Erma Bombeck’s Screen Saver, Revisited

Want a low-cost, effective way to drive current and potential customers to your Web site and keep your brand on their desktops? Here’s a quick lesson from the University of Dayton.

You may recall a year ago I wrote about the university’s wildly successful efforts to drive traffic to its Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop Web site. Well, the school’s done it again. Time for a refresher course, with some updated material.

Last year, Tim Bete, national marketing manager and co-director of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, created a screen saver especially for humor writers. His cost was low: about $600 for the software plus an hour of employee time. The screen saver was tied to the site’s free email newsletter; those newsletter subscribers could obtain a free copy of the screen saver.

As time passed, new traffic to the site slowed down. Bete also had further promotional goals, including promoting the workshop’s brand and that of the university’s.

Recently, he invested in KingMailer, a $30 software program he calls “a dynamite bulk email program for posting to newsgroups and contacting e-zine editors.” He searched discussion groups at Yahoo, AOL, MSN, and Topica. He also used Google to find writing magazines and e-zines. He put that data into an Excel spreadsheet, which KingMailer interfaces with to send email messages. He pitched the personalized message that follows to about 130 online writing groups and magazines:

Subject: Free screen saver for readers of [Publication Name”

Dear [List Moderator Name”,

I thought the readers of [Publication Name” would enjoy our free screen saver for humor writers. The screen saver includes 18 quotes from Erma Bombeck, including, “Don’t go out and give birth to three children just to have something to write about” and “There are two people in this world who need attorneys: people writing their first book and people who own Yorkshire terriers.” I’ve included a blurb for your newsletter, below.

We also provide a free e-newsletter for humor writers.

Tim Bete
Co-director, Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop
University of Dayton

Get the “18 Tips for Humor Writers” screen saver which includes sage advice such as “Don’t go out and give birth to three children just to have something to write about” and “There are two people in this world who need attorneys: people writing their first book and people who own Yorkshire terriers.” See

Feel free to share this with your readers if you think it would be of interest to them.



Short and sweet, the message did the trick. The number of subscribers had been stagnant at 1,600 for about six months. Within 20 minutes of sending, the message had been posted at a handful of sites, and it has been picked up by 20 outlets (15 percent) to date, reaching over 20,000 writers. In the week following the email, the humor site added 100 new subscribers, a 6 percent increase.

“Remember, we have a small, targeted audience, humor writers, and we’re happy with those numbers,” Bete says. “We’re not out to get 10,000 subscribers. We’d rather have a small number of quality subscribers. Immediately after sending the email, our numbers increased to 40 to 50 visits per day — two to four times our previous numbers. Again, we’re happy with these numbers because we’re looking for humor writers, not just any writer.”

Interestingly enough, this time the site didn’t require people to subscribe to receive the screen saver. The staff simply put a prominent link on the home page so visitors would see it when they came to download the screen saver.

“That’s the beauty of a screen saver giveaway,” Bete adds. “It drives people to your site, gets them to subscribe, and keeps your name on their desktops.”

Though the screen saver lends itself well to Bete’s audience, I see many ways businesses can create enticing screen savers, provided they use a little imagination. I for one would download a screen saver from a sporting goods store in a flash if it featured Yogi Berra’s quotes.

Consider how your business might learn from the University of Dayton. As Yogi said, “You can observe a lot by watching.”

Heidi will speak at ClickZ Email Strategies in San Francisco, November 18-19.

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