Sunday, February 28, 2010

Direct Mail Works!

Direct-mail does work, but you have to decide on one of two major proven effective approaches, and apply effort and patience to the practice - shotgun or limited target-specific.

The decision on which to use is often based on budget/economics but spending huge amounts of money on a campaign is not necessarily the most effective approach to achieving a good, or any, return.

The favorite approach among those lucky enough to have a significant marketing and/or advertising budget is the “shotgun” approach. Send out LOTS of pieces, hit LOTS of addresses, and spend LOTS of money to draw in a small percentage - 1% return is often considered a good response.

Yeah, a 1% percent return on a million pieces is a significant number - so what! Not everyone has a million-dollar-plus budget. Right? I mean, I don’t!

MY favorite approach is significantly LESS expensive, significantly MORE specific, and thus far for me has delivered a GREATER response - 5.3%.

Agencies, corporate entities, and individual small business owners often perceive, or are told by advertising/marketing consultants that it is the “design” of a campaign piece that enhances its success. The assumption being that when a 1% percent response is generated it is because the campaign piece was outstanding.

Well, effective or compelling anyway.

These folks are also told that it is necessary to utilize mail-management services and purchase expensive commercial mailing lists in order to enjoy any hope of a successful direct-mail campaign.

Not necessarily so, and sending out thousands, much less millions, is not the best way to judge a piece’s effectiveness when dealing with percentages. Ask enough people to dance and somebody will. Does that mean you had GREAT looks, charisma and personality, were dressed sharply, or exhibited smooth dance steps? No, it means you had determination and patience.

You COULD ASK THEM ALL, somebody in the room is going to step out with you if you ask enough of them.

But what if you were particularly good at a particularly popular dance style? What if, by watching and studying them, you discovered which ones appeared to “favor” that dance style and approached ONLY them? See where I’m going with this?
Same with sending out high enough numbers in a direct-mail
campaign. A simple one-page marketing letter in an auto-labeled envelop can be effective with shear numbers (that “shotgun” approach where only one pellet has to “hit” to prove compelling). It helps if your copy is effectively presented, or if your aim is close, using the “shotgun” analogy, but that is not an absolute necessity.

It’s the numbers! But what if your “aim” was better, your “target” more defined?

Create a compelling piece, a half-page-size direct-mail postcard, for example. Why? Nothing to open, instantly visible (talk about instant messaging), colorful, informative AND compelling with a call to action. EVERY individual handling this piece, even the one carrying it to File 13, will scan the message and be informed - especially if the piece is aimed at a target-specific audience.

Since January 1, 2010 and through today, end of February, I have conducted a direct-mail campaign using target-specific half-page-size postcards that has seen only 150 pieces mailed, generating eight replies and resulting in four paid video production jobs.

Eight responses out of 150 pieces - 0.15 of the normal target of 1,000 pieces per campaign - is 5.3% and a significant response level based on ANY marketing entity's formula. Furthermore, I estimate expense of less than $1 per postcard including the 44-cent 1st class postage. That computes to less than $150 for the four-interest-area campaign.

My specific targeted markets were dance schools, public school performing arts programs, martial arts studios and funeral homes. Three dance schools responded, two public school programs, two martial arts and one funeral home. EIGHT RESPONSES out of 150 pieces! Even MORE significant is that fewer than 50 pieces were sent to any single area of interest, jacking the response percentages WAY up there - much higher than 5.3%.

A target-specific campaign lends itself toward small print runs, a reduction in overall costs, and easily adapts to an “as available” budget rather than a more expensive and perhaps more difficult to sustain major campaign with high spending levels...
...then waiting for the dribble of return, if any

At the beginning of 2010 I determined to develop a series of specific-interest and targeted area postcards, mailing them in small quantities. I promised myself to average AT LEAST one-piece-per-day, but my actual budget is $50 a month in postage. So, 50 pieces minimum a month, only $600 a year. I currently “print on demand” but will eventually outsource some of my designs to America’s Printer - GREAT products, prices & service.

