Peggy Greenawalt

Every direct marketing entrepreneur, manager, copywriter and consultant—even before the days of Claude Hopkins, J.K. Lasser, John Caples and Max Sackheim—had their own rules, "secrets" or "discovered truths." Dick Benson tested, modified and codified those rules that applied specifically to direct mail, especially in publishing, making them his own, and added others that came out of his client work and newsletter business. So, how do these hold up today?

Amid the rush to slim down mail pieces to save on cost, many valuable elements have been jettisoned. One such element is the lift letter, which was first used in the publishing world.

Some marketers are doing better than six months ago, but many are not. Hard times, of course, beg for change rather than standing pat. I spoke recently with some leading copywriters and direct marketers about new ways that companies can go to boost direct mail response levels.

Copywriting is the backbone of direct mail—just as screenwriting is the same for the movie business—but in this increasingly high-tech industry, that's been forgotten. With more multichannel campaigns, upgraded database marketing techniques and splashy self-mailers than ever before, the written word becomes an afterthought, literally ... and this is not good, for any direct marketer.

With the economic downturn, the green discussion seems to be somewhat muted. Not "Silent Spring"-like, but certainly palpable and, frankly, disturbing given the severity of global warming and other signs of environmental degradation. Similarly, just when so-called "green mail"—recycled envelopes, soy inks, green seals, environmental messaging, etc.—was building momentum, the economy tanked and seemingly took the green gang with it.

Remember the lift letter? Rising postal rates and production costs, alongside many marketers thinking this element no longer has a place in the direct mail piece, have put lift letters on the endangered list.

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