Go for the Gold!
By Denny Hatch
Direct marketing is a daunting business. It was DM News columnist Martin Gross who said, "Whoever knows only one direct marketing skill, whether it's art direction, copywriting or list management, does not even know that properly."
During the dot-com boom, the hotshot twenty-somethings did not have even one direct marketing skill, as they sneered at us old-timers living in the past who did not understand the "new paradigm." They cost investors a trillion dollars or more and are to this day dining on crow.
So how can a newcomer learn direct marketing?
The best job I ever had was working for four extraordinary mentors at Grolier Enterprises in the 1960s—Elsworth Howell, the legendary Bob Clarke, Ed Bakal and my immediate boss Lew Smith. After I had been there for a month or two they put me in charge of a start-up paperback book club for kids using only public domain titles. I did everything but lick the stamps and envelopes. Whenever I ran into trouble I would yell for help and one of these estimable gentlemen would clear his desk and take me through the process. My year-and-a-half at Grolier was the equivalent of an MBA in direct marketing.
So how can a newcomer learn direct marketing when businesses are so huge and filled with tunnel-vision specialists?
In the early 1980s, Dorothy Kerr, circulation director of US News & World Report, said "To be successful in direct mail, you have to see who's mailing what, see which mailings keep coming in over and over again (which means they are successful) and then steal smart." This was the genesis of the newsletter, WHO'S MAILING WHAT!, that Peggy and I ran for 10 years from our basement in Stamford, CT. Our single object: Help direct mailers make money. We cataloged direct mail, wrote about direct mail, and sold photocopies of direct mail samples out of our archive of 200,000 pieces.