Less than a decade ago, shortly after the desktop facsimile machine first sprang from the creative minds of the business equipment industry, the machine, in turn, spawned the funny fax cover sheet, that groaningly pun-laden page heralding the important information that followed. Seemingly, about a million people all bolted up in bed one night with the belief that they had divined the perfect cover-sheet pun of all time: "Just the fax, ma'am."
Then along came punning first cousins of that idea, like "Fax a lot," "Fax for the memories" and more. You could even buy a pad of funny fax cover sheets at the office supply store to lead your faxes off with a nudge and a ha-ha-ha.
Then, predictably, like the fate of the humorous answering machine message, funny fax cover sheets faded into semioblivion, to be replaced by a plain-Jane sheet simply called the fax cover sheet, a form that provided just the facts, ma'am.
That said, the question that still smoldered in the hearts of many was this: Is there another evolutionary stage in store for the fax cover sheet? Must it remain a plain-vanilla addressing element, or can it play a larger role in promoting your business?
Reader Regenia Clark, who recently wrote, thinks it's the latter. She and her husband, Jack, operate M.G.R.-Homecare Inc., a Griffin, Georgia, provider of respiratory and infusion therapy services and equipment for homebound patients in rural areas of their state. The Clarks recently started providing their referral sources (physicians and hospitals) with a fax cover sheet that gives their sources a convenient way to jot down some basic information about the referred patient and then attach data from the patient's chart on specific requirements.
The Clarks hope this new sheet translates into a major convenience for referrers since the previous method required a 15- to 20-minute phone conversation to relay the same in-formation. However, the Clarks believe-and I agree-that their modified fax cover sheet can be tweaked in some way to better promote M.G.R.-Homecare to its referrers.
Jerry Fisher is a freelance advertising copywriter and welcomes submissions to this column, although he regrets he cannot answer each individually. For more information on his new manual, Creating Successful Small Business Advertising, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to "Advertising Workshop," Entrepreneur, 2392 Morse Ave., Irvine, CA 92714. Or contact Jerry via CompuServe at 73150,132 or America Online at Jerry 228.
The idea of providing your current customers with a convenient fax cover sheet that also promotes the use of your services actually harkens back to my November 1995 column. It talked about relationship marketing, which deals with the question: What are you doing to harvest more business from your current customer relationships, instead of always beating the bushes for new clients?
One no-brainer way might be the very sheet we're discussing. The hybrid fax cover sheet/promotional flier is an inexpensive, easy way to give your business a continual and helpful presence in the offices of your regular customers. Maybe it's a fax cover sheet that doubles as the company's purchase order, or maybe it's a cover sheet that's also a specialized order form like the patient data sheet the Clarks need. Maybe it's not a "cover" sheet at all but a triple dip of addressing page, promotional sheet and order form all in one.
It all depends on what you sell and the information customers need to provide to you to order it. The idea is to design a sheet that is helpful and convenient but also offers a subtle, motivating sales message. It must be clear to the user that this sheet is a new, convenient business form and not a blatant shill for your services.
My suggested headline for the Clarks' cover sheet is: "No need to phone . . . Just check off how we can continue your patient's quality care at home." This would be followed by a list of M.G.R.'s key services, with check-off boxes for the referrer to mark off.
This would be followed by the subhead: "Simply fax this completed cover sheet with the patient's data record." There would also be a fill-in portion like the company currently uses. Notice, too, that the sheet is labeled "Fax Patient Data Transmittal." It's important the user realize immediately that this is a utilitarian business form, not a promotional flier.
Let's talk about what these suggested revisions offer. The headline implies there is a faster, easier way to process the referral than through a time-consuming phone call. It also instructs the user in that simple process and, at the same time, enables M.G.R. to billboard its key services at the top of the page instead of in small type at the bottom, as in the original cover sheet. Finally, the headline subtly strokes and reassures the health-care professional by offering to "continue your patient's quality care."
Words And Music
Once you've composed the words of your fax cover sheet, you then need to put them to music. By that I mean you need to develop the graphic elements that really make this sheet look the part of a true business form.
In the Clarks' case, I've broken the elements into visuals that are easy for the user's eye to follow. The large arrow invites the reader to check off the boxes as instructed; the obvious next step is to fill in the blank lines at the bottom.
I'd send 100 of these new forms to each of M.G.R.'s key referrers with a cover letter that says something like: "Dear Dr. Wagner, Can a single form (like those enclosed) cut 90 percent of the time it takes you to relay patient referral information to us? The answer is yes. From now on, you can fax it instead of phoning it in, using these new fill-in fax cover sheets. Then simply attach the patient's data sheet from his or her chart. Nothing could be more expedient, especially knowing it can take 15 to 20 minutes to phone us with the same information. With these new forms, it can take as little as a minute or two. When you've used the enclosed supply, we'll be happy to send you more, or you can simply photocopy one of these sheets."
Among the other obvious benefits for M.G.R is that fax cover sheets reduce the amount of telephone time required to take referrals, thus shortening the length of time M.G.R.'s phone lines are tied up. And, of course, the investment is minuscule compared to the possible benefits.
Also-and this is critical-M.G.R. should invest in the services of a professional designer to create the form. As tempting as it may be to simply use a computer design program, these programs are more expertly wielded by someone with schooling and experience in the graphic arts. The designer will better "compartmentalize" the elements of the sheet to make it all the more clear, concise and inviting to the eye. You may not know of such a person, but the company that does your printing just might. Or check your Yellow Pages under "Advertising" or "Graphic Arts."
M.G.R.-Homecare, (770) 228-6371, fax: (770) 229-5443.