WHAT IF 600 direct-mail pieces a year resulted in a five-percent return? What if each gig generated $250? $350? $500? That’s $7,500 to $15,000 a year on a $600 a year investment. That’s $12.50 back on each dollar spent.

Using my FOCUSED strategy where I not only send a postcard to ONE NEW ADDRESS a day, but after adjusting my mailing lists (obtained via the Internet) for returns/bad addresses, I will repeat the mailings to previous groups/addresses every 90 days.

This approach has a two-fold effect: I perceive that I gain a NEW set of eyeballs EVERY DAY, but move one degree closer to the “repetition is effective” marketing philosophy, establishing credibility, visibility and linkage, along with BRAND RECOGNITION.

Repeating to previous addresses on a persistent basis helps me take advantage of the marketing belief print-ad publishers have that an advertisement has to appear THREE TIMES before a person even NOTICES it.

I also achieve the argument for “page dominance” - my postcard has NO competition for attention at the time it is displayed. AND, I achieve the published ad market’s other argument for repetition and linkage. I am establishing the “credibility” print advertisers promise when trying to sell you on contracting for multiple ad placement. Or, when they suggest annual advertising contracts providing for an ad in every consecutive issue over a 12-month period.

These arguments hold water, more or less. They are effective, more or less, but NOT NEARLY SO EFFECTIVE as a direct-mail campaign focused on a narrowly defined target base.

Remember: If you market, you will make it! © Earl Chessher

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Start a Montage & Projection Business Cheap

Those of you interested in entering the montage & projection video services business can probably find cheaper start-up equipment, and you can certainly spend MORE depending on the degree of service, quality of equipment and company positioning you wish to establish.

Upon researching, using Google primarily, I estimate that the minimum investment for moderate-to-best quality equipment needed to successfully start this business model will come in well under $5,000. Actually, your montage production equipment/software investment could be $1,900 or less, likely not more than $2,000. Likewise, video projection services could come in under $1,700, certainly not more than $2,000.

Of course, you can seriously shop around for the best deals of the moment - save a little, save a lot.

There are obviously other, more and personal incidentals that can come into play, jacking your investment costs upward of $10,000 or more, but these costs are totally optional and totally not necessary to establish a lucrative startup business that should generate R.O.I. (return on investment) in 90 days or less. Where else can an enterprising individual invest $4,000 today and start making money next week in this economic climate?

Key to getting business, making money and a 90-day R.O.I. is marketing!

The following suggestions/recommendations are slightly north/south of my own brand/model investment, but since I started in this business costs have come way down. My replacement costs, and funding a second complete set-up combined, at today’s prices, will still run me significantly less than my initial investment. I did invest more heavily into audio reinforcement, using a Samson powered/slave speaker system, and my original projector cost me more than $2,000.

Here’s what I found:


• iMac 3.06 GHz Core 2 Duo, 21.5 screen, 4GB RAM, 1TB HD, SuperDrive

(you could up the RAM, or go with a larger screen model but...) = $ 1,449.00

• Epson Perfection Scanner, model V30 = $ 90.00 (or, V700 Photo = $550, optional)

• Epson printer, any of several models (get one that prints disks) = $ 100.00

• Photo to Movie software = $50.00

TOTAL = $ 1,700

• Optional software, PhotoShop Elements, etc. = $ 250.00 total for various

GRAND TOTAL = $ 1,950.00

NOTES: The Epson V30, at 4800 x 9600 dpi is certainly sufficient for photo-montage scanning needs. There’s also the V500 at under $200 - lots of options, but budget limitations speak loudest.

This is the same for projectors: do you go wide? SD? HD? or what? Those choices are yours, but my experience is that something similar in a 2000-to-2200 lumens unit, with connectivity options for players, decks, computers, and/or more, has enough utility to accommodate most personal event situations. If you want to enter the commercial event arena look for MUCH MORE competition from services and rental companies, higher levels of technical savvy and a huge boost in investment costs.


