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A No-Disasters Checklist!

Save this one: forward it to colleagues and your agency

Vol. 6, Issue No. 4 | February 22, 2010 By Denny Hatch
20
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IN THE NEWS

'The Checklist Manifesto': a simple, brilliant prescription for getting things right

This is a brilliant book about an idea so simple it sounds dumb until you hear the case for it. Atul Gawande presents an argument so strong that I challenge anyone to go away from this book unconvinced.

"The Checklist Manifesto" is about how to prevent highly trained, specialized workers from making dumb mistakes. Gawande ... is a surgeon, and much of his book is about surgery. But he also talks to a construction manager, a master chef, a venture capitalist and the man at The Boeing Co. who writes checklists for airline pilots.

Commercial pilots have been using checklists for decades. Gawande traces this back to a fly-off at Wright Field, Ohio, in 1935, when the Army Air Force was choosing its new bomber. Boeing's entry, the B-17, would later be built by the thousands, but on that first flight it took off, stalled, crashed and burned. The new airplane was complicated, and the pilot, who was highly experienced, had forgotten a routine step.

Bruce Ramsey, The Seattle Times, Jan. 7, 2010


When I read the review of “The Checklist Manifesto” by Dr. Atul Gawande, I ordered it on my Kindle.

Three minutes later I was totally hooked—engrossed in graphic descriptions of hospital emergency rooms where patients’ lives depended on split-second decisions by health care professionals operating as a team and guided by mental checklists. If they ignored a step or failed to communicate, the patient would assume room temperature—forever.

The author’s argument is simple: Checklists in this complex, high-tech world are indispensable.

It occurred to me that some years ago I created a checklist for direct marketers, and that it was currently residing on my Web site, www.dennyhatch.com. Given my newfound interest in checklists, I decided to revisit it. The thing was OK as far as it went, but woefully inadequate. So I reworked it.

I believe the revised and expanded checklist that follows will be useful to the 20- and 30-something newbies entering this business who are handed decision-making authority beyond their experience.

It's also invaluable to us addled seniors, who tend to forget things.

Backgrounder

As an old geezer, I've seen some major screwups in my 50+ years in marketing. Two come to mind—both off-the-page ads:

  • In the 60s, a full-page ad offering membership in a book club ran in a major weekly magazine at a cost of roughly $20,000. It contained a huge omission: Nowhere in the coupon or in the body of the ad was there an address to which an order could be sent, nor an 800 number.
  • In a full-page mail order ad, some nitwit got the idea that a black coupon would be an attention-getter. So the black coupon ran with white type and white lines indicating where name, address, city and state should be filled in. But you can’t write on a black coupon unless you have a pen that dispenses white ink. Duh.

A simple, free checklist would have caught these blunders for which the designer, creative director and account executive of the agency should have been summarily fired.

THE DIRECT MARKETER'S CHECKLIST

All Media
1.
Does your message employ at least one (preferably several) of the seven key copy drivers—the emotional hot buttons that make people act: Fear - Greed - Guilt - Anger - Exclusivity - Salvation - Flattery?

