This past November, former Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy died at the age of 89. It was McCarthy, a bookish, low-key intellectual, who, you’ll recall, startled the country and the world by announcing he would challenge the incumbent president, Lyndon B. Johnson, for the 1968 Democratic nomination.
Johnson was mired in the Vietnam War with hundreds of body bags coming home every week. McCarthy made his announcement in the Senate Caucus Room in the Capitol. He said, “My decision to challenge the president’s position and the administration position has been strengthened by recent announcements of the administration, the evident intention to escalate and to intensify the war in Vietnam and, on the other hand, the absence of any positive indication or suggestion for a compromise.” He added, “I am not for peace at any price, but for an honorable, rational and political solution to this war.” Then he opened the floor to questions.
Reporter: “Sir, hasn’t the administration sought the rational solution you suggest and offered to meet with Hanoi?”
McCarthy: “To suggest a meeting anytime, anywhere is not an offer. An offer would be, ‘Let’s meet next Tuesday morning in Warsaw.’”
Such an offer would have thrown the ball into Hanoi’s court and forced one of three responses:
1. “We’ve reserved all 429 rooms for our two delegations, plus the grand ballroom and six meeting rooms at Warsaw’s Jan III Soblesky Hotel for one week beginning Sunday the 23rd. See you there.”
2. “How about three weeks from next Tuesday in Vienna?”
3. “We’re not interested.”
Of course, the fourth alternative would be no response, but that’s dangerous in terms of poor public relations.
McCarthy put his finger on the secret of getting a response: Make a specific offer. Like tennis, you’re serving. A tennis serve demands a response.
If your mailings, space ads or inserts aren’t generating the responses you need, here are some tips from the experts on how you might improve them.