A Free Parting Gift, From Denny Hatch
After 23 years with North American Publishing Company, this is my final online column for Target Marketing.
It has been a glorious ride!
In 1992, Peggy and I sold our cranky little newsletter and giant archive of direct mail samples — Who’s Mailing What! — to North American Publishing Co. and moved to Philadelphia.
The challenge: take over the management of a dying Target Marketing magazine as well as continue the newsletter and archive service.
After eight years of founding and running a newsletter — based on paid subscriptions — we found ourselves in charge of magazine that was given away free and completely dependent on advertising.
Mercifully we were mentored by a group of world-class professionals who knew the trade magazine business cold. Thanks to them, we did not make a lot of mistakes.
The owner of North American Publishing Co. was great human being and humanitarian, Irvin Borowsky. A man who not only changed our lives, but worked like a demon to change the world.
Before Peggy and I arrived, Irv had taken the company public. Whereupon he discovered the misery of being perpetually second-guessed by stockholders, lawyers and regulators. Irv sold off some properties (including what was to become TV Guide) and bought back his company. From then on, NAPCO has been privately owned and debt free — a splendid working environment.
Irv was chairman of the company, and his son Ned was president.
As editor and publisher, I had two jobs:
- Planning and overseeing editorial content, as well writing feature stories.
- Endless travels on listening tours with sales reps, where I tried to learn every facet of the direct marketing business, including the daunting disciplines of lists, data management, printing and production. My entire focus was putting readers and advertisers together so everybody made money.
Meanwhile Peggy — a brilliant manager, mentor, diplomat and counselor — ran the show in Philly.
The Joys of Working for a Private Company
Peggy and I were blessed. Quite simply, we owned our jobs.
At one point Peggy came up with an idea for a new trade magazine that would cover the catalog industry the way Target Marketing served the direct mail community.
“Sounds good,” said Ned. “Give us a proposal.”
Peggy presented a one-page précis describing the new publication.
Father and son scanned it and shrugged. “Looks good,” Irv said. “Let’s do it.”
Catalog Success was born and was profitable within a year.
Business doesn’t get more fun than that.
After five years, Target Marketing had gone from as little as 32 pages to fat issues of 232 pages — and more.
I got restless. Never comfortable as a manager in the corporate environment, my real love was (and remains) writing. So NAPCO and I cut a deal whereby I could pursue freelance consulting, writing and designing direct mail for clients and also keep writing for Target Marketing.
Peggy, meanwhile, took over as president of the Target Marketing Group.
She saved it from oblivion.
The Digital World
What ensued was a sea change in the publishing business model.
Suddenly print advertising started to tank. Ad page counts shrank. Publishers were forced to get their heads around the new, unwieldy beast called the Internet.
The choice was stark: morph to digital or die.
Quite simply, it was pure luck for North American Publishing Company that I left and Peggy took over. I could not have done it. Not only a superb manager of people, numbers cruncher and diplomat, Peggy is a conceptual thinker. I have none of these skills.
Amidst many months of management skepticism — Peggy transformed the business, taking it from 80 percent print to multiple brands, events and channels.
To Be on My Own Again
The bad news: I turned 80 last week.
The good news: 80 is the new 79.
Ed Mayer’s Dictum
“Success in direct mail,” the great teacher Ed Mayer wrote, “is 40 percent lists, 40 percent offer and 20 percent everything else.”
“Big Data” is what we used to call list research — finding the right person who can afford your product or service and making a sale.
In updated Ed Mayer-speak: “Big Data” is 40 percent of the equation.
Once you’ve found a likely prospect, the next challenge is to create powerful wants. To put it simply: how do you best reach the person, and what the hell do you say?
This represents Ed Mayer’s other 60 percent of the equation. Among the many challenges:
- Test matrix
- Headline/Subject line
- Copy and Design
- Seamless fulfillment
- Instructions so simple and idiot can follow them
- And the ultimate goal: creating a climate of CRM (customer relationship magic) to bring in a second sale and turn the customer into a lifetime multi-buyer
These are the areas — that pesky 800-pound gorilla — I want to pursue as a marketing consultant, writer, designer and blogger.
Out on my own again, I can operate on my own schedule and deadlines of my own making.
To Protect Yourself and Your Colleagues From Screw-ups, Here’s My Parting Gift — With Thanks for Your Readership
Out of the millions of words I have written over the past 65 years, I believe the most important and valuable piece I ever created is:
Best of All, It’s FREE!
You are invited to download it, and make it available to everyone in your organization from top to bottom.
Above all, I would urge you to make sure every new hire receives one on the first day of work.
This is your quickie guide to the all-important, non-data side of direct marketing — that highly personal and heavily intuitive 60 percent of the equation.
I guarantee my checklist will help keep screw-ups to a minimum.
Meanwhile, Let’s Not Lose Touch
Over the years your readership has enriched our lives. Especially valuable in shaping my thinking are the many subscribers — over 1,000 of you — who have posted comments online and engaged in personal email exchanges with me.
I am not exactly sure what my final products or services will be. But this weekend of improving the breed at Saratoga — and diving into the delicious data of past performances in The Daily Racing Form — will clear my head.
Meanwhile, to get in touch for any reason — with a question, an idea, or pair of eyes to look over a project, product or service — I’m here for you: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you. Thank you again.
I am truly honored to have been allowed to be part of your life.
P.S. Who’s Mailing What! with its hundreds of thousands of direct mail and email samples is still the richest resource for direct marketers — pure marketing gold! Nothing like this massive collection of winning promotions in more than 300 categories exists anywhere in the world, from any source, at any price. It’s well worth a look!
P.P.S. You are invited to follow me on Twitter. I promise to never waste your time.
[Editor's Note: This is Denny's final Business Common Sense column, and the conclusion of his Zingers series, as well. You will still find two more of his Famous Last Words column in the September and October print editions of Target Marketing, and then reprinted here again digitally, shortly thereafter.]