Takeaways to Consider

  • Checklists in this complex, high-tech world are indispensable.
  • [Checklists are] about how to prevent highly trained, specialized workers from making dumb mistakes.
    Bruce Ramsey, The Seattle Times, Jan. 7, 2010
  • At Wright Airfield in 1935, a Boeing experimental Model 299—a proposed four-engine bomber—crashed on takeoff, killing two of the five crew members. The pilot had forgotten to unlock the hydraulic elevator and rudder controls. A checklist was created for future flights.
  • The test pilots made their list simple, brief and to the point—short enough to fit on an index card, with step-by-step checks for takeoff, flight, landing and taxiing. It had the kind of stuff that all pilots know to do. ... You wouldn’t think it would make that much difference. But with the checklist in hand, the pilots went on to fly the Model 299 a total of 1.8 million miles without one accident. The army ultimately ordered almost thirteen thousand of the aircraft, which it dubbed the B-17. And, because flying the behemoth was now possible, the army gained a decisive air advantage in the Second World War, enabling its devastating bombing campaign across Germany.
    Atul Gawande, “The Checklist Manifesto"
  • Four generations after the first aviation checklists went into use, a lesson is emerging: checklists seem able to defend anyone, even the experienced, against failure in many more tasks than we realized. They provide a kind of cognitive net. They catch mental flaws inherent in all of us—flaws of memory and attention and thoroughness. And because they do, they raise wide, unexpected possibilities. But they presumably have limits, as well. So a key step is to identify which kinds of situations checklists can help with and which ones they can’t.
    —Atul Gawande
  • In a complex environment, experts are up against two main difficulties. The first is the fallibility of human memory and attention, especially when it comes to mundane, routine matters that are easily overlooked under the strain of more pressing events. (When you’ve got a patient throwing up and an upset family member asking what’s going on, it can be easy to forget that you have not checked her pulse.)
    —Atul Gawande
  • Faulty memory and distraction are a particular danger in what engineers call all-or-none processes: whether running to the store to buy ingredients for a cake, preparing an airplane for a takeoff, or evaluating a sick person in the hospital, if you miss just one key thing, you might as well not have made the effort at all.
    —Atul Gawande
  • Checklists seem to provide protection against such failures. They remind us of the minimum necessary steps and make them explicit. They not only offer the possibility of verification but also instill a kind of discipline of higher performance.
    —Atul Gawande

Web Sites Related to Today's Edition

“The Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gawande
http://url2it.com/cerl

Atul Gawande
http://gawande.com/

The Seattle Times review of “The Checklist Manifesto”
http://url2it.com/cfad

Don Parcher, The Checklists Guy
http://checklists.com/blog


 
20

COMMENTS

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Comment *
Most Recent Comments:
Stacy Murison - Posted on March 03, 2010
Thanks for taking the time to put this together. I also highly recommend Gawande's book--a must-read and, dare I say, more compelling than other "management" books...
Bill Christensen - Posted on March 03, 2010
Denny: Of course, your check list begins at the true beginning: Copy, offer, motivation, emotion, subject (you-centric), response triggers, etc. Talked to a successful internet entrepreneur recently, who has personally spent more than $100,000,000 on search and click advertising. He told me, "We don't need any more SEO and click gurus, we really, really need people who know how to craft a compelling offer". Warm Regards. Bill
Beatriz Mallory - Posted on February 27, 2010
Denny, your mastery of the craft continues to be unparalleled.

At your request, a couple of suggestions.

#51a -- does the direct hyperlink and inbound toll-free number both appear at the bottom of each page?

#54a -- can the consumer get the story, offer and COA "above the scroll" (the equivalent of "above the fold")

Four more considerations:

(1) sense of urgency in email marketing. Remember the old fast-50's?

(2) it would be best if the call center taking inbound calls have non-English speakers on call, regardless of the language of the promotion. Especially true in financial services.

(3) the overall list might be expanded to address the world of Search marketing. There are very specific to-do's to ensure success.

(4) Finally, my pet peeve...coupon design. Can the prospect enter a two-line address, and do you accommodate capturing zip+4 vs. just 5-digit zip?

