Creating Virtual Ladies With Stubby Pencils
The first order of business was to trash everything that was more than 48 hours old. Houghton then computerized the operation. Under his vision, he fooled the computer into thinking that it was running one giant club when, in fact, it was really servicing 14 different clubs. Once the new system was programmed, Houghton ran it parallel with the old hand system for nearly a year to make sure all the glitches were worked out. Finally the switch was made and a seat-of-the-pants operation became a business.
How Could an 80-Year-Old Company Be Cited and Fined for Shabby Customer Service?
Harry Scherman, Robert K. Haas and one of the all-time great direct mail copywriters, Maxwell Sackheim, founded Book-of-the-Month Club in 1926. At a time when bookstores were very few and far between, they came up with a marketing scheme that brought the very best books to the entire country.
This trio of marketing geniuses—together with a wild Doubleday salesman named Charlie Marshall, who founded Literary Guild a few years later—made America literate.
The business model was based on flattery (“As one that loves books, you are invited to….”) and the inertia of the negative option (“If you want this extraordinary new novel by Ernest Hemingway, do nothing and it will be shipped to you automatically.”)
The system was created from scratch, and these men knew every facet of the business. They designed the tubs with the account records and hired the “ladies with stubby pencils.” They fielded phone calls from members, wrote promotions, negotiated with publishers for the rights to books and made damn sure everybody was happy—members, publishers, authors and the hard-working internal people who made it all happen.
Houghton dove into the nitty-gritty of his 14 book clubs and became facilitator, ringmaster, cheerleader and toughest critic. It irked me to no end when Houghton would criticize my promotional copy, but he was always right.