Martin Conroy

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at dennyhatch.com.

It was October 1984 when Denny and I launched the premiere issue of Who's Mailing What! Back then, it was a paid newsletter that analyzed direct mail and included a members-only archive service.

Why would BMW send me a $3 mailing with a barf bag as the centerpiece?
Peggy and I drive a 10-year-old used Jag. It works fine.
We have no intention of buying another car—ever.
So why would BMW send me this weird, grotesquely expensive mailing?

Magazines have long been among the most sophisticated users of direct mail (for the very latest look at trends, into both direct mail and email marketing by magazines, along with extensive analysis, see DirectMarketingIQ's just released Magazine Publishing Industry Sector Report). Many fine copywriters and designers cut their teeth on subscription packages and developed giant reputations as a result of their ability to sell subscriptions through this channel.

I've always loved reading old magazines. As a kid in the mid-1970s, I spent hours on rainy afternoons with issues of Look, Sport, and Life saved by my mom and dad from the early 1960s. It wasn't just the pictures and stories about JFK, Willie Mays and the Beatles that pulled me in; it was also the advertising. The cars, the foods, the TVs — a lot of it was already pretty different from what I knew.

When I started reading The New York Times on Sunday, Aug. 30, my brain kept bumping into articles that were making no sense.

Was the problem myself, having just turned 74? Or was it poor writing and editing on the part of the Times.

After careful analysis, I discovered that editorial excellence in The New York Times has deteriorated right along with its finances.

Poor writing in print media—memos, white papers, letters, reports, newspapers and books—is relatively harmless.

“Today’s $1 newspaper is tomorrow’s birdcage liner,” wrote Doc Searls, blogger, columnist and co-author of “The Cluetrain Manifesto.”

But if our written material—riddled with mistakes and non sequiturs—makes it to the Internet, it can plague us all the way to the grave and beyond.

People love talking about themselves. Many years ago, I had a client who mailed consumer surveys, which were happily filled out and returned by the zillions. All kinds of questions were asked: on toothpaste, leisure activities, travel, vehicle ownership, hobbies and interests, auto insurance, etc. Much of the information the responders revealed was highly confidential, especially in the area of health.

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