• Epson projector EX50 = $ 649.00 (The EX50 is discontinued, but look for 2000 lumens or better)

• Screen 6x8 min. 8x10 suggested = $ 400.00 (screens start at $250 and go to thousands)

• Player = $ 50.00 (more, or less, depending on if you start out HD, or SD, etc.)

• Speaker, PA system = $ 259.00 (for Fender Squire, 80 watt system, on up)

• Projector table = $ 150.00 (Gigant Folding Table, or Telemaster 2-shelf, DA-Lite, etc.)

• Projector table skirt = $ 80.00 (black felt, heavy cloth with hook-and-loop strip)

TOTAL = $ 1,588

Any number of these items (table, skirt, player, speakers, scanner, printer, software, etc.) can ring in lower by shopping around or compromising, or simply aiming smaller, more economically or selectively and keeping a tight leash on your spending - wants VS needs.

Search and shop by brands: Fender, Samson, DA-Lite, ScreenWorks, Epson, Mac, Photoshop, Photo to Movie, Toast, etc.; or search and shop by product - video projectors, projector tables, screens, skirts, scanners, printers, photo editing software, etc.

I suggested the iMac primarily because it comes with pretty much everything you need to start out, with the included iLife '09 software for movies, photos, sound and more; also the affordable iWork 09 software will get you what you need to design DVD case inserts and DVD graphics, etc. Or, go PC and do something similar. Your choice.


Photo to Movie Photoshop Elements

Just remember: If you market, you will make it! © Earl Chessher

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Marketing is Key, but I Just Started

You have, or not, video production experience. Resources you can market. Tools to do the job, work the gig or deliver the product. But you do not have enough for a demo reel. You also need to start bringing in some money NOW! What do you do?

This concern is much like the age-old expression that you cannot get a job without experience and you cannot get experience without a job. Frustrating, to say the least. Daunting at best. The key to success in developing and marketing a successful business as an Independent Professional Video Services Provider is to start. Today! Just do it! It is not impossible to start out from this point. But you do have to start. Decide you will do something now while you focus on developing your specific video production business interest via direct-mail marketing.

Here’s the usual situation. Probably. One of my readers recently wrote:

“Something I have been struggling with. I think you are right that marketing is key. Although I have been doing video for another company for years I have now started out on my own.

“The problem is that I have no footage of my own that I can use for demo DVDs, etc. So I now have to frantically start shooting footage that I can use, which does not help the short-term cash flow.

“I think this is a problem that many of your potential buyers of your (upcoming) book (‘Video Production, Marketing and Success!’) might face as well, and that you could perhaps suggest a solution for.”

These are my thoughts and suggestions:

I know YOU probably know “the obvious” but just in case you’ve overlooked, put off or was afraid it would be necessary - here are the principal elements I get from your comments:

* You've done work for another company for years, so you have experience (or not)
* You have little, if any, of your own footage to use for marketing/demo (also, or not)
* You want/need to acquire footage you can use to develop a demo reel
* You cannot (as easily) market, generate new business or make sales without examples
* You need cash flow NOW

The principal challenge here is that we HAVE to DO SOMETHING, DO it NOW, and make it happen ASAP. We SHOULD have started yesterday, last week, a year ago, a decade...
...but we didn't. And all along knowing we should have been doing what we could to accumulate footage, build a portfolio, demo reel, whatever.

What happens is that thought of putting forth the effort becomes daunting, especially when folks like you and me have various issues and challenges, but need to do something to survive anyway, no matter how much it hurts. Right? It is almost overwhelming. Right? Even though we beat ourselves over the head DAILY that we NEED to get moving, do something, get out there and mingle, market. We don't, and another day passes without hope. Dismal, I know, but I will bet that most of us (myself included - very MUCH included) don't always have the humph to rock and roll like we know we should.

This inertia can be overcome but like most difficult tasks, it takes hard work, focus and a solid effort.

