Viers: The View from 35,000 Feet

Viers: The View from 35,000 Feet

By: Russell Viers

Successful Catalog Formula Can Work Work for Newspapers, too


Russell Viers

As Brent Niemuth, direct marketing and branding expert, talked about his Three Ds of a successful direct-mail catalog, it immediately popped into my brain, “Newspapers could use this!”

Brent and I were in a meeting with a large direct retail company that needed help with its catalog. I was there to talk about how to save money on production by creating documents faster. Brent was there to talk about how to increase sales with better design and product positioning.

Brent is not just any “designer,” by the way. Google him. You’ll see he is one of the industry leaders and has helped many LARGE companies. (As I type this, he is in the Big Apple on a photo shoot for Jockey. He also is directing its rebranding.)

Brent’s Three Ds of a successful catalog are:

• Disrupt

• Delight

• Drive

To break it down further…


A catalog can be successful if it disrupts, or grabs the attention of, the potential customer. Being direct mail helps because the potential customer is forced to hold it while bringing in the mail. He or she has to look at it to either toss it in the recycle bin or put in on a table for later or give it attention right then, but at the very least every catalog has a chance for a glance. When on a rack, it’s harder to fight for attention, or disrupt, especially in this age of smart phones, digital signage and more. But it’s imperative to accomplish this first step, or there won’t be a second … or third.


Once your catalog has grabbed a potential customer’s attention, it needs to delight them, giving them a reason not to throw it away. Better still is if the cover, through photos, offerings or teasers, delights them enough to have them open it and look through the pages. That’s the goal. Put a lot of effort into a cover which delights so well they WANT to thumb through it. It’s even better if the catalog is desirable (delightful) enough to keep and/or pass along to others.


At some point, the potential customer is going to make a decision. A successful catalog has enough offerings of interest to drive them to the phone, website, app, or mail order form to place an order. An unsuccessful one ends up by the curb.


Now look at the front page of your newspaper, more specifically, above the fold. If it were sitting on a rack in the local convenience store, would it disrupt? Are there enough “hooks” to catch the eye of someone passing by, or to pick it up if it’s sitting on a table at the local library or restaurant?

When I pitched this question recently at a conference where I was speaking, I picked up the closest newspaper I could find and held it up. There were two stories above the fold, with two photos to go with the stories.

Now go look at USA Today’s front, above the fold. I just randomly picked some past issues and counted 10 headlines (plus kickers and subheads in many cases) as well as six pictures. I see Sports, Entertainment, Politics, Death and more, …all above the fold. USA Today is just one example of papers around the world doing this.

Once we’ve disrupted potential readers from their smart phones or conversations or the many other things going on in their lives, are we delighting them? Are our stories interesting, or photos exciting enough for them to pick it up, open it to full front, take a look, and maybe even look inside?

I recently picked up a newspaper recently of which the entire front page was devoted to a school board meeting, city council meeting, something tax-related and a zoning issue. There was one photo of the area in question for the zoning. I would guess all of those stories combined would be of interest to a small percentage of total readers. I saw a small weekly a while back that actually had two front-page stories about the city council meeting…the same meeting.

So we have to keep asking ourselves if our content is important or interesting enough to drive all potential readers to tuck it under their arms and take it to the cash register and eventually become subscribers?

I spent 10 days helping a newspaper in Istanbul, Turkey, with an advertised circulation of 500,000 copies daily. Of that, 100 percent were newsstand sales. And at least 10 quality newspapers hang on the newsstand right beside them. They have to Disrupt, Delight and Drive every day, or they feel an immediate financial hit.

The Three Ds applies to reaching subscribers, too. With so many distractions in our busy lives, we can’t assume that subscribers read every issue. It’s possible it is pulled into the house and sits, or perhaps is glanced at, and then sent to the recycling bin. It’s important that every issue reaffirms their decision to renew their subscription.

The Three Ds apply to every ad as well. As your readers are looking through the paper, it’s important that the ads grab their eye away from stories, or disrupts. Each ad needs to have something thatdelights the reader into finding out more and must have a benefit that drives the potential consumer to act on the ad, whether getting in the car and driving to the store, picking up the phone, going online, or whatever.

If you can give advertisers the Three Ds, they can enjoy a higher return on the investment they make in your paper, which, in turn … well, you know how it works.

So the next time a catalog comes in the mail, ask yourself, “Does this have Brent’s Three Ds?”

And as you look at newspapers, not just yours, but those around you, and as you travel pick up papers, ask yourself the same question. “Did something on this front page grab my attention, disrupting what I was doing? Am I interested or delighted enough to walk over and pick it up, and is the content compelling enough to drive me to lay down a dollar for it?”

Perhaps someday this will become a category in the Newspaper Associations’ Better Newspaper Contests…”And this year’s winner, in best meeting the Three Ds of Newspapers, is (insert paper here).”


About the author

Russell Viers has spoken at publishing events in 22 countries since 1997, including the HOW Conference, The InDesign Conference, IFRA, and PePcon, on technology topics, such as Adobe and Quark software. He also shares ideas on transitioning to multi-channel publishing, marketing and design. He has worked onsite with many publications and designers to work faster and improve quality, including Better Homes and Gardens, Ladies Home Journal, New York Times Regional Papers, Sabah, American Greetings, Crayola, and many others. Viers has been actively involved with digital publishing since the early days, having started with CompuGraphic typesetting machines in the early 80s, and PageMaker 1.0 in 1987. He has also authored several videos from, Peachpit Press, and Total Training.