Philly Phundraising Phollies
Plus … Best Wishes for a Joyous Holiday
Dec. 20, 2005: Vol. 1, Issue No. 57
IN THE NEWS
Letters | Academy of Natural Sciences not serving well
It's indeed a shame the museum is going under, but The Inquirer's article ["Dinosaur Museum Itself Is
Threatened"] stresses its importance only to the scientific community. The museum hasn't been stressing its importance to the general public for many, many years; that neglect shows, and that's why the public has turned away from it.
--Allene Murphey, Letter to the Editors, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 16, 2005
In the 1980s, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City came up with an ingenious scheme for acquiring new members.
Any time a big new exhibition was scheduled to open, the membership department would order up a slew of upscale lists--but only in upscale Manhattan ZIP codes. Among them, as I recall, were New York magazine, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Esquire and Vanity Fair. To these names would be added the names of members of other New York museums and cultural institutions with whom the Whitney had list exchange agreements.
These lists would then be run through a merge/purge process so that no duplicate mailings would be sent to the same household. In addition, current active members of the Whitney were eliminated while lapsed members were invited.
The offer was an invitation to attend an elegant, private viewing of the new exhibition to be held exclusively for new members. Included would be a reception to meet the curator and other museum officials. Docents were stationed in every gallery to answer questions. A bar dispensed wine and soft drinks as well as hors d'oeuvres. The cost was $50, which included free admission to the museum for two for a year, member's receptions for two major exhibitions, the monthly bulletin and discounts in the museum shop. It was a very good deal.
My job was to write and design the mailings.
The first invitation was for an exhibition of John Singer Sargent portraits and the evening was a barnburner. My client was thrilled with the turnout and return on investment.
Over the years, we found that the success of future mailings depended on the fame of the artists. John Singer Sargent was A++. Red Grooms did fine. The high profile "Biennial" was okay. Charles Sheeler and Donald Judd were marginal at best. But overall, the program was a success and I loved working for the Whitney.
Fast forward to the 1990s. My wife, Peggy, and I moved to Philadelphia to run Target Marketing magazine. We brought with us the Who's Mailing What! newsletter (now Inside Direct Mail) on direct mail and the massive archive of sample mailings that included more than 200 efforts from museums, zoos, arboretums, libraries and orchestras from around the country.
Being a full-time employee, I could not take on private clients. But I did want to keep my hand in the business.
So in a moment of madness, I offered to do some pro bono work for a well-known Philadelphia museum.
I walked into a buzz saw.
The Seaport Museum
One weekend, I spent a magical afternoon at the Independence Seaport Museum with its splendid collection of paintings and interactive exhibits of ships from the early days of the colonies to today's supertankers. Could I volunteer to help the museum acquire members or raise money as I had for the Whitney Museum in New York for many years? In particular, I was interested in the possibility of generating funds for the cruiser Olympia, anchored at the Penn's Landing wharf. This 100-year-old battlewagon was part of Teddy Roosevelt's Great White fleet that circled the globe in 1908. According to The History Channel, she was in desperate need of $15 million for restoration.
I wrote museum Director John S. Carter, and offered to raise money and help acquire members on a pro bono basis. At the very least, I suggested, he might like to see what other museums around the country were mailing so that his people were not reinventing the wheel.
A couple of weeks later, a large envelope from the Seaport Museum arrived. No letter acknowledged my letter. It was the annual report showing an endowment of $47 million.
The message from Carter was clear: "We do not need members, we do not need money, and above all, we do not need you, chum. We're rich."
Peggy and I joined the Union League and I recounted this sour experience to my sponsor, one of the grand doyennes of the League.
"That's not how things are done in Philadelphia," she explained. "You need an introduction. I know John S. Carter and would be happy to write a letter in your behalf."
A couple of years later, The Philadelphia Inquirer published a grand exposé on the utter chaos and gross mismanagement of the Seaport Museum. Among the juicy revelations:
- Carter's salary was $220,416 per annum, well above what directors of far larger museums make.
- Carter lives in a house that the museum bought for $665,000 and then spent an additional $800,000 to expand and another $210,000 to furnish.
- The museum is losing its shirt on a 1935 vintage motor yacht that it restored and spent $2.4 million in
attempts to charter her.
- A catastrophic loss in the endowment.
