Direct Marketers Have Forgotten How to SELL!
The Direct Marketing Association conference in San Diego this past October was pathetically small.
The number of exhibitors was few, compared with the size and action 20 years ago.
The reason: Sad-sack promotions.
David Cowen's Wake-up Call
David Cowen sent me a rare gift—an actual circular announcing the Direct Marketing Days New York 1981 at the New York Hilton.
Those were the days when practitioners spoke old-fashioned English and we all had a blast!
The piece is dazzling.
[See the first and second images in the media player at right.]
With a splendid Art Deco 8-1/2" x 11" cover panel, it unfolds and unfolds and unfolds to mammoth 22" x 34" bed-sheet. Open it on your desk and it obscures everything in sight!
The layout at the Hilton was terrific—booths set up all over the mezzanine floor plus the third and fourth floor exhibit halls, and nooks and crannies in between.
And it was mobbed.
The joint was a giant human pinball machine with narrow aisles that forced you to bounce off old friends and new acquaintances in a perpetual state of dizzy happiness.
Meeting rooms were small and crowded to the gunnels. The atmosphere was perpetually electric.
The 1981 Brochure
This massive piece was designed and written like poster for a P.T. Barnum extravaganza. The only things missing: The Elephant Man, the Bearded Lady and Conjoined Twins. A sampling:
THEATER 1: Sutton Center & South Room
MY FAIR CATALOG
The Catalog Experience
THEATER 2: NASSAU A&B ROOM
The Circulation Story
10:15—11:00 "Circulation Chorus in Three-Part Harmony"
THEATER 3: BEEKMAN ROOM
THE BIG PITCH
Business and Industrial Direct Mail
THEATER 5: MURRAY HILL ROOM
Creative Experts Critique the Hits
THEATER 6: RENDEZVOUS ROOM
SEND NO MONEY, HONEY!
Continuity, One-Shots and Clubs
THEATER 7: REGENT ROOM
VERDICTS, VIEWS & VISTAS
THE PRESENT AND FUTURE OF THE INDUSTRY
10:15—12:00 "Showcase Productions of 1981"
Innovative Applications of Direct Marketing
THEATER 8: TRIONON ROOM
BEGIN THE BEGUINE
The Basics of Direct Marketing
Included: 130 photographs of the superstars, luncheon speakers, second bananas, worker bees PLUS short bios of each of us.
The Sad End of DMDNY
The four guys who owned the show got into a pissing match. The Hilton was expensive, two of them whined, and space was limited. No room to grow.
These two had 51 percent of the business. Their agenda: make the DMA conference redundant.
As a result, this wonderfully intimate (and huge!) show was carted off to the Javits Center on the far West Side of Manhattan.
The Javits has all the warmth and charm of a correctional facility. No taxis. No decent restaurants. Aisles as wide as I-95 that you could shoot a cannon down and hit nothing. Never any eye contact, let alone bodily contact. Depressing as hell.
It was the beginning of dweeb-driven marketing where all the promotional copy looks like—and reads like—a graduate school syllabus in san serif mouse-type.
Attendance dried up.
Eventually the Direct Marketing Association bought Direct Marketing Days New York and put it out of its misery.
Some of the world-class professionals are pictured alphabetically in images No. 3 and No. 4 in the media player at upper right:
Herb Ahrend, a member of MENSA and in the upper 1 percent of world smarts.
Susan Allyn, circulation whiz and raconteuse. She the told funniest joke I ever heard in my life—not before, not since. I won't spoil it with the punch line, but the lead up was: "What I really said was 'One small step for a man and one giant leap for Manny Klein." —Neil Armstrong
Tony Arau, brilliantly inventive copywriter whose gimmicks and gadgetry on outgoing mailings were legendary.
L. William Black, who with Robbie Macdonald launched The Classics of Golf—the great how-to library featuring the works of such champions as Bobby Jones, Percy Boomer, Gene Sarazan and Walter Hagen. Bill's ambition in life was to play every major golf course in the world including such exotica as Wack Wack Golf and Country Club, Mandaluyong, Philippines.
Art Blumenfield, an affable mover and shaker of DMDNY and fulfillment wizard for—among others—Robbie Macdonald's and Bill Black's Classics of Golf (just above).
Ed Burnett, founder of a list company that bore his name and a wizard at statistics. Ask Ed for some arcane mathematical formula and he could recite it instantly.
Tom Collins, the creative half of Rapp & Collins. In his regular magazine column, Tom would take an ad and improve it big time, much to the fury of the original designers and writers, who always would end up looking like chumps.
Robert Doscher, master of marketing surveys. He once hired me to write and design nine dry test mailings (promotions for products that did not exist) based on his research. Eight of them were winners and went on to become profitable products. (Bob's research always works!)
Lee Epstein, beloved principal in DMDNY and huge contributor to the furtherance of direct marketing, both in New York and nationally.
Michael Fabian, president of March Advertising—a short guy with a deep, cultivated voice that sounded like Leonard Bernstein.
Al Goodloe, founder of the newsletter Publisher's Multinational Direct (PUBMUD) and an authentic World War II hero.
Denison Hatch, who long ago decided "Denny" was less pretentious.
Henry R. "Pete" Hoke, Jr., editor and publisher of Direct Marketing and a guy who adored the business.
Richard Jordan, copywriter who said, "Get to the point! Most readers—with the possible exception of devotees of "thought magazines"—simply won't stay with you through a leisurely development of a creative idea. They're the Type A people behind your car at the stoplight; they beep their horns the minute the light turns from red to green."
Connie Karvonides, savvy direct marketer who abandoned the Sour Apple for Maine.
Dorothy Kerr, who changed my life. "Want to be successful in direct mail?" she said to a luncheon crowd. "See who's mailing what, which mailings keep coming in over and over again (which means they are controls and making pots of money) and then steal smart!" Peggy and I stole smart from Dottie, started a direct mail archive and launched the newsletter Who's Mailing What!
Richard King, a lovely guy whom many of us miss very much.
Brian Kirby, marketing guru at Clement (pronounced Cle-ment), a niche business that bought the rights to best-selling business books, condensed them down to four-page newsletters and sold them as a monthly continuity series.
Jordan Lowenstein, partner of Annette Brodsky, Accredited Lists. Jordan and Annette rode the Orient Express from Paris to Istanbul and caused me to be seriously jealous ever since.
Ed McLean, who ran the Copywriting 101 pre-conference seminar for beginners. Ed could mesmerize a room full of kids for three hours by ad-libbing with no slides and no notes. Same thing for Copywriting 102 for three hours in the afternoon. Click Here for more on Ed McLean.
Reba Palker, a chum and client who handled circulation for Games, New York and Ladies Home Journal.
Jim Prendergast picked me up right after I got fired by Walter Weintz and enabled me to become a freelancer. I loved working with the guy in an office atmosphere that was a perpetual Irish party.
Ben Ordover, CEO of Columbia House, which—at the time—was hugely big and important. Ben's counterpart at RCA Record Club was Ed McCabe who once said to me, "Every time we get creative we lose money."
Stan Rapp, the front half of Rapp & Collins. In Hong Kong, Stan came up with the perfect definition direct marketing: "Intimate Advertising." No better definition exists. Certainly NOT data driven marketing!
Shirrel Rhoades, circulation powerhouse at Charter Communications.
Ernan Roman, CCI America and voice marketing guru. He had the startling good looks of an Errol Flynn action-adventure movie star.
Iris Shokoff, the smartest buyer of direct response advertising in the country. Her motto: "Never buy retail."
Emily Soell (pronounced sell) was CEO of Rapp & Collins. Years ago she torpedoed the nonsense about the key to direct marketing being "customer engagement." She said, "I don't want a relationship with the guy who sells me aspirin. I just want my headache cured."
Jim Springer with his partner Shan Ellentuck were frequent speakers and always worth searching out to learn something new.
Dick McInroe, listed as "Arrangements Chairman" for good reason. He was the go-to guy who put all the pieces together. He honchoed a bunch of these affairs—flawlessly!
Ralph Stevens. Need an emcee for any occasion? Ralph's your top candidate.
John Francis Tighe, one of the legendary copywriters along with Ed McLean, Bill Jayme, Frank Johnson and Tom Collins.
Richard Vergara, a member of the Lou Kleid list dynasty along with his brilliant aunt Rose Harper, who was my favorite interview subject over the years.
Frank Vos, advertising agency owner, sailor, cross-country pilot of his own twin-engine plane, skier, major in the Army who stayed on in Italy following World War II as the unofficial "American Mayor" of Florence, connoisseur of post-War Italian cinema and all-around Renaissance Man.
Walter Weintz, agency owner and my employer and mentor for four years. Periodically in the summer Walt would storm out of his office and shout, "It's too nice a day to be workin'. Let's go fishing!" And we would. His biggest client was CREEP: Committee to Re-Elect the President (Nixon). This funny business called Watergate happened and suddenly Republican fundraising died and so did my job. Which was great, because it was then I hooked up with Jim Prendergast and became a freelancer. I never looked back.
Guy Yolten, a lovely guy whose advertising agency was the epicenter of political fundraising, publishing, memberships and B-to-B in Washington, D.C.
To all who participated back then—those of you still with us and those in the Great Beyond—I loved it. I loved all of you. And I really, really miss you! It was a hoot.
Takeaways to Consider
- David Cowen's gift flyer for the 1981 DMDNY conference is a jewel.
- One conspicuous omission on the circular: NO ORDER MECHANISM! No phone number, no nothin'.
- It arrived in an envelope with a letter and an order form.
- Important Takeaway to Put on Your Checklist: When you send out an offer by direct mail, make absolutely sure every element has an address, URL and phone number. This goes for letter, circular, order form (obviously), refrigerator magnets and anything else.
- The reason: pieces in a mailing can get separated. If, say, a lift piece is powerful and shows up minus the rest of the mailing, it might trigger interest. "I'd like to look into this," the finder might say. If no address, email or phone number appears anywhere on the piece, the inquiry (and order) are lost!
- It costs nothing to add this information in small type.
- If any reader has a scanner that can accommodate a 22” x 34” form, I’d love to make it available to one and all. In terms of generating hype and excitement, it sure filled up the Hilton.
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Question: why didn't you write this book 27 years ago when I started my company and wrote catalog number 1? —Ira Hoffman
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