MSPs: Strategists or Implementers? Takeaways from the NRA Mailing Discussion

By | March 2, 2015

Last Friday, I wrote about what I asked might be a direct mail misfire—a prospecting letter from the NRA that spoke to our family as if we were already members and included our family’s “new membership seal” in the envelope window for all the world to see. My reasons for considering this a misfire are included in the post, and my position sparked a lively discussion.

Now that it has all died down, I am left with a question about the role of marketing service providers . . . or at least those who consider themselves to be. To be a marketing services provider, you must offer more than simply execution. You must offer strategy. Hence why one comment to my post was so striking:

If I were the printer and had a major client like the NRA who does a tremendous amount of mailing – I don’t think I would suggest to them that their mailing might be offensive to a certain group of [unlikely prospects]. I’d turn it around to you – do you think that would be a good business move?

I thought this was an interesting response because it implies that MSPs should not question the marketing practices of their customers. If they are simply printers — those who execute production — then absolutely, commenting on strategy would be inappropriate. But for those who consider themselves marketing services providers, isn’t offering advice on strategy part of what you are being paid to do? If a client could be doing something better, isn’t asking questions and making suggestions exactly the role that an MSP is supposed to play?

Of course, not all clients will come in the door wanting help with strategy. They just want someone to execute, and that may very well be what happened here. But this mailing was an opportunity to ask the question — if this had come across your desk, and if you were the MSP on this project, what would you have done? Just print the job and send the invoice? Or attempt to open a discussion about customer profiling, targeting, and strategy?

There were some excellent suggestions offered by those commenting on my post. In a nutshell, it was pointed out that groups need to be targeting beyond their typical customer profile:

All of these groups are seeking to expand their donor base beyond their hard core supporters . . . How can the NRA or any other group expand their membership if they narrow their mailings to those most similar to 75% of their base? Isn’t it good marketing to target and expand their membership to those that look like the other 25%?

My response:

I absolutely agree with you that organizations like the NRA need to expand their membership beyond their “typical” member. The question is how to go about it. The approach used in this campaign would be appropriate for prospects who already fit the NRA member profile. It may very well NOT fit those who don’t.

Here is the response, which I believe to be the most valuable part of the discussion:

If I were advising the NRA, I would tell them to target liberals with a record of gun owner ship or even an interest in guns. Pieces targeted towards women and inner city residents about self defense and self defense classes could also be very potent. The rewards of increasing this base of support could be significant in increasing their political power. To your point, I would certainly advise they use different copy for this audience than when mailing to a more conservative group.

Of course, doing this would require the MSP to take a risk — to step out of the role of simple print production and ask probing questions. This goes back to the original comment. To take that risk or just print the job and take the money? To me, this depends on two things: 1) the expectations of the client (don’t tread where you aren’t wanted); and 2) whether you consider truly consider yourself a marketing service provider or not.

This was a fairly contentious discussion, but I think that it’s exactly these types of discussions that flesh out really important issues to this industry and where we all learn the most.

If you haven’t read the post or the comments, check them out.

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