'Priority' delivers for Pitney Bowes

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When mail services provider Pitney Bowes launched Priority in 2002 it was not touted as an advertising vehicle.

Rather, the hook was to give small-business readers of the bimonthly publication practical advice on how to do their jobs better and grow their business.

As a courtesy to cultivate business relationships, ads were included in the first few issues from Pitney Bowes' corporate partners, such as the U.S. Postal Service and Sprint.

After a year or so, Pitney Bowes executives decided to make Priority an ad-driven publication. The company contracted with independent sales reps to enhance the marketing of the publication, but that left something to be desired.

Enter Rich Hauptner, director of partnership marketing at Pitney Bowes, who took charge of the magazine in 2004 after serving for two years as group circulation director of now- defunct Gruner & Jahr USA.

Hauptner severed Pitney Bowes' relationship with its existing custom publisher and brought in Touchpoint Media, which was acquired in 2003 by Hauptner's former G&J colleague Jim McEwen. Together, they worked on reinventing the publication.

Starting in 2005, Priority introduced new editorial content that could "speak more directly to small-business owners in a way that's understandable to them and that they could relate to," said McEwen, president of Touchpoint Media.

Morin Bishop, editorial director of Touchpoint, added that most articles in the magazine's original incarnation were "written by folks coming out of a more traditional magazine background and tended to be more macro as opposed to what we run now, which are the micro issues that small-business people have to deal with every day."

Recent Priority articles, for example, have focused on time management, managing office conflict and ad buys for small companies with limited marketing budgets. Edit-to-ad ratio is typically about 70/30.

Moreover, to improve client relations Pitney Bowes added in-house salespeople to augment the independent contractors.

The changes have paid off. The publication, which had an initial circulation of 720,000, plans to boost circulation to 1 million in late 2007 or early 2008. The company hopes to launch a digital version of Priority by the end of this year.

The publication has also provided some uptick for advertisers. Since the editorial changes went into effect in 2005, response rates for advertisers have increased "significantly," Hauptner said, although he declined to elaborate. There are now an average of 20 ad pages per issue, compared with five ad pages per issue in 2003.

Advertisers that have recently come into the fold include Bank of America, Citrix Systems and General Motors Corp. Other advertisers in the mix include, Dell Inc., MasterCard, United Health Care and Verizon Communications.

Hauptner said he has turned away some advertisers whose messages he felt were not targeted highly enough to Priority's readers. "It's really got to hit them between the eyes," he said.

For advertisers that Hauptner feels have a clear message?but have had a hard time breaking through?Priority offers advertorials with clear lines of demarcation.

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