Not such an ugly duckling…

How reputation, not results, is blinkering an industry

CEO Jim Lewcock reveals how the ‘ugly duckling’ of the print media world is finding its unlikely allies in online and SMASHING Google on performance (just don’t tell Martin Sorrell!)

There is an injustice in the media industry. As media agencies’ obsession with digital escalates, they are losing the people with the talent and know-how to make ‘old’ media channels work. No-one is going to get sacked for sticking a bit of social media on a schedule, but the print channel is now sooooo passé – you risk being scoffed at for even suggesting it - an attitude that extends across the industry: Chief Exec of WPP, Sir Martin Sorrell, quoted in The Guardian last year, suggested that advertisers should think seriously about slashing the amount spent on newspapers and magazines, branding the proportion of ad spend an anomaly.


So imagine your role is to promote the ‘ugly duckling’ of the print media world and you understand the everyday challenges for the team of 30 people working at The Insert House!

But here lies the opportunity

And it’s some opportunity!  We have never booked so many inserts (1.7 billion in 2013 – and the UK’s biggest market share, yay!). And we are expanding our team in the UK and setting up offices all over Europe – filling this talent void and delighting our clients with some amazing results. 

So what’s driving our growth? 

Firstly, lack of competition. We frequently take on insert campaigns that other agencies have driven in to the ground or didn’t know how to fully optimise.


Secondly, there is an appetite from client marketing departments to keep media channels open. They don’t want to be told the future is digital when digital isn’t always doing the numbers or scale for them.


Thirdly and MOST important is the growth of online business. Eh? Surely some mistake…how can online business be good news for inserts?


Well, something happened in the last few years that we didn’t expect. In fact it was so unexpected we set up digital, mobile, broadcast, creative and analytics businesses preparing for our insert business to plateau!


What happened was that mail order became cool again – but to be properly cool it had to be called eCommerce. We know that inserts have long been the kings of mail order; you still see the big catalogues going into newspapers and yes, if you get the right offer, print format, media selection and entry cost we can make ‘em work (we do a few hundred million of them right now). But what’s the BEST way to target potential eCommerce customers?

Answer: pop an insert in their shopping baskets (the real ones that are delivered to their doors).


As newspaper and magazine circulations decline, new ‘piggyback delivery’ distributions for inserts appear, such as Amazon or ASOS, with volumes that make the Daily Mail look modest. And not only are the volumes healthy, they can drive chunky response rates because we know we are not just reaching readers or browsers of websites, we are targeting 100% (VERY) recent online buyers. Let’s take the results from an insert we placed with Ocado for a fashion client as an example: the ROI was 6:1 – much better than their PPC Google activity and way beyond our targets - plus we know these ‘insert-driven’ customers buy again and again.


And beyond eCommerce, we book other sectors like travel, finance and charity into these home-delivered distributions simply because they respond. And it’s a lot cheaper than paying for your own Royal Mail delivery. We are dealing with many clients who now count inserts as their CORE media channel, driving thousands of new customers into their business – confirming the inserts renaissance.


By deliberately protecting our channel specialisms here at The Specialist Works and digging deeper, we can do amazing things with print media … in direct mail, press, inserts and door drops.


So the message is, don’t abandon the old media channels - find new ways of using them.

Put an ugly duckling in our hands and watch it grow in to a stunning swan!