Thank you so much for this specific checklist, and for reminding all of us veterans that you can't be too careful.
Trish Doll - Posted on February 24, 2010
Right on target! BRAVO!
Peter Rosenwald - Posted on February 24, 2010
Great! And not only for beginners but for golden oldies too. May I suggest an additional tool that I have been using to great effect. It is called a Mindmap and can be downloaded for a free trial from www.mindjet.com. Bringing your ideas together on a Mindmap together with the checklist can sharpen your focus enormously and make sure that you have your thoughts in order - in the right order. Try it. Peter Rosenwald, São Paulo, Brasil
Tom Cannon - Posted on February 24, 2010
Denny, This checklist is WONDERFUL!! I am teaching an arts fundraising class at the Savannah College of Art and Design and 99% of this list has direct transference for preparing nonprofit fundraising copy. Most of my grad students are 20-somethings with art backgrounds who are getting a Masters in Museum Administration. In my course's last unit, I reference you and I say, "Reading his blog is like having a conversation with that really cool Uncle in Philly whose stories always teach you something new. His blog is geared towards general business, but 90% of what he talks about can be applied to the nonprofit world. A truly valuable site for the arts organization fundraiser." Thank you so much. Tom Cannon Savannah, GA
Andrejs Zommers - Posted on February 23, 2010
Denny,

Excellent list! I'd add one more item:

Check and double-check the select parameters of any rented lists or subsets of your house file.

If we're following the 40-40-20 Rule, you should never forget the first 40!
Sandi Peterson - Posted on February 23, 2010
Thank you, thank you! I have spent the past 30 years banging the Checklist drum. We offer Press Checks, Lettershop Checks across the US and Canada. We use Checklists for all of our clients on every job at every vendor. It is amazing what we catch that others have missed! When we give our training sessions we go through all the Checklists and explain what all those crazy print and direct mail terms mean. We offer old school training using new school technology.
Dev. Kinney - Posted on February 23, 2010
Researchers from Harvard say that operating room deaths and medical complications are decreased by 1/3rd whenever nurses and doctors follow a 19-step checklist before, during, and after the surgical procedure. Yet Dr. Atul Gawande, who is the Harvard School of Public Health paper’s senior author, says some surgeons still resist the practice of checklists. A direct marketers wouldn't last long ignoring 1/3rd response failure. Thanks to you and DHL respondents for the list of critical considerations.
Valerie Lambert - Posted on February 23, 2010
I’d modify these somewhat. It seems as though you’re not accounting for the internet/e-mail as much. (I bang this drum a lot, since I speak on it, primarily for non profit fund raising.)

#2 – Take into account spam filters and check your (e-mail) message with a good one, to check your spam count. Words like “free” will hurt you…bad!

#11 – Does your HYPERLINK appear on every piece. And is it a DIRECT hyperlink, or are you going to make the customer wander all over your site to find the location you want them to? (relates to #16, #19 & #20)

#43b – Did you add a variety of “seed” addresses, to see how the piece looks when delivered – and when it arrives?

#53b – Have you tested your e-mail with a spam tester (available online), to get your approximate score?

Other e-mail points:

-- Do photos take up too much space, so that if the customers viewer can’t see them, they see nothing (much)?

-- Do you embed text behind photos in e-mail, so that customers can see that message instead if photos don’t display?

-- Can you track e-mail appeals as distinctively as mail appeals, with each of the landing pages being distinctive? It’s doubtful you’d track mail income as “2010,” so don’t do this with e-mail income.
mal decker - Posted on February 23, 2010
Denny,

Well do i remember the check list you required your clients to complete before you accepted an assignment. Long live the check list.

Best, Mal.
Dave Gardner - Posted on February 23, 2010
Very nice post. As a technical editor/writer, I see the need for these all the time... whether for assembling equipment, installing software, operating a medical device, or for performing a spacecraft manuever. Clear and concise writing (like Gawande and you described, fits on a small piece of paper or a note card) is sometimes the best -- especially when a critical task is required. I'm going to apply your checklist to my technical editing/writing tasks for my clients (and for when I venture into copywriting). Thanks so much for this info. Very helpful. Best regards, Dave Gardner, Editor/Writer
Dave Culbertson - Posted on February 23, 2010
Thanks for coming out in support of checklists, Denny. I'm going to share your article far and wide.

