Famous Last Words: A Direct Marketing Horror Story
The responses to space ads and direct mail efforts took an average of five days in the mail to reach order processing. These were counted and recorded by key and then entered into the giant computers. At the time, Meredith had the third largest computer setup on Long Island—two IBM 360-65s running tandem.
At the other end of the computer room, labels were printed out, batched and sent by truck to the Chicago warehouse, where they were slapped on the prepackaged welcome kits and sent out via book post. The truck to Chicago, labeling and shipping at the warehouse, and time in transit from the warehouse to the customer would eat up another 15 days. Total at either end: 20 days.
The big question was: How long did it take for the information in order processing to become shipping labels ready for the Chicago-bound truck?
A week later I was handed a slip of paper by the data processing assistant manager: “56 days,” it read.
That 56 days plus 20 days meant the new member had to wait 76 days—or two-and-a-half months!—to receive the acknowledgment and welcome kit. I went nuts.
“I’m telling you that statistically it doesn’t matter,” the data processing (DP) geezer insisted.
I went to the big boss in Des Moines, Iowa, argued my case and changes were made. I won no popularity contests.
When I left, the book clubs were showing a profit. But the computer system was so screwed-up that Meredith moved the book clubs out of Long Island and back to Des Moines. My wife, Peggy, and I didn’t want to go to Des Moines, so I quit, took the winter off and wrote a novel.
It was a year and a half of knots in my stomach and liquid lunches.
Since then, of course, direct marketers—pioneered by catalogers and Jeff Bezos at Amazon—have learned the importance of quick fulfillment.