Dear Millennials, Meet Direct Mail.


by Nancy Rathbun Scott

As part of the DMAW Educational Foundation’s outreach to college and university professors in the Mid-Atlantic region, DMAW/EF Secretary Scott Huch connected with Jeff Kulick, a professor in the School of Business at George Mason University. Professor Kulick invited Scott to speak to his marketing class on September 12. Scott says he accepted, but with some trepidation.

“After 30 years, I have close friends and family who still don’t really understand what I do for a living. I wasn’t sure about my ability to explain ‘direct mail’ in 45 minutes to a classroom full of undergraduates!” he reports.

scott-huchNot surprising to anyone who knows Scott, the experience went very well. After class, Professor Kulick told Scott, “You were a real hit! You definitely touched on points I discussed in the review of the previous class’s chapter and set up the current chapter better than I could have dreamed. You helped to bring life to the chapters and ideas. Plus, the student who escorted you came up to ask about the Educational Foundation’s ‘Mentor for a Day’ program, and another student was really interested in the Collegiate MAXI competition.”

Scott reports being a bit overwhelmed by such praise. “I enjoyed giving the presentation, but I don’t spend a lot of time around 19-year olds anymore, so it’s hard for me to know if I was getting through.”

It turns out Scott both taught and learned. “In taking a little time to talk about the DMAW/EF’s programs, I learned there is interest among the students. A few students already work in the DM field. Others are exploring the topic as part of a larger focus on marketing as their major.”

Scott was also happy to report that the textbook for Professor Kulick’s course was written by Lisa Spiller, the first winner of the DMAW/EF O’Hara Leadership Award (2008). “Thankfully, the students are exposed to good information,” he says.

How did Scott put his presentation together? “I tried to take along visuals that illustrated the big points: printed samples of numerous direct mail packages; some bluebooks reports for a test mailing, followed by a rollout; and a list of the basic steps in the start-to-finish process of getting a direct mail campaign out the door. I also warned my audience not to let an online marketer come to class and tell them ‘direct mail is dead.’ I emphasized the way multiple channels complement—not supplant—each other.”

Scott wasn’t surprised when one student challenged the notion that Millennials would pay attention to direct mail. “He made the point that his generation grew up with an iPad attached to the palm of one hand,” Scott recalls. “I countered with the story Denny Hatch reported on a few years ago concerning what Bill Royall discovered about marketing college admissions to Millennials. Apparently, in using direct mail vs. e-mail, Royall learned that prospective college students considered their e-mail inboxes to be blizzards of spam from senders they did not trust. When it came to a serious, important, life-altering decision — like where to go to college — they found traditional ink-on-paper direct mail more credible, and it worked better.”

Scott was a bit amused when the student called his perspective counterintuitive. “I said he’d find a lot of things about direct marketing counterintuitive. For starters, I reminded him, ‘You are not your target audience … Our personal opinions only matter in this business to the extent that they’re well-informed, professional opinions based on actual experience, not mere tastes or hunches.’

The final word from Scott? “When in doubt, test and you’ll always find the right answer to every direct marketing question in the bottom line of your bluebooks.”

Nancy Rathbun Scott is president of Liberty Communications Group and serves on the Board of Directors of the DMAW Educational Foundation. Reach her at