Lackluster 'Payroll' sales lead to healthy e-mail campaign

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The American Payroll Association's members know the value of its book "The Payroll Source." Often called the payroll bible, the $200-plus tome covers compliance issues and rules, and is updated yearly to reflect changes in regulations. But members sometimes skip the purchase of a year's edition, and that's what Christina Meslener, director of marketing at APA, realized was happening this year.

Book sales were lackluster; APA was on the path to selling 250 fewer copies than it had in previous years. Since APA had already marketed the book extensively to its members, it was time to target nonmembers. This, however, proved to be a challenge, Meslener said.

"If we were going to go out to people who were not in our membership, we'd have to educate them about our organization and convey how important and vital the book is to those who should be using it," she said. "We needed to show them the urgency and the value of 'The Payroll Source.' "

Meslener began by purchasing a list of 52,000 from Dun and Bradstreet, targeting CEOs, CFOs and directors of finance among others. After extensively cleaning and vetting the list Meslener and two other in-house marketers designed the six-e-mail campaign.

Since as most finance and payroll personnel know, botching a compliance issue can mean the death of a career or a company, Meslener's creative referenced lifesaving and health-related issues. Messages, which went out every two weeks, linked using the book with keeping a prospect's business healthy. Subject lines referred to compliance and the need to avoid problems. The call to action offered a sample download as well as a discount on the purchase price for those who also joined the APA. Meslener sent out an introductory e-mail prior to the first campaign message so people could opt out if they wanted to.

The first message, which was issued in February and went out to more than 27,000 people, equated "The Payroll Source" with a lifeline.

"We included an image of the book next to a life preserver. This made the connection quickly," she said.

The second e-mail used a firefighting theme, warning recipient not to get burned by noncompliance. The third used images of a doctor, admonishing against letting a payroll practice become a code blue.

The program was very well-received, Meslener said. In fact, even factoring in the cost of list rental, APA's campaign paid for itself two times over, she said. Book sales jumped significantly, with more than 300 copies sold as a result of the campaign. Just as important, the organization added 50 new members to its ranks.

"The campaign tapped into what people were feeling when they are trying to figure out compliance regulations. It clicked for people, obviously. I would absolutely do something like this again," Meslener said. "We also feel that even if people didn't buy the book or join as members this time around, we now have brand recognition with them. Next time they hear about us, they might say, 'Oh, right, they have that book called 'The Payroll Source.' "

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