Profile-Covenant House (1,817 words)
You're going to have trouble believing this letter. I mean, what I'm about to tell you is so strange and incredible, you'll never forget it. But please understand that EVERY SINGLE WORD OF THIS STORY IS TRUE!!!
I'm really praying you'll take a few minutes to read it.
She came to our front door Tuesday morning, dressed in dirty rags, holding a little aluminum paint can in her arms.
From the second she stepped inside our shelter, she mystified us. Whatever she did, wherever she went, the paint can never left her hands...
—Sister Mary Rose
The Covenant House "Paint Can" letter—first mailed in 1992—is a masterpiece that follows the rules of direct mail to a tee.
For example, here is freelancer Harry B. Walsh' s double prescription for a successful letter:
The tone of a good direct mail letter is as direct and personal as the writer's skill can make it.
Even though it may go to millions of people, it never orates to a crowd but rather murmurs into a single ear. It's a message from one letter writer to one letter reader.
Tell a story if possible.
Everybody loves a good story, be it about Peter Rabbit or King Lear. And the direct mail letter with its unique person-to-person format, is the perfect vehicle for a story. Stories get read. The letter I wrote to launch the Cousteau Society 20-some years ago has survived hundreds of tests against it... The original of this direct mail Methuselah started out with the lead: "A friend once told me a curious story I would like to share with you..."
Most consultants and writers teach that a letter should begin with an offer and benefits that should be restated at least three times in the course of the letter, along with several calls to action.