The Grand Controls - A History
Many years ago at a Direct Mail Writers Guild luncheon speech in New York, (then) U.S. News & World Report circulation director Dorothy Kerr said:
The way to be successful in direct mail is to see who's mailing what, what mailings keep coming in over and over again (which means they are successful) and then STEAL SMART.
In other words, in direct mail, the marketplace is the judge. We can't judge great direct mail; it judges us.
The secret medium
Unlike broadcast and space advertising—where an ad becomes public knowledge the moment it breaks—direct mail is secret. The only medium more secret than direct mail is telemarketing where no paper trail exists.
The only way an outsider can judge whether or not a mailing is successful is to see if it keeps coming in over and over again.
As publisher of the newsletter, Who's Mailing What!, I was receiving 3,000 to 4,000 direct mail pieces a month and maintained samples in the largest library of its kind in the world. That archive (now called DM Source) currently houses samples and data on about 200,000 mailings going back 15 years. I naturally received a lot of duplicates; plus, when we received a direct mail piece that was already in the files, we noted on the envelope (and in the newsletter): (1) that it had been received before; and (2) the date(s) it had been previously received. We then tossed out the old piece and keep the carefully annotated new one.
Enter Axel Andersson
A decade ago, I met Axel Andersson—a Swede who moved to Germany after World War II and created the largest home study business in Europe, the Axel Andersson Akademy, offering courses in languages, writing and commercial art. Andersson retired to Palm Coast, Florida where he collects direct mail on his own, plus all our dupes and purged pieces are recycled into Axel's vast collection. Where our library is filed by category, by mailer, by date, Andersson's is arranged by function (e.g., great leads, headlines, letters, envelopes, sweepstakes, lift pieces, etc.). The Axel Andersson collection is now so huge that he bought the house next door strictly for use as his library.