Early in his career, Farm Progress president Jeff Lapin helped drive a consumer enthusiast start-up to the top of its category, past the nearly 50-year leader, in two years. He quickly learned that maintaining the number-one spot was an entirely separate challenge.
"When we started this new publication and took our circulation from zero to something past the competition, it’s like we woke a sleeping giant," says Lapin. The competition hadn’t taken them seriously until, all of a sudden, "they got tough."
"We began getting a flurry of cancellations from advertisers," he says. "We knew something had to be going on, so we dug deeper and eventually found that our competitors had accused us of misrepresenting our data." The claim was that Lapin’s circulation was "not very qualified" because a large portion of their numbers came from direct-mail agents. But Lapin felt strongly that this source performed just as well as others, so he got his team together and set out to make the point.
The team gathered at Lapin’s house and spent six days putting together gift packages for 350 past and potential new clients-boxes of shiny red apples with a note that read, "When making media-buying decisions, you need to compare apples to apples." Following that was a report documenting the magazine’s strengths, successes and value. "Our circulation was largely unduplicated," he says. "We proved that our conversion rates performed as well as other sources. Our direct-mail agents brought in close to 200,000 names that hadn’t previously been identified, which added value to the market. And since we could track the volume and payout of our direct response ads, we could prove that it was viable."
Why It Worked
From this, Lapin says the magazine won back all of its advertising business and more, showing a huge return on investment and putting it at the top of the category on ad share as well. Part of the reason was timing. The packages were sent out right before a major annual industry convention. "It was in people’s hands right before they were heading out for it," he says, "and it was marked, ‘Perishable-Open Immediately.’"
Another obvious reason was that it got clients’ attention, which Lapin’s team leveraged at the tradeshow to further redeem their reputation and secure business.
While you may not be sending out boxes of fruit any time soon, the lessons from this story have a clear application: first of all, be creative in getting attention. Think about human behavior: "If someone has a box versus a stack of letters on their desk, my guess is that they’ll go for the box," says Lapin. Bring your team together for an innovative project. Also, notice trends. If advertisers are canceling, there may be a reason. Dig deep to find out why, and then find a way to address concerns and reaffirm your credibility.