I've tried to get business partners and clients to implement checklists for years, but always get push-back. 2010 will be my year-of-the-checklist!
David Precechtil - Posted on February 23, 2010
I always enjoy reading your newsletters.
Today’s issue caught my attention with the topic of checklists. I just finished reading Switch, how to change
things when change is hard. It was a good read and they also pointed out the value of checklists.
Thanks for the entertaining and valuable
information and opinion you share.
Natalie - Posted on February 23, 2010
On our checklist here we look at spelling, punctuation, and grammar. You did not mention this. #34 above has a spelling error. But that does not take away from the relevance of the article. Thanks for being a great mentor.
Adam Moskow - Posted on February 23, 2010
Hello Denny,

Great checklist and info (as usual!)... i'm not sure if you have it down specifically or not as you do mention correct address and to show phone number - BUT to check that the phone number is indeed correct before printing.

Also, is all key coding and coding correct? I hate to tell you how many tests I've seen blown after so much money and hard work only to not be able to track or read the results afterwards.

And, did you provide customer service (or order intake) with copies of sales piece (brochures, print ads, Outer Envelope, etc.) so they know what specific offer/product they're talking about AND actual product samples (if available) so they can answer questions.

thanks again for the checklist.

Adam
Sheri Harris - Posted on February 23, 2010
What exactly is your #1 marketing objective with this effort - are you sure offer logically matches and rewards desired respondents? Higher response may not be good - maybe fewer, but better-qualified responses would slash call center or fulfillment costs, leading to better overall ROI? Maybe a 2-step process would generate higher conversion in the long run? Re: email subject lines: are email subject lines 35-40 characters, max? Research varies on what works best, but in general, probably better off fitting your message within visible space and testing an occasional longer one that cuts off, just to see if cognitive dissonance kicks in (as in "gotta see what rest of that says... old trick of finishing page 1 sales letter sentence on page 2...)
Wash Phillips - Posted on February 23, 2010
Denny, terrific list!
Aviation lists typically aim for positive adjustment relative to the condition of flight (e.g., takeoff, cruise, approach, landing, taxi) and are basically "have you done this?" in nature.
Considering the newbie audience you mentioned, the instructive nature of your list is especially important.
So, consider this: of the 58 checklist items, 53 imply (to the uninitiated) a "yes" answer is the correct way to go. as you intended.
Numbers #7, #9, #17, #20 seem to point in the "no" direction.
Suggestion: review the language of those 4 nos (7, 9, 17, 20) to apply the "as opposed to" terminology used successfully in #33 to imply a "yes" is correct.
Of course, I've filled out medical history forms that had--among the listings--an "Are you reading this form?" note, to prevent applicants who just check a "no" box automatically without reading, but that's a different audience/motivation and does not seem to be your intent here.
Bernadette Price - Posted on February 23, 2010
Magnificent!
Trade shows?
Kimberlee Cords - Posted on February 23, 2010
How about this - have you personally dialed the telephone number in your ad (website/letter, etc) to make sure it is correct? In this day of 800, 888, 866, it's easy to mis-type a prefix and have your calls directed to a very different place!
Click here to view archived comments...
Archived Comments:
Stacy Murison - Posted on March 03, 2010
Thanks for taking the time to put this together. I also highly recommend Gawande's book--a must-read and, dare I say, more compelling than other "management" books...
Bill Christensen - Posted on March 03, 2010
Denny: Of course, your check list begins at the true beginning: Copy, offer, motivation, emotion, subject (you-centric), response triggers, etc. Talked to a successful internet entrepreneur recently, who has personally spent more than $100,000,000 on search and click advertising. He told me, "We don't need any more SEO and click gurus, we really, really need people who know how to craft a compelling offer". Warm Regards. Bill
Beatriz Mallory - Posted on February 27, 2010
Denny, your mastery of the craft continues to be unparalleled.

At your request, a couple of suggestions.

#51a -- does the direct hyperlink and inbound toll-free number both appear at the bottom of each page?

#54a -- can the consumer get the story, offer and COA "above the scroll" (the equivalent of "above the fold")

Four more considerations:

(1) sense of urgency in email marketing. Remember the old fast-50's?

