Denny Hatch Remembers Jim Prendergast
James W. “Jim” Prendergast was literally a direct marketing legend in his own time. More than a decade before his death, the Direct Marketing Club of New York named the golf outing he created “The James W. Prendergast Direct Classic.” Prendergast spent his career working in and giving back to the direct marketing profession. He passed away on Friday. He was 86.
In the e-newsletter DMCNY sent to members on Tuesday, the club called Prendergast “Mr. DMCNY — a most dedicated, giving member and leader and our biggest cheerleader.”
Although Prendergast spent two terms as club president and earned “every award DMCNY bestows,” the club told members there were more important things to remember about him.
“Despite all his business accomplishments, Jim will be remembered for who he was,” the announcement reads, “happy, kind, outgoing, friendly, Irish and the best friend a person could have.”
Speaking of that sense of humor, one of the last organizations Prendergast founded was “OGLE (Old Guys Lunch Experience).” The 10-year-old group allows retired direct marketers to gather and solve the problems of the world. Then they eat lunch.
Prendergast himself wasn’t retired, though. More than 60 years into his career, he was also teaching direct marketing at Baruch College and lecturing about the subject internationally. Starting at O.E. McIntyre on Long Island, then moving up the ladder at agencies, the direct mail expert “eventually hung out his own shingle at J.W. Prendergast & Associates around 1973.” DMCNY says Prendergast was still consulting and managing 12 associations, including the club.
Prendergast touched many lives, including a fellow living direct marketing legend, Target Marketing’s Denny Hatch. Here, Hatch remembers his friend.
Jim Prendergast — The Greatest Direct Guy!
Jim Prendergast was beloved by more people — in and out of direct marketing — than anyone I have ever known before or since.
In 1972 — after 12 years of running book clubs and writing copy for agencies — I was suddenly out of a job. Someone suggested I go see Jim Prendergast, whom I had never met. J.W. Prendergast & Associates operated out of a small suite of offices on Third Avenue near Grand Central Station.
When I walked in, it was love at first sight — a half-dozen happy, upbeat, attractive people working like crazy and obviously having the time of their lives. Jim Prendergast held court in a small office on the right. He was a leprechaun — curly haired and Irish as Patty’s pig. His door was always open and he was perpetually gregarious and available to dispense ideas, critiques and above all encouragement to all who encountered him.
“Lemme give you a freelance assignment,” he said to me that day, and let’s see how you do.”
I sat down at an empty desk with a typewriter and banged out some basic copy, which fit his needs. I did a pencil layout of what the mailing might look like. In 20 minutes Gino, Jim’s art director, produced rough comps, and within the hour it was messengered over to the client who not only liked it, but also was delighted by the quick turnaround.
After that, assignments kept coming and I became a freelancer.
Over the years, I saw my story repeated over and over again — creative and management types looking for work would talk to Jim and come away with assignments that would keep them going until they landed a job.
The Launch of Food & Wine
I remember one day a most attractive young couple of foodies — Michael and Arianne Batterberry — came into the office with their investors. The product was a magazine to be called Food & Wine. Within a week, we had copy and comps for dry test.
In direct mail, the most important element is the outside envelope. If it doesn’t get opened, the mailing bombs. Our envelope featured a smiling portrait of the avuncular grand old man of gastronomy, James Beard.
The following week, mechanicals were sent to the printer who produced a dry test of 25,000 6”x9” direct mail packages. They were labeled and bagged for the post office.
The Batterberrys had money for copy, design, lists, printing and inserting, but no money left for postage — the most expensive element of any mailing. So the mailings sat in bags until some cash could be shaken loose from the investors.
Whereupon, James Beard had a serious heart attack and was hospitalized. OMG! Would we be sending out a mailing for a new upmarket gastronomy magazine hitting mailboxes with an envelope featuring a celebrity chef whose obituary would make worldwide news?
We were about to design a new envelope and make arrangements for the printer to extract the existing elements from the Beard envelope at huge extra cost and insert them into the new envelope and mail them as if nothing happened.
The next day, money came in for postage and the mailing went out. For the next six weeks, we all woke up with a renewed sense of dread. Mercifully, James Beard survived and Food & Wine is still in business today.
Through the ordeal, Jim’s exuberance never flagged. He kept us all going. It was a bonding experience.
For over 40 years, Jim seemed to be everywhere and know everybody — at conventions, luncheons, golf outings, teaching seminars, emceeing awards ceremonies, holding court, offering encouragement and wisdom to all who came into his orbit.
Jim Prendergast changed my life.
I loved the guy and will miss him terribly.
What do you remember about Prendergast, marketers?
Please respond in the comments section below.