A Letter to the Editor
I wrote a letter recounting my Seaport Museum experience to the Inquirer and it ran on the op-ed page, whereupon I got a call from the development director of a very old and revered Philly institution, The Academy of Natural Sciences. He told me that the organization needed members and money.
Founded in 1812, the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences is a major museum. For example, the library contains nearly 200,000 volumes, including every major scientific work ranging from the 1500s to the present.
Only the Library of Congress and the British Museum have equivalent collections.
Unfortunately this once marvelous institution, which has put on some world-class exhibitions, has been eclipsed. It is just down the Ben Franklin Parkway from the mammoth Philadelphia Museum of Art, which has one of the greatest collections in the world. Worse, it is literally in the shadow of the massive Franklin Institute that has just signed with the Cairo Museum to present in 2007 the dazzling "Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pahraohs."
In short, the Academy of Natural Sciences is a poor little step-child of glitzy Philadelphia. It would be a very big deal in a slightly smaller city, and desperately needed some old fashioned TLC.
I invited the guy to lunch at the Union League. He was in his 40s, wore the de rigueur jacket and tie, and was presentable and affable.
The Academy had an operating budget of $15 million a year, an endowment and a small cadre of loyal members. But finances were dodgy; breakeven, he told me, was a sometime thing. Yes, they had done some mailings, but it was doubtful if any samples existed and certainly no one ever kept track of results. Very likely, no records existed of what outside lists were used. The renewal program was in disarray.
It turns out this fellow and his staff all had advanced degrees in the sciences. With no openings in their disciplines, they settled for jobs in development—hardly stellar credentials for generating money and members.
I offered to help, and he offered to pay me. I told him that when I wrote to The Inquirer I was not trolling for clients. If we worked together, I said, this would be pro bono. The only reason to pay me would be if his staff said, "Hey, we're not paying the guy anything, so his advice can't be worth anything." In that event, I suggested maybe we would work out some kind of a deal.
Meanwhile, I offered to find a data modeler to determine who his good members were so we could find more like them and I would write and design a package. I told him that offer and lists were key and that it was imperative to find a good list broker that specialized in this field.
A couple of weeks later, I took him through the WHO'S MAILING WHAT! Archive to show him what other institutions around the country were doing that might give him some direction. Successful direct mail is often not pretty. My early mentor, Lew Smith, had a three-word dictum: "Neatness rejects involvement."
Seattle direct marketing guru Bob Hacker reduced Smith's dictum to two words: "Ugly works."
"It doesn't matter whether you like or dislike direct mail," I told him. "You cannot judge good direct mail; it judges you."
If a mailing works, it's successful. It's then up to us to figure out why people responded.
How do you know if a mailing works when direct mail is the second most secretive of marketing techniques (telemarketing leaves no paper or electronic trail)?
If a mailing is received more than once, you know it's successful. It's a so-called "control" that's making money.
As former US News & World Report circulation Director, Dorothy Kerr, once said, "To be successful in direct mail, see who's mailing what, study those mailings that keep coming in over and over again, and then steal smart.
I assured him that I wasn't going to walk in and tell him and his people what to do. Rather, we would look at what others in his field were doing across the country and use those for guidance.
I culled a bunch of duplicate mailings from the Archive for him to study—maybe 40 or 50 from museums, zoos and arboretums across the country. These were duplicates and ipso facto successful. I dropped them off his offices along with a couple of my marketing books so he could get a sense of what this business was about.
I didn't hear back from him for a couple of days, so I called. "Did you get the stuff?" I asked.
"I did, and I passed it around to my staff."
"They asked if any of these mailing worked, and I told them that they did."
"'Well they don't work for us,' they told me."
That was June 2004.
I never heard from them again. They still have my samples and my books.
The Academy of Natural Sciences may be "old Philadelphia," but it sure ain't a class operation.
This past Dec. 4, 2005, Patricia Horn of The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote a long article detailing what has befallen the Academy of Natural Sciences since our meeting at the Union League:
- The development director I met with was fired after seven months on the job.
- His telling me that the museum sometimes broke even was B.S. From 1993 to the present, the institution has been running a $700,000 per annum deficit on its $15 million a year operating budget.
- So many staff people have been fired that the collection of 25 million specimens of dinosaur bones, fish, birds, plants and animals is in serious jeopardy.
