Your Signature is Your Handshake
By Denny Hatch
Many years ago, freelancer Malcolm Decker wrote a major analysis of the direct mail package for my newsletter, Who's Mailing What! (now Inside Direct Mail). Decker likened direct mail to a sales team, with the envelope knocking on the door, the letter being the main salesman and the brochure acting as the demonstrator—a third member of the team who sits nearby and points to photos, graphs, charts, and illustrations and says, in effect, "See, everything the main salesmen (the letter) says is true."
Decker wrote, "Be sure the right person signs the letters."
Some time ago, two investors' newsletters—Advance Planning Letter and Investors World Intelligent Report—sent out long, highly technical promotional letters filled with forecasts with recommendations. The former was signed by Bobbie Bunch, assistant to the publisher; the latter was signed by Joan Pendergraft, executive assistant to Sid Pulitzer. Obviously neither wrote the letter, so believability is out the window.
Don't overlook the color, size and vitality of your signature; it's your salesman's handshake.
Even people who aren't graphologists pick up insight from the way a name is signed. It's interesting to compare the signatures of Carolyn Davis (Reader's Digest) or Carol Wright (Carol Wright cooperative program) with those of Salvador Dali or Gloria Vanderbilt. Ask yourself why the former are so lackluster and the latter are so distinctive.
Carolyn Davis of Reader's Digest is an interesting character. Many years ago, all Digest billing efforts went out to subscribers signed by "CD"—code for "credit department." Circulation Director Walter Weintz was one of my early employers. It was Weintz who invented the Penny Mailing (two live pennies showing through the window of an envelope) and who wrote the first political mailing (for Eisenhower) that asked for money. He thought CD should be a real person and came up with the moniker Carolyn Davis—an inoffensive name whose signature was at the bottom of tens of millions of Reader's Digest efforts for more than 50 years, right up until today.
One day I was in Walter's office, and we got discussing the history of Carolyn Davis, and he smiled, took out a clean piece of paper, and started writing on it with a red ball-point pen. "Look at this," he said, and turned the paper around so I could read it. There it was!
Walter himself had created not only the person, but also her signature!
I remember the first time I signed a direct mail letter. It was a mailing to elementary teachers that I had cooked up for Grolier Enterprises called the Peter Possum Book Club. I suddenly was known by name to tens of thousands of teachers and hundreds of thousands of students. I was famous! More to the point, because my name was on the letter (and later on the newsletter Who's Mailing What!), it meant that I damn well had to be scrupulously honest in every aspect of dealing with my customers, and the publications I offered had to be the best I was capable of creating.
Fast-forward 40 years. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld sends out letters to the families of service men and women killed in the Iraq debacle. By signing his name, he reaches out and touches people, offering a deeply felt, personal message of comfort amidst confusion, terrible grief and financial uncertainty. From "Rumsfeld's Rules: Advice on government, business and life," which appeared in The Wall Street Journal several years ago:
"Strive to make proposed solutions as self-executing as possible. As the degree of discretion increases, so too do bureaucracy, delay and expense."
So instead of personally signing the letters, Rummy orders these mailings to be sent out by a clerk who uses an auto-pen to forge his signature. He was caught at it, skewered, and rightly so. His actions dishonor the trust President Bush placed in him, and are a disservice to our brave men and women in uniform and all patriotic, caring Americans.
DENNY HATCH is a freelance direct marketing consultant and copywriter. He is the author of three marketing books and three published novels. You are invited to visit him at www.dennyhatch.com.