(2) it would be best if the call center taking inbound calls have non-English speakers on call, regardless of the language of the promotion. Especially true in financial services.

(3) the overall list might be expanded to address the world of Search marketing. There are very specific to-do's to ensure success.

(4) Finally, my pet peeve...coupon design. Can the prospect enter a two-line address, and do you accommodate capturing zip+4 vs. just 5-digit zip?

Thank you so much for this specific checklist, and for reminding all of us veterans that you can't be too careful.
Trish Doll - Posted on February 24, 2010
Right on target! BRAVO!
Peter Rosenwald - Posted on February 24, 2010
Great! And not only for beginners but for golden oldies too. May I suggest an additional tool that I have been using to great effect. It is called a Mindmap and can be downloaded for a free trial from www.mindjet.com. Bringing your ideas together on a Mindmap together with the checklist can sharpen your focus enormously and make sure that you have your thoughts in order - in the right order. Try it. Peter Rosenwald, São Paulo, Brasil
Tom Cannon - Posted on February 24, 2010
Denny, This checklist is WONDERFUL!! I am teaching an arts fundraising class at the Savannah College of Art and Design and 99% of this list has direct transference for preparing nonprofit fundraising copy. Most of my grad students are 20-somethings with art backgrounds who are getting a Masters in Museum Administration. In my course's last unit, I reference you and I say, "Reading his blog is like having a conversation with that really cool Uncle in Philly whose stories always teach you something new. His blog is geared towards general business, but 90% of what he talks about can be applied to the nonprofit world. A truly valuable site for the arts organization fundraiser." Thank you so much. Tom Cannon Savannah, GA
Andrejs Zommers - Posted on February 23, 2010
Denny,

Excellent list! I'd add one more item:

Check and double-check the select parameters of any rented lists or subsets of your house file.

If we're following the 40-40-20 Rule, you should never forget the first 40!
Sandi Peterson - Posted on February 23, 2010
Thank you, thank you! I have spent the past 30 years banging the Checklist drum. We offer Press Checks, Lettershop Checks across the US and Canada. We use Checklists for all of our clients on every job at every vendor. It is amazing what we catch that others have missed! When we give our training sessions we go through all the Checklists and explain what all those crazy print and direct mail terms mean. We offer old school training using new school technology.
Dev. Kinney - Posted on February 23, 2010
Researchers from Harvard say that operating room deaths and medical complications are decreased by 1/3rd whenever nurses and doctors follow a 19-step checklist before, during, and after the surgical procedure. Yet Dr. Atul Gawande, who is the Harvard School of Public Health paper’s senior author, says some surgeons still resist the practice of checklists. A direct marketers wouldn't last long ignoring 1/3rd response failure. Thanks to you and DHL respondents for the list of critical considerations.
Valerie Lambert - Posted on February 23, 2010
I’d modify these somewhat. It seems as though you’re not accounting for the internet/e-mail as much. (I bang this drum a lot, since I speak on it, primarily for non profit fund raising.)

#2 – Take into account spam filters and check your (e-mail) message with a good one, to check your spam count. Words like “free” will hurt you…bad!

#11 – Does your HYPERLINK appear on every piece. And is it a DIRECT hyperlink, or are you going to make the customer wander all over your site to find the location you want them to? (relates to #16, #19 & #20)

#43b – Did you add a variety of “seed” addresses, to see how the piece looks when delivered – and when it arrives?

#53b – Have you tested your e-mail with a spam tester (available online), to get your approximate score?

Other e-mail points:

-- Do photos take up too much space, so that if the customers viewer can’t see them, they see nothing (much)?

-- Do you embed text behind photos in e-mail, so that customers can see that message instead if photos don’t display?

-- Can you track e-mail appeals as distinctively as mail appeals, with each of the landing pages being distinctive? It’s doubtful you’d track mail income as “2010,” so don’t do this with e-mail income.
mal decker - Posted on February 23, 2010
Denny,

Well do i remember the check list you required your clients to complete before you accepted an assignment. Long live the check list.