- A distinct possibility exists that one of the world's greatest repositories of scientific books, specimens and artifacts will go down the tubes through neglect and mismanagement by elitists with advanced scientific degrees who haven't a clue how to run a business.
Takeaway Points to Consider
- Community service is a good thing to do.
- What is probably NOT a good thing to do is give away for free what people pay you to do.
- It is hard enough persuading paying clients that you are not a threat and that your only interest is to do a good job and help them look good in the process.
- Frequently the mentality is: "We're not paying this guy anything; therefore his advice isn't worth anything."
- When you do work for amateurs, your reputation is on the line just as surely as it is with paying clients,
only chances are far higher that your work will be screwed up and you will get the blame.
- I work seven days a week. If I had any time for pro bono work, it would be as a docent at the museum, a hospital volunteer or as a Big Brother to some disadvantaged kid--in other words something completely alien to what I do professionally.
- Above all, do not feel guilty about turning down a pro bono request.
- David Brinkley reportedly once said, "You should make as much money as you possibly can and give away as much of it as you can possibly afford."
Web Sites Related to Today's Edition
Academy of Natural Sciences
King Tut Exhibit
Philadelphia Museum of Art
A Note from Denny Hatch
The reason no letters from readers were published over the past two weeks was that my wife, Peggy, and I were in Europe where all the computers spoke German, the QWERTY keyboard was a QWERTZ, and we were in places where I could not connect my laptop to the Internet.
So what follows is the missing correspondence.
Also, with the holidays coming, this will be the last column until the New Year.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your readership, for your encouragement and for many e-letters and resultant dialogues. I am learning a lot from you and I love it!
All of us in this enterprise wish you and yours a joyous Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza or whatever holiday you celebrate. If you celebrate nothing, then eat, drink and stay off the scale.
And of course, we wish you a happy, healthy, prosperous and PEACEFUL New Year.
In the Aug. 18, 2005, issue, "Time Warner and the Vision Thing," I looked at the "bloated, bloviating Time magazine. I was agog that it required an army of 269 editorial people to produce just 63 articles on 49 editorial pages of the Aug. 22 issue, or an average of five-and-a-half people per page. By contrast, the March 3, 1937, inaugural issue of Time was produced by a paltry 20 editorial people who created a 32-page issue with 117 articles. With advertising pages down 14.2 percent from last year, and the weekly publication becoming vestigial in light of the 24/7 cable news coverage of the world, it was announced on Dec. 18 that 105 people were being canned. Many of these were high-level executives, as corporate was "aiming at chiefs more than Indians, because that's where the money is," wrote David Carr in The New York Times. More cuts to come, apparently. In my opinion, the downsizing is essential; however when firings occur just before the holidays, those in charge are not nice folks.
Letters to the Editor
Note: Denny personally replies to all correspondence.
Readers respond to "New Does Not Necessarily Mean Improved," which was published Dec. 6, 2005.
Classic. Especially the po-po part. When our church built our new sanctuary a few years ago, the music committee ruled and the acoustics were wonderful for music but no one could hear the sermon, even when the choir was not singing. It took a lot to fix it.
I especially love your first two takeaways related to the article on Dec. 6. Since leaving Fingerhut, I have yet to see a company that has the discipline in testing you speak of. It takes time to test. Many companies have such unrealistic growth expectations that it pushes people to make a lot of hasty and risky decisions. A lack of understanding what is driving the growth or failures often occurs due to a lack of true testing, measuring, and on-going validation. Thanks for your wonderful and insightful articles. They often bring a knowing smile to my face each time I read one!
You aren't going to like the Strathmore Hall in Rockville, Md. either. Depending on where you sit, it's either so loud you're holding your ears or so silent you have to look to be sure they're playing. Also, I saw "In Your Life," one of your newsletter subjects a few weeks ago. Great sets, costumes and performers, bad book.
The corollary to the "beat the control" business model was most succinctly stated by Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist.com, when he said, "Choose your mistakes carefully". Keep up the great work, Denny!
I just wanted to say, your newsletter makes my day. As a child, my dad brought home Ad Age and other publications and I devoured them. Marketing has been in my blood. Now having been a direct mail copywriter for 25 years, there's not a lot of provocative material out there. Business Common Sense is an exception.
