Lab v4 starts with a blank page | DMA

The first Future Writers' Lab of 2016 kicked off last night at DMA House and with 20 people in attendance - it's the largest class yet.

In her inimitably direct style, Debi Bester, DMA Writer-in-Residence and course leader, opened by upending the assumptions most had walked in with. This wouldn't be like any course they've taken before. There would be no lectures, no Powerpoint presentations, no handouts and no passive listening.

Instead, they would be taking a 'do course' - a course comprising experiments instead of classes, based on guided discovery methods pioneered by New York University. It would be fast, active and fun. This means they would be writing on the spot, using fast-edit techniques, and (gulp!) reading aloud what they had only minutes to craft.

You could see the penny drop as writer by writer realised why this was called a 'lab'.

The introductory session that followed was a quick immersion in this new learning technique. As we go through the course, I'll share some of our experiences ... but today, I want to share one of the critical learnings from last night, which was the debunking of the term 'direct marketing'. After all, we needed to understand why a writers course hosted by the DMA would be different to any other.

And frankly, the best way for me to tell you this story is to bring you into the room ...

So, Debi's just got through the exercise that invites each writer to 'sell the writer next to them' (yup, interesting ... more on that another time!).

Then, she looks at the group and issues a challenge: define 'Direct Marketing'.

A few shrugs of shoulders around the room as those brave enough to speak up in a class of still relative strangers, venture first words.

'Junk mail'

But is direct marketing still seen as advertising's poorer cousin? Or in our social and digital economy, does one-to-one communication finally have its place at the top table?

With this question in mind, Debi encouraged her students to dig deeper, to search beyond first words to the value of the discipline they represent. The class began to reveal other associations they have with direct marketing you might attach to those industries that people reve want to be part of, and dare I even say could even be described as sexy:

'Empowering '

But wait a minute, why the shift? The class debated some timely points:

1. Digital has transformed the media landscape;

2. Mass messaging isn't relevant to most; and

3. Personalised content is attention grabbing and meaningful

Whilst there were contentioius points, what everyone agreed on was that by reaching, inspiring and motivating just one person effectively, we tap into their power as influencers and have the potential to reach tens, hundreds, thousands, even millions in personalised ways that media like television just never could.

So when it comes to defining 'direct marketing', perhaps it's time we lay the term to rest all together and refame it for what it means to practitioners and customers today.

With a blank page in front of us, how will we rewrite the future of the industry? Roll on week two ...

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