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Direct Mailing List Tips Self Publishers & Business Owners Must Know

Author: Helen Hecker

Many self publishers, book publishers, entrepreneurs, and home-based and small business owners are in the dark about mailing list rentals-how to order targeted, direct mailing lists – say for a direct marketing campaign, what to look for, and what to beware of. And they often make a few expensive mistakes. The following tips and trade secrets will help you avoid some of these mistakes and help you make better decisions when you seek out quality mailing list services.

First of all, generally, you rent, not buy mailing lists. They remain in the ownership of the mailing list company and are usually not for sale.

Many business owners rent lists but don’t use them right away, which is a mistake. Most lists change considerably in 30 days or less. Some lists, like mailing lists of public libraries, prisons, hospitals, hospital gift shops, elementary schools, high schools, colleges, universities, daily newspapers, TV stations and radio stations will have very few changes. They are fairly stationary so not as likely to move. Bookstore lists, new age bookstores lists, organization lists, specialty lists, MLM lists and business mailing lists may have a high rate of return. To avoid a lot of returns, rent the selected lists just prior to making your mailing.

Be careful about renting any mailing list that goes to individuals: consumer mailing lists, seniors mailing lists, residential mailing lists, homeowners mailing lists and opportunity seekers mailing lists, for example. With 20% of the population moving every year you may get significant returns.

But do expect some returns. As often as we mail using lists, we always get returns (called ‘nixies’ in the trade) from the post office. People move, forwarding orders expire, people expire, post office boxes close, and businesses close their doors.

Mailing list management and upkeep is expensive. It takes a lot of time and labor for companies to compile, add to, clean and mail to their lists and other necessary maintenance. They also use expensive mailing list software programs which can have costly bugs of their own.

To help you plan ahead, before you order your mailing lists, ask when you can expect the order to arrive. This can vary considerably from company to company. Some companies can take up to two weeks or more.

Mailing lists can usually be ordered in at least three formats – peel and stick (pressure-sensitive) labels or Cheshire (18 pound, spreadsheet-size computer paper-less common these days) or on a floppy disk (used less often these days) or CD. You order peel and stick labels if they’re going to be affixed to your mailing piece by hand. Or if you know how to import the lists you can order them on CD. If your mailing house is going to do your mailing they’ll probably prefer the floppy disk or CD – check with them on this before you order.

Mailing houses used to require the Cheshire format instead of peel and stick labels before the advent of computer technology and CD ROM. They have machines that cut the printed Cheshire sheets into labels and glue them to the envelopes. When ordering lists on CD, specify the format you want to use for conversion, usually ASCII comma-delimited. You must know how to import it when you get the disk though. The mailing lists will always be for one-time use only even if they’re on a CD or disk. And some mailing list companies offer instant downloads of lists.

Also if a mailing house is going to do your mailing, they may want the labels to be merged if there is more than one list, or bar-coded, which will save considerably on postage. If you can’t answer their technical questions, have your mailing house call your mailing list rental company to work out the final details.

Consider the cost to mail out your mailing piece. You might want to test a small number on the list first if you have an expensive or heavy package.

When you do mailings First Class, you’ll get returns from the post office at no additional charge. If you mail Third Class (bulk mail), you won’t get returns. They will be tossed out at the post office, UNLESS you’ve printed ‘Return Service Requested’ on the envelope. Then each return (nixie) will cost additional postage (based on first class), or ‘Change Service Requested’ (cost based on piece regardless of weight.) Make sure to check current costs with the post office because they change their rates AND rules periodically.

Always send any nixies back to your mailing list company, even if there aren’t enough for a credit, which is almost always offered. This is a good practice especially if you plan to mail again to the same list soon. They usually have a time limit as to when they can accept the nixies for credit because the lists you rented will become outdated fairly soon.

When you contract to rent a list, some mailing list companies may require a sample mailing piece. This is so the company can determine if you’re mailing a competitive or objectionable piece.

The business of mailing list rentals is based on the honor system to a degree, but this honor system also has a built-in alarm: owners protect their data by planting decoy names (seeds) in the mailing lists they rent. If a renter contracts to use a list on a one-time basis and uses it a second time, the decoy will receive the unauthorized mailing and report the misuse to the list owner. The decoys are often friends or relatives of the staff of the companies. Also, many mailing list companies employ companies that specialize in tracking or monitoring mailings to detect any misuse. Since decoys are different for each list order, the renter who abuses a contract is easy to trace.

Mailing lists are protected by copyright and trade secret law. Any violation of a list agreement is strictly upheld by the courts. Once a list rental contract has been broken, the list owner has legal recourse to sue for compensatory and punitive damages. Punitive damages could amount to as much as three times the value of the list and more.

All list owners have good reason to be so protective of their data. List rental is a multibillion-dollar business. There are literally thousands of lists available for rental in the United States alone.

If all else fails, you can enlist the help of a mail list broker. Brokers usually collect their fees from the mailing list company. Check this out first.

In any case caveat emptor! In any case you can reap rewards handsomely from sending out fliers, press releases, press kits, review copies of books and other materials via the direct mailing lists you choose.

These tips and trade secrets should help self publishers, book publishers, entrepreneurs, home based or work-at-home and small business owners make better decisions when working with mailing lists, mailing list rentals and mailing list companies.

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About the Author
Helen Hecker helps book & self publishers, heads Twin Peaks Press, a PR, offline-online marketing, mailing list, consulting, publishing co. Do AP press releases. Publish books, ebooks. “Helen Hecker’s Biz Hotline” for biz owners. Free co-op mailing service. Since 1982.