That is when we have to, as my East Texas redneck brother-in-law always says: "Suck it up. Be a man!" Yeah, it's a "guy thing" but one could also say, "Suck it up and be a WOMAN!" We HAVE to "just do it!" Otherwise "it" will not get done. Sermonette over.

Here’s what I’d do, and/or have done!

1.) Get whatever permissions you can from that other company to use footage you've worked with or on for them for marketing purposes. Most will, especially if the working relationship has been cordial, built on trust and respect for each other. If this isn’t an option, read further.

2.) YES, seek out whatever events you want to market and approach them with “some free production” if they will sign a release granting you marketing use. This is GREAT for walking on the field for youth sports events, virtually ANYTHING you see occurring in progress. I’ve done this with soccer, baseball, football, tennis, bicycle groups, volleyball matches, equestrian events (horses :-), even parties being held in public parks. Some will not be cooperative, but on the whole you will get enthusiastic support. Only be sure to keep any promises you make, and get those releases in writing or recorded on video.

2b.) Do the same with Craig’s Lists or any other potential web or other available resource for finding out about events and accumulating footage.

Sermonette two! The whole secret to this working, coming together fast and helping your situation is to START TODAY! Do it now! Many of us, if we start over-thinking the situation, we talk ourselves out of doing it today and that’s one more day lost toward establishing a successful effort.

3.) You need cash flow yesterday, today at the latest! There are a host of potential clients “out there”. You HAVE to go to them, contact or call them, visit with them camera-in-hand, and be ready to roll. Martial arts and dance studios, pet shops, small businesses...
...all these and more are approachable, but it takes gumption to do so. You have to find that gumption. Great ideas won't work unless you do. Yes, I've said that before.

If you approach the same people for sales at low dollar values (for now) that you approach for acquiring sample footage; if you get out there and mingle, market, you will get paying gigs. People WILL ask, and hire - even if you NEVER show them one second of footage on a demo reel. You look and act professional, and your gear/rig says/looks “professional” so you will get business, sometimes immediately.

I pitched a car show one time, my first attempt, and got permission to do a quasi-documentary of the event. Sales were dismal and some politics got in the way of things, but I picked up several other jobs from participants. These guys often have money, are CEOs or other, of their own, or large companies, etc. I was hired by a box and packaging company manager; a small machine shop owner; and a dress boutique owner, all the same day.

4.) YOU NEED FOOTAGE! In my early days, and still whenever there’s something I do not specifically have a sample of, or have not yet personally done, I would borrow samples of what I KNEW I could do - most of this from people I’d met who were in the business and knew me, trusted me. What I would do was put together some samples from other producers and MAKE DARN SURE my potential clients KNEW and understood that it was “borrowed” material used only as samples for reference and NOT my own. I stress this footage is “representative” of what I can do, or had the experience and knowledge to do, and was exemplary of my approach and style.

I had, at one time, accumulated a demo reel of sample clips from ALL permission-granted resources and was able to tell potential customers they could contact these resources to verify the validity of my claim to either experience, association or whatever. I didn’t do this for long, but early into my career I did utilize these resources until I had finally accumulated sufficient demo materials of my own.

There are those who will say this is unethical, that it is misleading. Most who do this might make it so, but done properly, I disagree. Yes, it CAN be unethical, misleading. NO, it doesn’t HAVE to be if you are honest and up front about the source, your experience and claims, and do not claim to have done the specific reference work you are sharing.

Use your Google, or other, search skills to locate business addresses in your desired service area. Start your direct-mail campaign today. Develop a one-page letter, a half-page-sized postcard, and start developing a demo reel DVD. Get ’er done, as a comic once said.

What I'm sharing here NOW is part of the all-inclusive book: "Video Production, Marketing and Success!: The Definitive Resource Book for the Full & Part Time Independent Video Producer". Much of the book will feature SCADS of DVD samples, and editable CD pdf files that can be revised to fit special individual business needs.

Remember: "If you market, you will make it!" © Earl Chessher