How to Make Serious Money Doing Direct Mail Graphic Design

By Doug Farrick

We will look at an overview of the graphic design direct mail industry and how now is the perfect time to get started as a graphic designer in this rapidly expanding and highly lucrative business.

How does making $7000-$12,000+ for a 24 page or $5000 for a 12 page "magalog" work for you? You can also take on smaller campaigns like a 2 color financial newsletter for $1000-3000 or a simple web "squeeze page" for several hundred dollars.

Sounds good to me right? Personally when I started to do direct mail design work I did not really believe this . . . until I received that first check for $7500. Suddenly my eyes opened a little wider.

Having said that, there is SERIOUS money to be made in the direct mail industry. Granted it is not designing a high end brochure for a cutting edge software company but is DOES allow for plenty of creative work AND pays the bills rather nicely. And you can always be building your high end portfolio work on the side.

Unlike "brand advertising" direct mail is 100% accountable for results. It asks the receiver of the mail to make a direct response - either call, or send in the coupon, or fax the form, something and that is how it is designed - for that one action - to sell the recipient. It is really nothing more than salesmanship in print. Success of the piece is directly measurable by how many sales are made.

Direct mail would be included under the overall umbrella of Direct Marketing which could include any media that solicits a direct response like TV home shopping channels like QVC or the Home Shopping Channel. Catalogers like Skymall or Fairytale Brownies, and, of course, direct mail mass mailers like Publishers Clearing House, Boardroom or any of the political parties.

How direct mail is structured is important to know and understand. The format has really not changed in a 100 years. The basic structure typically involves a headline, sales copy, offer, deadline, premium and guarantee and a PS (Post Script).

A direct mail piece usually involves the copywriter (who writes the sales copy) and the designer (YOU) who lays out the copy. Typically a fair amount of collaboration is possible.

So I recommend you start to familiarize yourself with copywriters and copywriting. By the way, copywriting is one of the most valuable skills you can posses. So if you are not familiar with copywriting take the first step and check out some of the resources below.

I really believe there is great opportunity to participate in direct mail and do exceptionally well. Who knows, you might be getting paid so much you might want to specialize in direct mail itself.

So what DOES make a direct mail piece successful?

I'll save you some mental gymnastics, OK? Really it is about making sales or bottom line profits.

Everything is "designed" toward that end - making sales - so there are some differences.

Interestingly, when I first looked at DM I thought it looked very "easy" and "undesigned" until I attended a DM Design seminar in Florida hosted by AWAI (American Artists and Writers inc.).

It was there I met two of the biggest (and highest paid) DM design pros in the business. Rob Davis and Lori Haller. Two quintessential pros whom I learned a ton from.

Shortly thereafter I (and my company) started doing a few magalogs, letters, etc I really found out there was a high degree of precision involved in the design.

When you really think about it, what ARE direct marketers selling?

Emotional involvement - plain and simple. If you notice those old ads in the back of old comic books (I love these) they always promised something cool - like being invisible, or having arms like Mr. Olympia, or a "secret" safe to hide your valuables or making millions buying government land.

Interestingly, not much has changed with todays direct marketing. Someone wants you to lose weight, make money, become rich, etc. They are pushing the exact same emotional buttons that we all have. And those things don't change.

So here are a few things that help make a direct mail package successful:

1. To connect you need to speak their language. This is the biggest key. If you are already part of the target market you have a huge head start. But if you're not you HAVE to do the necessary research/homework. As the late DM genius Robert Collier says in his, Robert Collier's Letter Book "Enter the conversation already in their heads," meaning merge emotionally with what they already are thinking about.

2. You need to find out who they are and create design and copy for their needs. AFTER you have done your research you next need to create a strategic gameplan. There will be obvious clues as to what type of DM this particular target market has received (and responded to) in the past. You can then decide to test the "control" (the current most successful campaign) based on your gameplan.

3. The words and design set a certain mood (or tone) - make sure it is appropriate for the intended audience. For example, marketing to seniors demands different tactics. They typically need larger font sizes with more leading. Also, if you are doing a magalog for an arthritis pill it is important to show images that have to do with health and *overcoming* the condition. Nobody (and I was told this very vehemently) wants to see images seniors with painful expressions. Again, you need to know your audience intimately.

4. Color choice is very important. Color and font choice must fit your intended audience. Even if you are working with two colors only. If your market is financial then the "typical" color is some version of green. Health would typically have vibrant colors. Keep in mind all design has to be subservient to the copy. Copy is what sells the product and design supports the copy. And a *little* color goes a LONG way.

5. Choosing the right components and proper sizes for each package is also paramount. How you pick and choose your components will dictate HOW the recipient will interact with your DM piece. For example, will the mail piece be A pile (has no solicitations on it - looks like a letter from your Grandmother) or B pile (is very clear that it is a sales letter with sales messages all over the package, etc.) This is a science in and of itself. Best way to learn is just to study successful packages.


Any books by Robert Collier, Joe Sugarman, Joe Vitale, Victor Schwab, John Caples, Dan Kennedy. Any ads by Gary Halbert, Ted Nicholas, Gary Bencivenga