Tuesday, July 27, 1999 | 10:55 a.m.
For the past five years, Barbara Graham has been trying to sort everything out -- literally.
After working in the Stardust hotel-casino's casino marketing division, Graham became the hotel's direct-marketing manager five years ago and moved down to the mail center to help reorganize the operation.
She set out to efficiently mail 2.5 million pieces of mail that year and when she arrived, only 35,000 had been sent. With the support of the property's general manager, John Miner, Graham restructured, changed the rules, added technology and made her mail room one of the most efficient in-house marketing facilities in town.
Graham received the National Postal Consumer Council's award for "most successful industry co-chair" this year. The U.S. Postal Service honored Graham at a banquet and commended her for dedication to her industry.
Graham became a member of the Southern Nevada Postal Customer Council in 1994, and eventually co-chair. She won the award because, on her own time, she helped organize speakers and events to educate regional businesses on the issues that direct mail marketers face and how to keep up with often changing postal regulations.
The honor comes at a point of culmination for Graham. She said it hasn't been until the last year that her goals have all been coming to fruition and consequently creating a synergy that has really improved the Stardust's direct marketing operations.
And the timing is somewhat critical as the aging hotel advertises its $24.5 million renovation in an attempt to keep a strong market presence amid increasing competition from newer, more glamorous resorts. Now, the Stardust's mail focuses on the improvements and includes photos of the hotel accommodations.
"Direct marketing plays a big role in keeping it more vital," Graham said. "We've seen more focus on our changes, our remodeled suites and pools. We're seeing more pictures and a focus on our customer service."
The Stardust relies on good relationships with repeat customers, Graham explained. She said she has worked with managers in departments throughout the property to create a more accurate, efficient system for retaining customer information.
Everyone from casino managers to the front desk staff has a part in identifying new customers, updating information on returning ones and keeping Graham's department informed.
The result is a marketing system that follows expert guidelines. Casino marketing expert John Romero says the key to effective direct marketing is making thorough use of databases.
Graham said her operation takes that message to heart and Stardust casino and marketing managers send many different mailers to many groups of people.
Through her activity on the Postal Customer Council, Graham learned that not all businesses, especially hotel-casinos, agree with the Stardust's philosophy of maintaining a strong, in-house direct mail operation.
"Some do -- the majority don't have as much direct mail," Graham said. "We were able to prove that it was a very big cost saving move for us. Keeping it in house has cut costs."
Graham believes a good deal of the cost streamlining she's achieved has come from the increased communication of an in-house operation. On more than one occasion, her staff has caught errors in mailings' text -- among other problems -- that have saved the company both embarrassment and money, she said.
There's also the control factor. Graham manages her staff with the company's interest at heart, including trying to achieve the best bottom-line. She said most local letter shops don't share that concern. Graham says that with some wise investment in new technology she has three people doing what she used to have five doing. She runs her entire operation with only seven people total.
But part of the ability to create a successful in-house direct marketing operation comes from image.
"(One of) the top 10 concerns of mail center managers is trying to improve our image," Graham said.
Too often, a mail room is considered the bottom of the corporate ladder and Graham believes that it's really an integral part of a company's marketing system. She said her mail center may eventually take charge of copying, e-mail and dealing with other package carriers besides the Postal Service. These could contribute to both cost savings and image.
But she's not expecting the expansion just yet. She only recently hired on new staff and shifted the balance of responsibilities in the office. Graham said she's pleased with the results and is optimistic her operation will be able to handle more soon.
"One of these days we'll see what we grow up to be," she said.