TO THE uninitiated, direct marketing probably means little more than the torrents of junk mail that pour through the letterbox urging you to buy books that you don't want or insurance policies that you don't need.
But direct marketing is becoming increasingly sophisticated and spans everything from direct mail to telemarketing and direct response television advertisements. It is no longer the preserve of mail order outfits offering limited edition figurines or holiday firms selling "once in a lifetime" trips down the Nile, but is used by major companies such as British Airways, Tesco and Ford.
"The smart companies of the future are those that will explore new methods of reaching customers and markets and direct marketing is a key factor in this equation," says Lawrence Balfe, marketing director for Heinz.
Andrew McGregor, director of marketing for The Economist, adds: "Our business depends on direct marketing. Through it we grow our circulation amongst our target audience and we build our brand."
But despite its growing importance, the industry still cannot attract enough high-calibre graduates. "The industry needs about 1,000 graduates a year, so unless we convince the next generation of high-flyers that serious career opportunities exist the profession will miss out," says Derek Holder, managing director of the industry's trade body, the Institute of Direct Marketing (IDM).
One of the problems is that direct marketing does not have the same perceived glamour as advertising. "It has been viewed as a bit lower down the food chain than advertising in terms of intellectual content although we have more planners, statisticians and econometrists than in a conventional advertising agency," says Nigel Howlett, managing director of direct marketing agency Ogilvy0ne.
Because of its image, it is therefore easier to get a job with a direct marketing agency than it is with an ad agency such as Saatchi & Saatchi. The rewards in direct marketing can also be high. "If you are good then promotion comes quicker. You can expect to be on board by the time of your early thirties with the salary, car and all the other perks to match," says a spokeswoman for the IDM.
The size of a direct marketing agency will have some bearing on your progress up the career ladder. A large agency with over 60 staff is likely to offer good, structured training and give you a thorough grounding as well as looking good on your CV. However, there is less opportunity for variety and it can be harder to make your mark, says the IDM. A medium- sized agency of between 25 and 60 staff is likely to mean that graduates will have to spend more time "mucking in", although this does provide …