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Direct marketers care enough to send their very best to soldiers overseas

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The reason for the season, for many direct marketers, is the opportunity to give back. For GalleryCollection.com, Hallmark Cards, Pitney Bowes and Xerox Corp., that generosity is aimed at supporting American troops overseas by mailing them greeting cards.

All the companies are donating time, money and/or services directly or in partnership with nonprofit organizations to spread Christmas cheer to soldiers far away from their loved ones at Christmastime.

Direct mail marketing company PostcardMania designed and donated 75,000 Christmas-themed printed postcards to the “Postcards from Home” program run by a DJ at a local Tampa Bay radio station. PostcardMania’s mailing services manager Lisa Switzer, a former Army medic, suggested donating postcards to CEO Joy Gendusa, who liked the idea so much last year that this is its second year supporting the program.

“The fact that we are a printer makes it a no-brainer,” Gendusa said. “It’s so easy for me to build those costs into my budget. It’s costing me paper, ink and plates, [but] it makes it an easy way for us to give back.”

She said there is no specific ulterior marketing motive, but rather a way for her to give to others during the holidays. “I am successful personally, and it makes me feel good to help others.”

Another direct marketer, Pitney Bowes, leverages its expertise in automated mailing systems in partnership with the American Red Cross to support the troops. They provide a free P.O. box to gather hundreds of thousands of letters sent daily to wounded service members at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Once a week, Pitney opens, sorts and screens each mail piece using its automated processes, and delivers that mail to Red Cross volunteers at week's end. Red Cross volunteers review and distribute the cards and letters, which are then boxed and prepared for mailing and distributed to 40-plus so-called “wounded warrior centers” around the country.

“It allows a message of holiday support and morale-building to be sent to the veteran,” said John Campo, head of postal relations for Pitney Bowes. Like PostcardMania, Campo said the program isn’t part of a larger marketing plan, but rather the right thing to do.

“You have to do the right thing,” Campo said. “Even if there’s no tangible financial benefit, this is the right thing to do for the right people.”

For more information on the Walter Reed holiday cards program, visit www.wramc.amedd.army.mil/Lists/WRNews/DispForm.aspx?Id=30&.

Other direct marketers take the opposite approach, supplying cards to soldiers overseas that they can send to loved ones at home.

GalleryCollection.com, a corporate Christmas card direct marketer and a division of Prudent Publishing Co., spent $400,000 to spread holiday cheer this year, donating more than 280,000 Christmas and holiday cards to Soldiers’ Angels, a nonprofit organization that supports servicemen and women.

“We’re sending them two cards,” said H.L. DeVore, CMO of GalleryCollection.com. “One card says thank you. The other card is blank for them to send home.”

Card publisher Hallmark Cards has a similar program. Hallmark spearheads Operation Heartlift, a program like GalleryCollection.com’s that helps men and women serving in the military stay connected to family and friends by supplying them with cards to send.

“It gives them something to send back home,” said Linda Odell, a PR spokeswoman for Hallmark. “We do it more because we understand there’s not a Gold Crown store in Afghanistan. When we have some surplus product, that is a good way to put it to use,” she said.

Unlike the others, Hallmark’s program is not driven by the holiday season specifically. The greeting card marketer runs the program year-round, donating cards to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, United Service Organization and Give2theTroops, a program of the U.S. Department of Defense, which in turn distribute the greeting cards in care packages sent to active military personnel overseas.

Another year-round program comes courtesy of Xerox Corp., which hosts a Web site, LetsSayThanks.com, to give the public a free and simple way to send postcards of encouragement and thanks to U.S. servicemen and women overseas.

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