6 Profitable Advance Renewal Approaches

by Robert W. Bly


            Advance renewals, also called blanket renewals, often generate the highest response rates and profits of any direct-mail piece a newsletter publisher can mail, yet many publishers don't use them effectively or at all.

            They are called “advance” because the goal is to renew the subscriber early, before the regular renewal cycle begins.

            However, “blanket” is a more accurate term, since these renewals are sent to all subscribers at the same time, regardless of where that individual subscriber is in his subscription.

            Therefore, some of the renewals may not be reaching all subscribers in advance of the regular renewal letter series. Some may arrive during that series.

            Those who do not use blanket renewals object to the idea as follows: “Why send these extra renewal efforts at all that extra expense? They will just get us renewals we would have gotten later down the road with our regular renewal series.”

            My answer is that those future renewals orders are a “maybe.” Maybe you will get the numbers your renewal plan projects. Maybe you won’t.

            But every renewal order that comes in through a blanket renewal is money in the bank now, not “later.”

Blanket renewal formats

            An advance renewal is sent either as a separate mailing in an envelope or enclosed as an insert with the subscriber’s regular issue.

            When you are sending your blanket renewal as a stand-alone package, make the word “renewal” prominent on the outer envelope, the first page of the letter, and the order form. “Renewal” gets the attention of existing subscribers.

            Blanket renewals sent as solo mailings are similar in style, tone, length, and format to regular renewal efforts: outer envelope, 1-2 page letter, reply form, business reply envelope. Sometimes there is a lift note or (to highlight a premium) a buck slip.

            Blanket renewals designed as inserts typically range from 4 pages in length and occasionally 8 pages. Depending on how you mail your newsletter, some of the pages of the renewal insert may have to be dedicated to pure editorial to satisfy postal requirements. When in doubt, ask your postmaster.

6 response-boosting ideas

            What themes can you effectively build your blanket renewal efforts around? Here are 6 techniques proven to work for a variety of different newsletter publishers:

            1.  Avoid future price increases.

            When there is no other news or angle, you can make the primary reason to renew now instead of later the ability to lock in the current price and avoid future price increases.

            This can work all the time, since publication prices go up frequently and almost never get cheaper. So it is believable.

            When you can give a concrete reason why the newsletter price may go up soon, this approach is even more effective.

            2. Sell the offer.

            When you have a special blanket renewal offer, stress the offer, not the publication. The more attractive the offer, the more it should be highlighted in the promo.

            Offers that work best include:

      Discount for early renewal.

      Extended subscription for early renewal (two extra issues).

      Special premium for early renewal .

      Value-added service free with early renewal (telephone hotline or Web-site access).

            Does that mean you don’t talk about the newsletter at all, and focus only on the offer?

            No. You do need to resell the newsletter, and that’s a good tactic to take in the lead when there is no special offer. But if you have an enticing offer, lead with that first.

            3. Correct the defects.

            Savvy publishing companies adjust their product and offer based on subscriber feedback. A blanket renewal is an excellent forum for talking about those fixes.

            After all, you are asking the reader to continue subscribing. He is more likely to do that if you have corrected the defects in your product that were bothering him.

            For instance, a subscriber survey for an investment letter showed that readers were unhappy with the lack of mutual fund coverage.

            To correct the defect, the editor produced a special videotape in which he discussed mutual funds. The videotape became the premium for a very successful advance renewal mailing.

            4. Explain the discount with unconventional reasoning.

            KCI Communications has had great success with Utility Forecas advance renewals that feature arguments between the editor and publisher (Roger Conrad and Walter Pearce) where they "fight" over the price (and the editor, who wants to hold prices down, wins).

            For example, when Utility Forecaster increased its page count from 8 to 12 pages per issue (increasing the length 50%), they sent a blanket renewal insert with this headline, attributed as a quote to the editor. It worked extremely well:

            “Making these improvements to Utility Forecaster raised my publisher’s cost 50% per issue…but I told them YOU shouldn’t pay even a nickel more!”

            5. Look for and exploit a "twist."

            One investment letter did a reader survey that showed subscribers made surprisingly few and infrequent trades. A successful advance renewal took the subscriber to task for not taking advantage of opportunities -- and offered extra issues for early renewal to provide readers with a chance to get in on stocks they may have missed earlier:

            “If you missed out on making 186%, 410%, or even 725% on these winning recommendations from Personal Finance, I’ll extend your subscription for FREE while there’s still time to get in on these top profit-making recommendations.”

            6. Be straightforward -- but quirky.

            Make the offer clear and sell it hard, but add a story or other element of intrigue to boost reader interest.

            Example: Growth Stock Winners offered as a renewal premium a bonus report listing of stocks of greater than usual profit potential and risk -- so aggressive that the publisher would not "allow" the editor to present them in regular issues!


            About the author:

                Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter whose clients include Kiplinger, Forbes, McGraw-Hill, Phillips, Agora, Harvard Business School Publishing, and KCI. He is the author of more than 50 books including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing (Alpha Books). Bob can be reached at 201-385-1220 or at rwbly@bly.com.