--David J. Vella
Wonderful. You had me laughing out loud. I've read many articles about the acoustics of halls. I live in a city with a major one that's had many expensive redos ... that doesn't work. I've never seen the suggestions of: "new concert halls should start with what works--the control--the shape of Carnegie Hall."
Readers respond to "Are Voles and Moles Eating Your Profits?" which was published Dec. 8, 2005.
Great article on Penn Treaty. As Bugs would say, "What a bunch of maroons." Regarding Medicaid--at least in Connecticut--being on Medicaid does not mean going into a second-rate public nursing home if the need arises. My mother is on Medicaid and lives in a beautiful nursing home in Greenwich, Conn., completely paid for by Medicaid. Most of the residents in this home are private-pay and the care level is superior. Medicaid pays the same basic rate whether public or private. In fact, the private nursing homes rely on Medicaid-supported residents to meet their expenses. Many could not stay open without them. The choice of nursing home is up to the family, depending of course on the availability of open beds. I have no idea if all states operate this way, but I am certainly glad Connecticut does. Needless to say, long-term care coverage is still a smart choice when possible.
I loved today's column. So many times, clients never look at correspondence, don't carry about it, and how customers are falling out the back end of efforts. You rock!
GREAT piece, Denny! Just great!
I am sure you received a hundred e-mails from long term care agents on your recent article. If so, I apologize. If not, may I ask that you please use a broker who handles five to 10 companies next time. Look at companies with good reputations for long-term care. There are a few, when you check their history, who have never raised rates on their in-force policyholders. John Hancock, GE, Allianz and a few others have been at it a long time and have priced their business properly. Or you could look for a company that will eliminate paying annual premiums altogether. Then they can't raise rates, and if you never use it, you (your family) get your money back. I enjoy your column, thanks for all your insight.
Absolutely dead bang on, Denny! Of the six catalog/direct response firms I worked for over almost 30 years--ranging in size from a startup to several established firms with annual sales of over $400 million--none conducted such a review of "customer communications" before my arrival, and the last one did so only after an outside consultant recommended it as part of a process re-engineering/cost reduction project ... As was the case with the one you cited, pulling the requisite communication info/printed pieces, and the criteria/guidelines for distribution for each were monstrous tasks! Let's just say that it was interesting learning what each department thought was happening with customer communication, and the looks of astonishment when they learned what was really happening! Getting it right is so easy--yet so difficult for business organizations regardless of size--a sign of the dearth of truly strategic thinkers either at the top or in the ranks of middle management. Unfortunately, I don't see this as unique to the direct response businesses ...
Readers respond to "Lost Data Threatens Security?" which was published Dec. 13, 2005.
I really enjoy your e-mails--they are among the most intelligent and intellectually stimulating I read, but you missed the biggest problem here. The solution (if indeed there is one) is the people, not the systems. Data security is still a cost-center for most companies, so it gets the mouse's share of the budget, not the share it needs. If you can only hire turkeys to guard your data when you need eagles (and you really do need eagles), you'll never beat the problem. And the problem will never go away--we're creating too many processes that are going to exacerbate the problems we currently have. If you enjoy monitoring the current problems, you're going to love the future!
Funny you should mention this. Did you hear the NPR story this morning: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5049679. Also be sure to check out in the In Depth links "Surveillance Provisions."
Kevin Drum, on his blog, Political Animal, suggests a fairly simple approach to one aspect of personal data security: simply make "credit freeze" the default, so nobody can access your credit files without your permission. It might increase approval time when you apply for credit, but that's a minor trade-off, given the risk. Read what he has to say here: http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2005_11/007646.php
Readers respond to "Choices," which was published Dec. 15, 2005.
You know how to KISS [Keep It Simple, Stupid], I know how to KISS, but it's completely antithetical to government at any level. The reasons why the Medicare Drug Benefit is so complex and strange are: a) it would cost more to make it simple--eliminating the donut hole, and b) the drug companies want to keep charging full freight to individual consumers. The bottom line is, however, if you are not covered for prescription drugs currently, you really should sign up for one of the plans. If you don't do so by May, there could be significant penalties if you want to take the coverage later.
I wonder whether the voluminous Blue Cross envelope is in reality what the insurance lobby wanted. That way the common folks would not make a decision and automatically end up in a more beneficial program for the insurance industry. I don't know that my wondering has any basis in fact, but I wouldn't be surprised if it did.