In the 1970s—before telemarketing, infomercials and spam—direct mail was the main response medium. And like every medium, direct mail had its stars—a charmed circle of brilliant copywriters whose names were synonymous with big results and big fees. Among them: Bill Jayme, Chris Stagg, Frank Johnson, Linda Wells, David Ogilvy, Maxwell Sackheim and Ed McLean.
With the passing of Ed McLean on Aug. 13 at age 77 after a long illness, the last of the great stars has ceased to shine.
McLean was a very special guy—short, funny as hell, with a small mustache and an impish smile. He was enormously supportive when my wife, Peggy, and I launched our cranky, little newsletter, WHO’S MAILING WHAT! (now Inside Direct Mail), in 1984.
McLean got into direct marketing in 1958, and in the course of a dazzling career generated nearly $1 billion in sales for his clients. Of the thousands of mailings, inserts, off-the-page ads and radio scripts he wrote, two letters are his signature classics:
1. The 15-year control for Newsweek that began, “If the list upon which I found your name is any indication, this is not the first—nor will it be the last—subscription letter you receive.”
2. An off-the-wall effort for Mercedes under the aegis of the legendary David Ogilvy that started, “’Forget it, Heinz,’ the experts told me. ‘It just won’t sell here.’”
As well as a pioneering copywriter, McLean was a great teacher who could hold an audience spellbound at an all-day seminar on direct marketing without PowerPoint slides, overheads or even notes. Many of his secrets of direct mail copy were revealed in his classic, “The Basics of Copy,” a monograph so successful it went through five editions.
With do-not-call and Can Spam laws on the books, direct mail is again the workhorse of direct marketing. This was confirmed by a Winterberry Group whitepaper issued in October that forecast a 7.5 percent increase in direct mail in the coming year.