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Direct Response Marketing

PCH Wins All Day Long

1 Feb, 2013 By: Thomas Haire Response

Josh Glantz says Publishers Clearing House's bedrock work in direct mail and television gives its booming Web properties the chance to engage customers more often than other marketers.


“It’s telling that PCH is the last of the big pure direct marketers that’s around at all,” says Josh Glantz, vice president and general manager of Publishers Clearing House (PCH) Online, the branded direct marketing giant based in Port Washington, N.Y. “Our business is growing. We’re sad to see some of our old competitors go by the wayside, but it is nice to realize we’ve done such a good job blending direct and digital.”

Glantz joined PCH in 2009 and his team helped the 60-year old company add and expand new digital offerings to bolster its traditional print direct mail and DRTV outreach. While PCH’s mailers offering magazine subscription packages and other products and the company’s famous DRTV “Prize Patrol” spots, where PCH surprises winners on their doorsteps with checks ranging from $1,000 to $10 million, are familiar to anyone with a TV or a mailbox, it’s that digital marketing business that is leading the way for PCH’s future.

With nine websites in its PCH Online Game Network (led by the flagship PCH.com) offering visitors a prize nearly every 10 minutes, digital has become the marketer’s leading source of consumer interaction during the past decade. “Online, it’s more cost-effective and easier to engage in what could become a profitable relationship with our target market,” Glantz says. “It’s a lead-generation business — every time a customer opens an E-mail, they have a chance to win. It’s a value exchange that drives the relationship.”

Glantz contends that PCH “probably invented the concept of a ‘deal of the day,’” giving the company a leg up as online consumers transition from desktop and laptop computers into the world of tablets, smartphones and social media. PCH is still working on how to maximize those technologies in their marketing plans. But the company’s history as a marketing innovator — combined with Glantz’s forward-thinking ability as a digital marketing leader — should help it continue to roll with the times.

Value, Variety and Convenience

When Harold Mertz, his wife LuEsther, and their daughter Joyce founded PCH in their garage in 1953, it’s pretty clear they had no idea what the business and breadth of the company would be 60 years later. As a veteran of magazine circulation, Harold Mertz saw an opportunity to pool subscription offers from many publishers into a single direct mail effort. The idea was to give consumers unprecedented value, variety and convenience — three words that still rule everything behind what PCH does.

With these mailers — if you’re old enough, you likely remember the colorful “stamp sheets” of different magazines in each mailer — PCH became the largest magazine circulation agency in the business and one of the most respected direct marketers anywhere.

But it was the advent of the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes in 1967 that took the company to new heights. Between its offer of discount magazine subscriptions and the chance to win cash prizes, consumers ate up PCH offers, leading to PCH’s entrée into the TV space in 1974. In 1985, PCH added household and personal items, home entertainment products and more to its offers.

But, for decades now, TV viewers have most associated PCH’s marketing with the “Prize Patrol” (created in 1988), which delivers checks to unsuspecting winners at their doorsteps. This continuing TV campaign helped drive brand recognition for PCH and response to their mailers. To date, PCH has awarded more than $230 million in prizes since instituting its sweepstakes programs.

When the company launched PCH.com in 1999, the idea was to take that sweepstakes success online. Initially providing online access to enter the flagship PCH Sweepstakes, the site quickly grew to include additional prize-winning opportunities and great deals on merchandise and magazines. The company expanded its Web offerings in the second half of the past decade, adding such sites as pchlotto.com, pchgames.com and more (see sidebar below).

It was this ever-expanding environment of growth that Glantz stepped into nearly four years ago. His role is to manage all digital content and the advertiser-supported side of the online business — including four websites, five different E-mail marketing programs and a team of marketers and promotion and game developers.

“I’ve been in the Internet marketing space for 18 years now,” Glantz says. “Early on, I was with a couple of start-ups, one that was acquired and one that went public. During that time, I also started an incubator within an Internet agency that acquired or invested in more than 20 different content and application businesses.”

From there, Glantz jumped to ePrize, where he spent seven years as senior vice president and managing director. “I was involved in somewhere around 7,000 different sweepstakes, instant-win and loyalty programs during my time there,” he recalls. He helped ePrize grow annual revenues from $2 million to $50 million.

He then moved to ideeli, a high-end, members-only online shopping community where he served as general manager of advertising and integrated sponsorships. “It’s the one business in the deal-of-the-day space that really leveraged promotion,” Glantz says. “It fused promotion, content and commerce in ways that sites like Gilt and Rue La La never have.”

Though he spent less than a year with the company, he did help it raise more than $20 million in venture capital funding, while focusing on developing new lifestyle-driven E-commerce categories.

His jump to PCH in 2009, though, was a no-brainer. “PCH has been doing this exact same thing that I’ve been doing for years longer than anyone,” Glantz says. “The business is all about engaging consumers with content and promotions — a chance to win, beyond the iconic sweepstakes, instantly.”

An All-Day Marketer

Glantz calls PCH an “all-day marketer” and an “all-day engagement destination” — a far cry from the eight mailers a year and timed TV campaigns that most connect with the company. “But, it’s been an ongoing evolution in the company — well before the Internet even came along,” he says. “Those eight mailings a year to most American consumers — that’s why everyone is familiar with PCH. Today, our offline marketing is more targeted, reaching an audience that’s interested in our type of promotions. And we mail them offline more frequently.”

He says the company realized shortly after bowing PCH.com in the late 1990s that the Web, as an engagement tool, was much more cost-effective and able to be targeted to those who really were interested in its products and offerings. The company’s own “deal of the day” E-mail program started in the early 2000s.

