The Direct Approach: How to score a direct hit

The direct marketing industry's far-sightedness, flexibility and ability to innovate have put it at the forefront of the changing media landscape - and it is thriving as a result.

It has become one of the industry's most peddled cliches to talk about the rise of direct marketing over the past few, recession-dominated years. Yes, DM's accountability, measurability and cost-effectiveness have all come to the fore as budgets have tightened and procurement has become a fact of life. But the DM industry has not simply sat back and waited for the world to move its way.

There have been some enormous developments in the scope and structure of the business over recent years. As marketing directors have placed more emphasis on the importance of direct communications, the industry has matched this all the way with a growing sophistication and readiness to embrace new forms of media.

While globalisation has become a touchstone for the entire marketing services sector, DM has occupied a middle ground - with the network approach sitting alongside DM's very special localism. Integration, too, has become a defining characteristic of communications-industry talk, if not action.

Here again, direct marketing agencies are straddling the lines, working readily across traditional silos while remaining rooted in some very exacting specialisms.

Meanwhile, as other, equally established, corners of the marketing services industry have been slower to embrace changes to the media landscape (such as digital, SMS and video messaging DM) agencies have moved quickly to seize the opportunities and claim the territory. Perhaps this is because many direct marketing agencies are less inwardly focused, less self-obsessed and less precious than some of their creative peers elsewhere in the communications industry. Perhaps it is because DM agencies feel less threatened by the seismic changes that are taking place and also have less to lose. Perhaps it is simply because DM agencies have always had one-to-one relationships at their core and technology, finally, is catching up. Whatever the truth of it, DM agencies are often proving fleeter-of-foot and more flexible than other agencies.

Yet, amid all this change and all the angst about the new DM model, the industry remains keenly aware of the moral framework within which it must operate. Quaint as such a concern may seem on the surface, it strikes at the very heart of the industry's continued success. As technology allows commercial messages to become ever more intrusive, the requirement to treat consumers with respect and to entertain rather than harangue them is more important than ever. Thankfully, the DM industry, at least, is ever-mindful of its responsibilities.

In these articles, you will find serious debate about all of these changes and their impact, both current and future, on the nature of the industry and the very essence of what direct marketing really means. These are crucial considerations for an industry that is standing on the threshold of dramatic change and, while nobody would claim to have the answers off pat, there is a tangible sense of dynamism and enthusiasm to engage with the real issues.

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