Best, Mal.
Dave Gardner - Posted on February 23, 2010
Very nice post. As a technical editor/writer, I see the need for these all the time... whether for assembling equipment, installing software, operating a medical device, or for performing a spacecraft manuever. Clear and concise writing (like Gawande and you described, fits on a small piece of paper or a note card) is sometimes the best -- especially when a critical task is required. I'm going to apply your checklist to my technical editing/writing tasks for my clients (and for when I venture into copywriting). Thanks so much for this info. Very helpful. Best regards, Dave Gardner, Editor/Writer
Dave Culbertson - Posted on February 23, 2010
Thanks for coming out in support of checklists, Denny. I'm going to share your article far and wide.

I've tried to get business partners and clients to implement checklists for years, but always get push-back. 2010 will be my year-of-the-checklist!
David Precechtil - Posted on February 23, 2010
I always enjoy reading your newsletters.
Today’s issue caught my attention with the topic of checklists. I just finished reading Switch, how to change
things when change is hard. It was a good read and they also pointed out the value of checklists.
Thanks for the entertaining and valuable
information and opinion you share.
Natalie - Posted on February 23, 2010
On our checklist here we look at spelling, punctuation, and grammar. You did not mention this. #34 above has a spelling error. But that does not take away from the relevance of the article. Thanks for being a great mentor.
Adam Moskow - Posted on February 23, 2010
Hello Denny,

Great checklist and info (as usual!)... i'm not sure if you have it down specifically or not as you do mention correct address and to show phone number - BUT to check that the phone number is indeed correct before printing.

Also, is all key coding and coding correct? I hate to tell you how many tests I've seen blown after so much money and hard work only to not be able to track or read the results afterwards.

And, did you provide customer service (or order intake) with copies of sales piece (brochures, print ads, Outer Envelope, etc.) so they know what specific offer/product they're talking about AND actual product samples (if available) so they can answer questions.

thanks again for the checklist.

Adam
Sheri Harris - Posted on February 23, 2010
What exactly is your #1 marketing objective with this effort - are you sure offer logically matches and rewards desired respondents? Higher response may not be good - maybe fewer, but better-qualified responses would slash call center or fulfillment costs, leading to better overall ROI? Maybe a 2-step process would generate higher conversion in the long run? Re: email subject lines: are email subject lines 35-40 characters, max? Research varies on what works best, but in general, probably better off fitting your message within visible space and testing an occasional longer one that cuts off, just to see if cognitive dissonance kicks in (as in "gotta see what rest of that says... old trick of finishing page 1 sales letter sentence on page 2...)
Wash Phillips - Posted on February 23, 2010
Denny, terrific list!
Aviation lists typically aim for positive adjustment relative to the condition of flight (e.g., takeoff, cruise, approach, landing, taxi) and are basically "have you done this?" in nature.
Considering the newbie audience you mentioned, the instructive nature of your list is especially important.
So, consider this: of the 58 checklist items, 53 imply (to the uninitiated) a "yes" answer is the correct way to go. as you intended.
Numbers #7, #9, #17, #20 seem to point in the "no" direction.
Suggestion: review the language of those 4 nos (7, 9, 17, 20) to apply the "as opposed to" terminology used successfully in #33 to imply a "yes" is correct.
Of course, I've filled out medical history forms that had--among the listings--an "Are you reading this form?" note, to prevent applicants who just check a "no" box automatically without reading, but that's a different audience/motivation and does not seem to be your intent here.
Bernadette Price - Posted on February 23, 2010
Magnificent!
Trade shows?
Kimberlee Cords - Posted on February 23, 2010
How about this - have you personally dialed the telephone number in your ad (website/letter, etc) to make sure it is correct? In this day of 800, 888, 866, it's easy to mis-type a prefix and have your calls directed to a very different place!