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Pitney Bowes Finds DRTV works for business-to-business marketing

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Pitney Bowes Inc., Stamford, CT, began airing a new flight of DRTV spots this month as part of its ongoing campaign to reach the small office and home office (SOHO) markets that are difficult to reach through direct mail.

It may seem ironic that the largest maker of postage meters in the United States would choose DRTV as a marketing medium, but the company found a dearth of reliable lists of the estimated 10 million small offices and 40 million home offices in this country.

"There are no lists available of home offices, really, if you want to mail or tele-market," said Beth Ghiloni, SOHO marketing manager. "We were forced to go to other new channels of distribution and creating awareness. Direct response TV has been the most successful of our new ventures."

Its spots for the Personal Postage Meter feature actor John Ratzenberger, a star of the syndicated series "Cheers". He demonstrates how the device can save the time of travelling to the post office to buy stamps. When hooked to a phone line, the meter automatically dials in to a Pitney Bowes computerised centre that fills orders for more postage.

The company is offering a two-month free trial of the meter, a "business building" CD-ROM and $25 of free postage. After the initial trial, the meter costs $24.75 a month to lease.

Pitney Bowes is targeting a market of smaller offices that each spends between $7,000 and $ 10,000 a year on office equipment and technology, according to a study by IDC/link, a market research firm. Those spending levels are expected to grow between 7 percent and 8 percent a year. Ghiloni said she estimates that 8.5 million of the 10 million small offices in this country do not have a postage meter.

The DRTV spots were produced by Milton Samuels Advertising Agency Inc., New York. Media Direct Partners, a media buying subsidiary of Interpublic Group, also based in New York, is handling the media placement.

Pitney Bowes has hired several telemarketing companies as it tests and refines the campaign. It originally chose West Teleservices Corp. to take orders and direct complex product questions to a company call centre, but it also hired MBS Communications Inc., Chesire, MA, to provide callers with a more thorough sales presentation.

"It's a boutique company, but the conversion rates are much higher," Ghiloni said. "We switched a lot over to them." Pitney Bowes currently does not offer an up-sell in its DRTV campaign, but Ghiloni said that the company plans to test such an offer this year.

Business-to-Business expertise hard to find
While Pitney Bowes had difficulty finding lists for the SOHO market, it also had a difficult time finding a DRTV agency that had experience in business-to-business marketing.

"We're not selling a consumer product, but what were the examples we could look at out there?" Ghiloni said. "We started out and we didn't know a thing. We didn't know about media buying, we didn't know about the telemarketing end of direct response TV, we didn't know about the creative. We have spent the last 6 months testing dramatically and have learned a lot."

One surprising finding was that business-related TV shows did not draw as responsive an audience as educational and artistic programming.

"We thought that a CNBC or business-to-business show would give us the best draw," Ghiloni said, referring to the business news cable channel. "It turned out that channels that are more focused on culture and the arts - History Channel, Discovery, A&E - are where we get the biggest bang for our buck."

The company also learned that, contrary to what its media buying agency had observed in previous DRTV campaigns, cable channels outperformed broadcast spots by a factor of 10. "The cost of cable is a lot cheaper," Ghiloni said. "Now we're experimenting with different kinds of buying formats within cable." It plans to buy more pre-imputable spots that are discounted for direct response advertisers.

Although the company is targeting businesses, it recognises that many businesspeople do not know how postage meters function.

"I think our DRTV commercial is very successful creatively because it shows what the product does," Ghiloni said. "Nobody knows what a postage meter is, really, but the commercial explains it in sort of a humorous way that makes you feel like a postage meter is for you, as opposed to some big, big company."

The campaign is intended not only to raise awareness, but also to capture names and addresses of home businesses for outbound telemarketing follow-up and direct mall.

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