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Fun and Functional Direct Mail

Phyllis Staines
When mulling over promotional ideas, Phyllis Staines’ remembered how much she’d enjoyed receiving tokens as a child, on the boardwalk in Atlanic City, N.J. 

A broker-associate at RE/MAX Coastal Real Estate in Ponte Vedra Beach, Staines decided to parlay the wooden nickels into a direct-mail tool. Produced by one of RE/MAX’s vendors (Bruce Shay Advertising of Batavia, Ill.), the tokens bear Staines’ contact information and are sent with an accompanying message that says, “It’s your nickel … call Phyllis with any questions.” Each costs 25 cents, and she usually orders 500 at a time.

She likes the curiosity the nickels create in people finding them in their mail. She also likes to pass them out at the beach. (Business cards can get wet or lost, she says.)

“People can give them to their kids to play with or use them as a marker during their golf game, but they won’t throw them in the garbage like they would other things,” Staines says.

Although she can’t attribute an exact number of sales to her wooden nickel campaign, she says each of her marketing ideas plays an equal role in keeping her business afloat. She rotates them and comes up with new ones before they become overused.

When dreaming up direct-mail campaigns, follow Staines’ formula: Buy cheap, buy for longevity and buy memorable. Here are some of her other ideas:

1. Rain Gauges
About three years ago, Jacksonville passed sign restrictions prohibiting sales associates from posting directional signs on corners or open house signs around neighborhoods. “I thought, ‘What can I get away with that will benefit both me and the customer?’” Staines says.

The answer, quite literally, came from the sky. Jacksonville tends to get a lot of rain, and Staines found that the same company that provides her wooden nickels had a supply of rain gauges, which she could buy at a bulk rate of less than $2 each for 500. The 8-inch gauge bears the red, white and blue RE/MAX balloon logo and Staines’ name, phone number and Web site address. Because the gauge has a glass vial to capture the rain, Staines mails it in a padded envelope for $1.11. (She buys the envelopes in bulk at Office Depot.)

“It’s a permissible sign and it has great shelf life,” says Staines. “It stays by the mailbox or the curb, and when it gets [worn out] I send a new one.”

The gauges have triggered a flood of calls to Staines. At first, she just sent them to current clients and customers, but she widened her efforts to entire neighborhoods in her farm area when she discovered their popularity.

She even listed and subsequently sold a $220,000 house in one of the neighborhoods she showered with rain gauges. (The homeowner saw her gauge in a neighbor’s yard and called her to list his property.)

2. Personalized Postage
In her former career, Staines was a secretary for the Breast Cancer Foundation. For one of its mass mailings, the foundation used to put its logo on postage stamps. When she became a real estate licensee, she decided to apply the same idea to her business.

She’s used a variety of images, ranging from photos of herself to property listings. All that’s required to create stamps is to upload the photo you want reproduced on the stamp to the Web site, and the company will produce postage stamps approved by the U.S. Postal Service. Each stamp costs slightly more than the current first class rate (39 cents), with the cost varying, depending on how many you order.

The most effective stamp Staines used was one featuring the Jacksonville Jaguars logo. One of the postal workers who handled her mailing was excited about the stamps, so Staines gave her a sheet for free. The next day, the woman’s co-worker called Staines and said she’d list her house with her.

“I figure, people will think twice before they throw out my mail if it has a Jaguars stamp on it, or even [a photo of ] their neighbor’s home on the stamp,” Staines says.

“I’m thankful I have the energy to think of different [promotional ideas],” says Staines, explaining that sometimes she wakes up at 4 a.m. with a new idea. “When someone copies my idea, I just raise the bar. Doing these little things excites me, especially if I can brighten someone’s day.”