David Zeeck: We’re making our mid-week advertiser better

In the latter part of January we began to change the delivery method of a midweek advertising product.

For decades, we had used direct mail to deliver advertising inserts to non-subscriber households at mid-week (often the same newspaper inserts delivered to subscribers). At the end of last year we mailed them to more than 125,000 households each week.

Advertisers value newspaper subscribers because the advertising is part of a purchased product, but they also want to reach nonsubscribers, who are also valuable potential customers.

In our view, direct mail has become somewhat less efficient over time for a couple of big reasons. One is that it can be unnecessarily wasteful. With direct mail we can’t know which households want it and which ignore it. Second, as postal rates constantly rise, it’s increasingly expensive for us and for advertisers.

So we decided to change the delivery method where it makes sense.

Over the next several months, we plan to convert a significant chunk of our midweek delivery to a new weekly newspaper, to be called The News Tribune Extra.

We began vigorously trying to hold down costs and improve household selectivity a couple of years ago by targeting direct mail better. In the past two years alone we saved more than 150 tons of newsprint that way (counting only the savings from the heavy newsprint “wrapper” that holds the inserts).

The weekly paper will let us save even more — both newsprint on our side and unwanted inserts for the advertiser — because it can be more selectively delivered. As a bonus we hope to create 40 to 50 new jobs in this endeavor.

Delivery via the new weekly paper can help advertisers hedge against rising direct mail costs because we’re a lot more efficient than the Postal Service. And we weed out readers who truly don’t want the product by inviting them to opt out. If they don’t want it delivered to their house, we’ll stop delivery.

We launched the product to about 30,000 households in January. I wish we had done it a lot better. But that’s why you roll out a new product in stages; to learn.

Here’s what we did wrong: We delivered the product in orange bags, started delivering only the advertising before we developed the news part, didn’t make the opt-out choice obvious enough and then kept delivering papers to houses where the orange bags were stacking up.

We’re trying to fix that. Clear bags are supposed to arrive before next week’s delivery. We’ll get the weekly news in the package before we launch the next conversion, we’ll make the opt-out more obvious, and we’re pressing carriers to avoid delivery where papers are stacking up. We’ll also stop delivery to a vacant house if a neighbor alerts us.

(You can opt out or report a vacant house by emailing customerservice@thenewstribune.com or calling customer service at 800-289-8711).

A couple of concerns have been raised — about unwanted papers clogging storm drains or washing down storm sewers and into Puget Sound — that aren’t grounded in fact. I checked with a stormwater expert at Pierce County and was assured that modern stormwater systems have multiple filters, catch basins, sumps and retention ponds that pretty much prevent solids from making their way to the Sound.

And — though we already deliver more than half a million papers to subscribers each week — the city’s stormwater expert said he was not aware of a problem with newspapers clogging storm drains. I asked him to let me know if that changes.

Some have labeled the product litter; they’re certainly free to stop delivery. In fact, coupons have real monetary value, and many consumers find the advertised bargains are a welcome money-saver in a tight economy.

It’s clearly a wanted product by most. The phone number to stop delivery is printed on the front cover of every insert jacket. And after five weeks, the opt-out rate averages less than 0.4 of 1 percent.

We’ll keep working on it till we get it right.