“Those realizations and tweaks allowed the company to build out, during the past 10 years, content properties that give consumers many chances to win,” Glantz contends.

He says that PCH.com remains the company’s “primary online access point for sweepstakes opportunities.” Customers who register there are exposed to PCH’s other offerings.

“We have many instant win opportunities for our customers — pchgames.com, pchlotto.com and pchslots.com, which we added a year ago,” Glantz says. “They each build on each other. For instance, once you play five or six cards on pchlotto.com, you can then go into pchslots.com.”

He says that the PCH Lotto game is very similar to its sweepstakes programs. “Just last month, a lotto player won $1.25 million,” Glantz says. “Slots is more of an instant-win opportunity, while pchgames.com is a larger engagement device. Players play as much as they want and accumulate tokens which place them into drawings for modest-sized prizes.”

The company also recently launched pchbingo.com, which operates similarly to the Lotto and Slots games. This is all in addition to the company’s iconic sweepstakes program, which offers $1 million or more to a lucky winner in those “Prize Patrol” TV spots, “four or five times a year,” according to Glantz.

He says that PCH’s advertising and marketing partners get involved in these online opportunities in a number of ways. “We offer display and pre-roll advertising on all of our online properties,” Glantz says. “The inventory is available through our direct sales force, with some ad networks and Google Ad Exchange also involved. Our customers who are looking for a daily sweepstakes entry will get that via a daily E-mail, which will also include a targeted lead-gen offer.”

Glantz says the company’s most current digital campaigns continue to build on PCH’s innovation first seen in the print direct marketing and DRTV spaces. “We’re really providing our audience with the experience they want,” he says. “Sure, it’s about revenue, but it’s more about the audience. If we can give them the experience they prefer, they spend more time with us.”

He also believes that PCH’s belief in permission-based marketing is a reason its customer base is so powerful. “If you think about the lead-gen world, you probably get a lot of E-mail offers,” Glantz says. “Most of them you delete or they hit your spam folder. Most aren’t permission-based. PCH’s are all permission-based. That’s why our customers get our E-mails, open our E-mails and click on our E-mails.”

That’s not to say everyone who enters the PCH Sweepstakes is a lifetime customer. “Not all of those are going to accept that offer for lead-gen products after they get through entering the Sweepstakes,” Glantz says. “But understanding those who do accept the offer, and digging deeper on what they’re really looking for, allows us to give them the best, most targeted experience — we can spend more time targeting our hottest leads.”

Planning Ahead

That kind of understanding comes from years of experience for Glantz. “Learning to be prepared is the best lesson,” he says. “When you set up a website or a direct E-mail campaign, everybody likes to project traffic, conversions, click-thrus and everything else. But when you project, you have to project for the spikes — not the end result. For instance, if you think a million people will come to the site over time, but that 300,000 might come in one spike, set the site to be able to handle that spike load.”

Glantz also says that while many online marketers are expert at planning three-to-six months in advance, you can’t afford to miss an opportunity to capitalize on something that “happens today.”

“For instance, with our Lotto game, when a big Powerball jackpot comes along, we have to be ready,” Glantz contends. “We might be able to leverage that intense awareness to benefit our own business. After 150 million people don’t win, it gives us an opportunity to offer everyone a chance to win for free.”

That preparedness extends across all of PCH’s marketing efforts. “We have a holistic view of our customers and audience,” Glantz says of a group that’s vastly different from many others. “We have a large offline audience that’s been built over decades, but we also have an online audience that’s joined us far more recently. While we do cross-channel marketing, it’s not purely offline-to-online. We go online-to-online across many programs. Because if we get a member of our audience who engages with us on more than one site or one E-mail program, their value is substantially higher.”

It’s part and parcel of PCH’s multi-channel “all-day” approach to keep its audience engaged and active. That kind of approach requires partner vendors that are bought in to the company’s concepts.

“E-mail is very critical to our success — the ability to segment and target is key, but even more so, the guarantee that those E-mails hit every in-box,” Glantz says. “We work with top-line vendors who are flexible, work with our process and help deliver extraordinary results.”

He says that PCH’s compliance team works very closely with the company’s in-box delivery partners, Return Path and LashBack. “We take privacy and compliance so seriously, and our partners work with us to monitor all of our delivery and campaign performance,” Glantz adds.

Having the right vendors in place is also helpful for Glantz as he looks ahead and seeks the best way for PCH to attack social and mobile media. “There are a lot of companies out there struggling with the value of social,” Glantz says. “But even if it’s difficult for marketers to track its tangible value at this point, we think there’s tremendous value in social’s primary purpose: to engage, educate and service our customers.”

At this point, while PCH is not using social media for “a hard sell,” Glantz says, the company has ranked consistently in the top 10 brands in Facebook engagement. “We have 700,000 fans and our engagement with those fans generally falls around 8 percent to 10 percent on a daily basis. Around some of our bigger drawings, we can see 20-25 percent of our Facebook fans engage in a single day.”

In mobile, Glantz says PCH is really “just at the beginning,” as it has mobile-optimized sites for PCH.com, pchsearchandwin.com and pchlotto.com. It also recently launched the PCH VIP app on iOS and Android devices.

“Every three-to-four hours, there’s another winning opportunity launched via the app,” Glantz says.

“Just like everything else, it’s all part of our all-day engagement strategy,” Glantz says. “If our customers are engaged with us all day, we all win.” ■


About the Author: Thomas Haire

Thomas Haire

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