Famous Last Words: The Publishing Craps Game

On Nov. 22, 1963, consultant Paul Goldberg—with a huge mailing for Consumer Reports going out across the country—was having lunch with two colleagues at the Café Carlyle in New York. The maître d’ came over to the table to report that President Kennedy had been shot.

“Oh my God!” said his companion on the left.

“Oh my God!” repeated the person on his right.

“Oh my mail!” said Goldberg.

Distraught Americans from coast to coast sat glued to television sets and threw out all their direct mail. Consumer Reports lost hundreds of thousands of dollars—both from the cost of the mailing and the loss of projected subscription income.

Bad timing. Bad Luck.

A Sportswriter’s Ultimate Gig
I used to watch Penn State football games on television. The reason: In my 70s, I loved seeing coach Joe Paterno in his 80s storming up and down the field urging his players on, barking into the ears of his assistant coaches—backfield, offense, defense, line and special teams. Paterno was one of those indomitable people who planned to go through life with all flags flying until the day he dropped.

He also was beloved at Penn State. Not only the winningest coach in college football history, he made a ton of money and gave millions back to his employer. The Paterno Library on campus is the result of the Paterno family raising $13.75 million and donating $2 million of their own.

Paterno was a spectacular human being who lived large for nine decades.

Joe Posnanski of the Kansas City Star was twice voted best sports columnist in America by the Associated Press sports editors and is currently a senior writer for Sports Illustrated. When he was signed to write a biography of Joe Paterno by mega-publisher Simon & Schuster, he must have believed he had fallen into the honey pot. A $750,000 advance ain’t chopped liver.

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at dennyhatch.com.

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  • W.R. Max Bendel

    Think you are seeing the Paterno publishing thing wrong. Not a bad timing thing at all. A sad, but terrific one for Simon & Shuster. Appears they are not taking advantage of the opportunity. Penn State people and those outside the university are still interested in Paterno, perhaps even more so. I knew Joe. I was a freshman team member in 1965, but was recruited by Rip Engel. They call it a transition year. Joe officially took over in 1966. It didn’t work out for me for a variety of reasons, but it did for Joe.


    Great remarks on timing…..We have a lettershop and on 9/11 we had a number of projects in the works for our customers. At the time, I called all of our customers with work in-house and advised them to hold off with their drops. I felt we all had to get our heads around the events of the day and re-stabilize ourselves to normal thought processes after some time passed. I had one customer, a non-profit, who insisted we drop their mailing on the scheduled date, 9/11/2001 because their appeal was extremely important. Results were as one would expect – miserable. The project driver from the non-profit lost her job and another appeal was sent out six weekes later to overcome the debacle. TIMING TRULY IS EVERYTHING HERE…..

  • Reg Doherty

    I’m reminded of a good example revolving around Fruit Of the Month Club and

    Years ago, just prior to shipping crates of Washington state apples, a hail
    storm struck, damaging and spotting these unpicked apples. A complete loss?

    Well, someone had the idea to go ahead and ship these hail-damaged apples
    with a note enclosed. Paraphrasing, the message stated the customers would
    note the damaged apples, but this was just the proof they needed to know
    these apples were produced on the highest hills, in a pristine location with
    healthy weather, etc. etc….

    Next year, double the orders for hail-spotted apples. It’s not what you do
    but how you do it.