Two Young Men That Made $1 Billion
BELL: We have a lot of other sources—telemarketing, subscriptions as a result of newsstand sales, supermarket take-ones, inserts. But, yes, I think 55 percent is a fair estimate.
HATCH: Paul, one million subscribers per year times $100 equals $100 million times 18 years is $1.8 billion times 55 percent equals $1 billion. If these numbers are correct, the Martin Conroy letter is directly responsible for bringing in $1 billion in revenues to The Wall Street Journal, and is, therefore THE MOST SUCCESSFUL SINGLE PIECE OF ADVERTISING IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD!
BELL: [Long silence. Then in a small voice.] Uh, please don’t tell Marty Conroy. He’ll raise his prices.
Raise his prices? It was everybody’s best guess that Conroy, who was a vice president of BBD&O, wrote this as a moonlighter and was paid a paltry $600, which, as Mrs. Conroy reportedly said, was a lot of money to them at the time.
The letter finally ceased being profitable in 2003, after a run of nearly 30 years. It was replaced by another format.
Direct mail guru Axel Andersson, whose archive of direct mail matched my own in size and scope, analyzed the “Two young men …” letter and came up with this astonishing statistic:
The letter runs 780 words, which divided into $1 billion means that over its lifetime, it earned $1.28 million per word. In Andersson’s opinion, no other work of literature or advertising ever earned that much money, with the possible exception of the Bible, which has been around for 1,800 years.
I met Martin Conroy once—an avuncular modest man with a twinkle in his eye. When Don Jackson and I were signed to write “2,239 Tested Secrets for Direct Marketing Success,” I wrote 750 colleagues around the world and asked if they would share with readers their secrets of success. Martin Conroy kindly took the time to respond: