based office supplies cataloger Quill Corp., whose primary audience is small businesses. “So we haven’t perceived it to be a problem.”

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