Mail Marketing Scotland
The very mention of Jack Daniel’s makes you automatically conjure up romantic images of the Deep South, men shovelling grain in denim dungarees and hot sunny afternoons sipping JD on the rocks.
And if those images get you in the mood for ordering a set of Jack Daniel’s branded shot glasses from the JD website to enjoy your JD on the rocks from, then you might be a little surprised to discover that your order won’t be dispatched from Lynchburg, Tennessee, by a man called Ged, but from Nottingham by a Scottish woman called Jan Morris.
Jan Morris, who heads up direct mail support company Mail Marketing Scotland, which has its headquarters in Glasgow and another operation in Nottingham, has worked with the Jack Daniel’s brand for the last six years and has, during that time, seen the UK become the biggest market for the whisky brand outside its US homeland. Recently, Jan and her team were invited to visit the distillery in Lynchburg to get a close-up of the company’s culture and ambitions.
In a typical month Mail Marketing is responsible for fulfiling up to 300 orders of Jack Daniel’s merchandise, ranging from shot glasses to hip flasks and from mouse mats to golf balls, while at Christmas that total rockets into the thousands as JD fans clamour to get their hands on the latest accessory.
But it hasn’t all been trips to whisky distilleries and laughs. It was a very different story when Morris, formerly with KLP Euro RSCG, initially took ownership of Mail Marketing from Lopex-owned Rex Stewart in 1990, as she explains: “The first six months were pretty horrific. One of the first problems I had was when one of the non-executive directors I was buying the company with pulled out on the Friday before we were due to sign papers on the Monday. So I arrived at Rex Stewart on the Monday morning and had to say ‘I have a problem, guys. I don’t have enough money to buy it.’ But I had an idea. I was prepared to give them all the money I had and said I would pay up the rest within the first six months. I knew they wouldn’t give me longer than six months because they knew I only had six months of guaranteed business from Tennent’s at that time.
“It then left me with no working capital for the first six months and also a very high monthly payment to make to Rex Stewart. I was also perceived as a new business, and in those days The Royal Mail didn’t invoice you if you were a new business and had no history. So every time I wanted to do a mailing I had to go to George Square with a cheque before they would do it for me.”
Fortunately, Morris and the 13 people Mail Marketing employed back then (she now employs 50 people in Glasgow and 30 in Nottingham) got a break when United Distillers took Mail Marketing on to handle response and fulfilment work for many of its top brand promotions.
Morris says: “We did all the on-pack promotions for Bells, Gordon’s Gin, Johnny Walker, Three Barrels and so on. We worked really closely with United Distillers and they really pushed us on. The promotions people they had in Perth were excellent and they made us work in a different way. I got a lot of business when they were in Perth and that brought in a lot of revenue and allowed us to invest.”
Then disaster struck – well, a few actually – which gave Morris the push to expand the business out of Scotland.
“The early 90s wasn’t the best time to start a business, as everyone went through a tough time,” says Morris. “But ‘92-’94 were fantastic for us. We had United Distillers, we had Stakis and we had Ladbrokes. But then United Distillers was bought over and became UDV, Perth was closed and marketing went to Harlow. Then Stakis was bought by Hilton and all the marketing went to Luton. Allied Distillers was bought and the marketing went to Bristol. I started to worry about what was happening to Scotland. Once business goes down south people think that Glasgow is a million miles away, so I was finding it hard to sell Mail Marketing to London clients. So, in 1997 I saw an opportunity to open a small branch in Nottingham, right in the middle of the country, to try and keep hold of some of the UDV business.”
Unfortunately, UDV didn’t come knocking in Nottingham, but Jack Daniel’s did, as it was looking to launch a merchandise catalogue business in the UK. Mail Marketing had been recommended and the rest, as they say, is history.
Now the Jack Daniel’s catalogue is totally web-based and Mail Marketing processes the orders direct from its warehouse, where it stores the JD merchandise, and processes payments, which is just an indication of how far the business has come in terms of technology.
“My business has developed because of the clients. I used to be more driven by the clients. They would say ‘can you do this?’ and I would have to come back and find a way of doing what they wanted. Now I have to make sure that we can handle responses by any medium they want.
“We are pretty proactive, which is something people do not expect companies like this to be. They expect us just to be reactive, reacting to a client’s requirements. I think our industry is becoming more proactive. We are a commodity. We are a handling house and clients spend months thinking up promotional campaigns and right at the end they think, ‘Oh, and we need someone to handle it’. I now encourage any investment in the company to happen before a client actually asks for it, because I can see an opportunity and see the way things are going. We actually go out and sell that to the clients instead of waiting for them to come to us.”
Other clients that have been attracted to Mail Marketing include the Scottish Football Association, Abbey, ScottishPower, Starbucks, the National Blood Service, Kwik-Fit Insurance and British Midland International. Proof indeed that even in the toughest of times Scottish companies can expand out of Scotland and be successful.
Through her work with the Direct Marketing Association, Morris is also keen to see some form of accreditation introduced that will further bolster the professional status of the direct marketing and fulfilment industries.
She says: “The DMA has done a lot to improve the perception of direct marketing, with the preference services, but what I have been pushing for, is for companies to have some sort of accreditation. I know people say they follow a code of practice but I want some form of accreditation so that people can see that we are professional and that my warehouse isn’t full of refugees who can’t speak a word of English. That is what our industry gets tarred with. We don’t just take anyone off the street, plonk them there and tell them to pack boxes. We have Investors In People, which I think is very important for clients to know.
“That is why I want this accreditation, so that clients can see we have it and therefore must be professional and know what we are doing.”
So, next time you’re looking for a company to fulfil your promotions, give Jan a call. Who knows, there might even be a Jack Daniel’s on the rocks in it for you.