W-A-Y West of Jewfish Creek
Dear Friend & Subscriber,
Have you ever wondered how I decide what to
write about in this newsletter every month?
One man suggested I write a year or two's
worth in advance and then go on vacation. But I don't like
that idea. To me, it seems like cheating. I feel obligated to
try to make each issue both timeless and timely.
I don't always succeed but I sure try. In any case, most
often, I don't decide what I'm going to write about until just
before I sit down to do it.
It keeps me on edge. It keeps me fresh.
In truth, I've taken a leaf from my favorite
entertainer, Jimmy Buffet. He's the singer/songwriter of
"Margaritaville," "A Pirate Looks At 40"
and many other musical classics that are dear to my heart.
Anyway, somewhere in the middle of each of his concerts, he
asks all the other musicians to leave the stage and he ends up
there all alone with nothing but his guitar and his talent. He
does this, he says, because it keeps him sharp and in touch
with his audience.
It's a good idea. And, in my own way, I do the
same thing. How I do it is by traveling all over the U.S.
visiting with my clients and also giving talks before various
marketing organizations. Recently, I've spoken to direct
marketing groups in Seattle, Washington, Portland, Oregon,
Redondo Beach, California, Cherry Hill, New Jersey, Chicago,
Illinois and Spokane, Washington.
Usually, my talks are not
what people expect. You see, I strive to teach people what
they really need to know
as opposed to what they think they
need to know. Most often, marketing groups expect me to speak
on how to write direct mail copy. But usually, even though
they don't know it, most people in marketing simply aren't ready for a discussion on how to write copy. You see, it
doesn't really matter much about the quality of your direct
mail copy if you haven't yet learned how to get your mail
delivered, opened and read. To me, this point is so
important, so vitally
important, that, at the risk of being redundant, I'm going to
spend a few moments discussing it here once again.
I make no excuses for this. Nothing is truly
redundant if your audience hasn't yet completely got the
So, to begin with, here is the typical
sequence of events that go into the making of a direct mail
promotion. First, the camera ready copy is delivered to a
printer who prints the letters, the envelopes and everything
else that makes up the package. Then, all this is delivered to
a lettershop that folds and stuffs everything into the carrier
envelopes, seals the envelopes and arranges them in zip
sequence, ties them in bundles and trundles them off to the
loading dock of the nearest post office.
What happens at the loading dock of the P.O.
is that the letters are weighed to determine how many there
are and how much postage is due. Then, the lettershop pays the
postage, gets a receipt and gives that receipt to the mailer.
What happens next is the post office routes
this already sorted mail to wherever it's supposed to go and
sends it on its way. When your mail arrives in the city to
which it is addressed, it is sorted into carrier route
sequence and then given to the local carriers who deliver it
to your prospects.
Ho-hum. Yawn. This is pretty boring stuff,
Except for one thing. You see, quite often,
this is not what happens
to your mail. Try the following more
realistic scenario and see if it doesn't wake you up a
First, let's say you've contracted for 100,000
pieces of mail to be printed, addressed, folded, stuffed,
sealed and delivered to the post office. O.K. What really is
likely to happen is, first, perhaps only 90,000 of your
letters actually will get delivered to the loading dock of the
P.O. Why? The answer is simple. You see, it is much more
profitable for a lettershop to produce only 90% of your mail
and then charge you for producing 100% of it. But wait! What
about that receipt? How in the world do you get a postal
employee to sign a receipt saying you deposited 100,000 pieces
of mail when you only deposited 90,000?
I'll leave that one up to you.
So anyway, what really
happens next is, a portion of your mail is thrown
away right there at the loading dock.
And, moving right along, what happens to the
rest of your mail that actually makes it to your city of
destination is that more of it gets thrown away by the various mail carriers who just
don't want to deal with it.
And, of course, since you're mailing bulk
rate, none of your letters get forwarded to those people who
have moved -- even though they did
leave a forwarding
What does all this mean? Let's do some
arithmetic and see if we can't get a clearer picture of what's
happening here. Take a gander at these numbers:
Here's what the numbers mean: The 10%
represents my guess as to how much of the mail you paid for is
not delivered to the post
office by your lettershop. NOTE: Do not forget, however, that
there are many totally honest
lettershop owners who never cheat at all! What I'm saying here
is that 10% is my "guesstimate" as to how much
lettershops on the average
do not produce.
