At the Toronto Star, we create most of our direct marketing subscription offers in-house. From messaging to creative design, we do it all – and I think we do it well. But as well as we do it, we are always looking to improve. 

This is why I decided to work with an agency last month to develop some new concepts for our direct marketing campaign for subscription sales.

Don’t get me wrong: I am constantly testing new creative, messaging, and data against our best performer. But I felt perhaps it was time to draw some inspiration from elsewhere.

The agency we hired had experience developing direct marketing campaigns for the newspaper industry, so I felt comfortable giving them control over the creative design and messaging used for our direct mail and e-mail campaign.

I told the agency I did not want them to be influenced by what we’ve done in the past or by what we believe generally works the best for us.

That’s why we did not provide the agency with any samples, which they agreed was a good approach. The only information provided was related to the price point and terms and conditions of the offer. We wanted this to be an opportunity to start from scratch with fresh eyes.

The agency provided four creative samples for us. It was interesting to see a new interpretation of the benefits and features of our newspaper and how the agency chose to communicate these to potential subscribers.

Most of the pieces were very different than what we typically produce, which was the expectation.

If you are used to doing everything in-house, it can be difficult to release control. But it really is a good opportunity to garner new ideas. It’s also a chance to see just how good (or bad) your internal creative stands up against new concepts. 

Here are three tips to help you get the most out of using an outside agency for your direct marketing campaigns:

  1. Tell them what they need to know, then get out of the way. It’s best not to influence the creative team with your opinions or past experience. Allow them the opportunity to be creative and not just follow your direction.

  2. Be open to new ideas. If the agency comes back with ideas and concepts that are far different than the norm, give it a chance to explain its thinking before chucking the idea. Maybe there’s a gem there that just needs some tweaking.

  3. Test, control, and analyse results. Having solid test and control segments built into your marketing campaign is crucial for growth. We know this, we breathe this, we live it in every direct marketing plan we launch. That’s why the new concepts created by the agency were tested against our control piece.

The final results aren’t in yet, so I can’t say whether the new concepts were a home run. But I do feel it’s worth the time and financial investment to incorporate a third-party test into your marketing plan because, as marketers, we should always be striving to learn, improve, and grow results.

Even a small lift in response rates can add up to significant circulation and revenue growth.