Editor's note: Lois Geller has been speaking all over the country, so we asked her son Paul, a copywriter from Bethesda, MD, to fill in for her this month.
We think you'll enjoy this!
Since I was a wee lad, my mother has been a direct marketer working for advertising agencies, universities and other organizations. Since the mid-1970s, I've seen thousands of her mailings, some of which were incredible.
And so were the projects, such as marketing commemorative Charles and Diana wedding stamps from the Bailiwick of Guernsey; selling automobiles to Canadian women; and pitching vitamin-of-the-month club memberships.
One day, Mom came home thrilled about a new freelance assignment. The problems were how to handle these items and where to advertise them. The products were pheasants from a New England breeder. No ordinary birds were these; the client claimed they were "Fabulous Pheasants!" With a little creativity, Mom was able to help those pheasants fly off the farm.
When I was in elementary school, Mom and I fulfilled Mariposa Jewelry orders from our house. I watched her write the copy and design the order forms. I learned about putting together an offer, developing the creative and targeting the promotion to the right audience. Many days, our mailbox was stuffed with orders, and Mom would do her happy dance around the room. From creative copy to order fulfillment in brown JiffyPaks, it was all done in-house (in our house, that is!).
I always wanted Mom to work on a baseball card promotion. If I had a dollar for every time I asked her to go after the Topps account, I'd be a rich man sunbathing in Hawaii now, instead of freezing in Washington, D.C. Topps is, in case you didn't know, the best manufacturer of sports cards in the world—in particular, baseball cards.
From 1975 until I went to college, I bought no fewer than 50,000 Topps baseball cards. I figured if Mom landed the Topps account, she'd have an expert copywriter (me!) who knows the company's products, and I'd get paid in precious cardboard.
We're still working on that project.
Direct Marketing Lessons in Real Life
Direct marketing skills have helped me in many areas of my life. For example, I was taught the power of a "stand-out" cover letter. So when I moved to D.C. and was looking for a job, I applied the direct marketing principles learned during the years. Since thousands of people are competing for jobs on Capitol Hill, I knew my resume had little chance of being read unless I had an exceptionally compelling cover letter.
Instead of bragging about my accomplishments (limited) or academic record (even more limited), I decided to include "an involvement device." I attached a quarter to each letter and asked the recipient to use it to call one of the references I'd listed on an attached sheet.
The response was overwhelming. Some people called to ask if I was serious. Of course, while I had them on the phone, I was able to set up a few appointments. Other people sent the quarter back with notes saying, "Bribes are not accepted."
Either way, it gave me a great "in" with each office. When I made my follow-up phone calls, they all remembered me. I'd say: "Hi, this is Paul Geller, 'the quarter guy.' May I please speak with the congresswoman's office manager?"
"Oh, you're the one who sent us 25 cents! Sure thing, hold on while I get her for you."
I received an amazing response rate of more than 50 percent! Most people in my position were lucky just to get postcards acknowledging their resumes had been received. Eventually, I did get a job on Capitol Hill through this mailing.
I've taken the lessons I learned from my Mom and the direct marketing industry, and I now work as a writer. If you have comments, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or send your letter via carrier pheasant.
Paul Geller is a freelance writer. In college, he was a humor columnist for the Badger Herald at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He also was the Sunday Comics coordinator at The Washington Post for several years. Lois Geller's column will return next month.