Now, let's go on to the 17% figure. What that
represents is how much of your PROPERLY
ADDRESSED bulk rate mail does not get delivered. I got
this number from reading articles in various marketing
publications who were reporting on studies done on this
And lastly, the 7% figure represents the
average percentage of bad names that are on almost any list
that cannot be reached by any class of mail.
Hmn? What we've got here is a situation
Only 66% Of The
Mail You Paid For
Got Delivered To
Your Prospect's Mailbox!
Cheer up, it gets worse. Recently, the Wall Street Journal reported on a study that proved that Americans
throw away 57% of all advertising mail (bulk rate) without
even opening the envelope. But that's the good
news. That study was done a few years ago. The most recent
study shows that now...
75% Of All Advertising
Mailed Is Discarded
Uh, let's see now. If only 66% of your mail
gets delivered and 75% of that 66% gets tossed, that means
only 16.5% of all that mail you spent big bucks on ever gets
delivered and opened.
Do you see why I often am reluctant to teach
people how to write better copy before they understand the
above? I mean really, what's the use? What does it matter how
brilliant your words are if 83.5% of them are trashed
before your letter is ever looked at?
So, once again - mail 1st Class. Make it
personal. And make it look personal!
And now, back to the question I posed at the
beginning of this letter on how I decide what to write about
each month. What I try to do, by keeping "in touch"
through all my speaking engagements and in-person client work,
is not so much to find out
what people expect to hear from me but rather to learn what
And what is it my sensitive, ever-questing
antennae tell me my readers need
to be advised of? What is it at this precise point in time
that I believe you, as a reader of this newsletter and a
marketing person needs most to consider?
You're not gonna like this. At least, many of
you are not. Because, what I'm going to suggest is going to
make many of you uncomfortable. You're going to fight me on
this. You're going to say that, in your
case, I'm off base. Nevertheless, I'm still going to suggest
you consider this radical action and here it is...
I Suggest You
Commit "Image Suicide!"
Please allow me to explain this concept and I
think you'll then understand why it's such and important idea.
Question: What group of professionals have the highest rate of
suicide (real suicide) in
the U.S.? Answer: Psychiatrists.
Why? Well, first off, most psychiatrists are
nutso anyway but that's not the entire story -- You see,
shrinks are supposed to have all the answers. Therefore, if a
psychiatrist breaks down sobbing and confesses he can't
control his life, that action will be devastating to his image
as a great, all-knowing father figure to whom you can trust
your deepest and darkest thoughts and feelings.
And so, rather than destroy his image, he literally destroys himself!
Really. Literally. For real.
Now, let's talk about how this relates to
marketing. One of the groups I addressed most recently is PIMA
which stands for Professional Insurance Mass Marketers
Association. There are many good people in that organization.
But boy, are they ever being shortchanged by the people who do
their creative work. In fact, of all the groups I've addressed
over the last 15 years, I believe their direct mail may be the
very worst I've ever seen. What's particularly awful, is they are selling a
rather sophisticated financial product, yet their mail looks
like it was put together by a carnival barker.
Conversely, many members of PIMA are difficult
to enlighten because so many of them are so "frozen"
in their thinking and overly concerned about their
"image." Truly, this particular group is nothing if
not conservative. Conservative, traditional, hidebound and
And when it comes to their direct mail, you
can be 100% sure all of it is "conventional."
Now, please don't get me wrong. I don't mean
to demean this fine group of people. No. What I'd really like
to do for them is bring them out of the dark ages as far as
their marketing is concerned. But it's tough. Especially so,
because "image suicide" is never easy and this is especially true for people caught in the
"previous investment trap" of being steeped in
conventional wisdom. However, if you've got the guts to give
it a try...
The Payoff Can
An example. Years ago when I was still a
partner in Halbert's Inc., the coat-of-arms company, I was
known far and wide as the "boy wonder" of direct
mail. Everybody back then thought my innate creativity (?) was
the key to my success but really, there was a far more
important factor. Namely...
I Was Always
Willing To Learn!
Friend, foe, moron, genius...ANYONE! You see, I believe a
truly wise man can even learn something from a moron but a
person locked into his "expert image" can't learn
anything from anyone.
Anyway, back in those days there was a
brilliant man named Ed Mayer who taught classes all around the
country on the subject of direct mail. Ed was known
(deservedly) as the "Dean of Direct Mail." In any
case, one of his courses was on basic
direct mail and the other was on advanced
direct mail. Well, it came to pass that I decided to attend
Ed's "Basic Direct Mail Institute" at the Forty
Acres Club in Austin, Texas (a great
town) and, while there, people expressed amazement at my
"But you're the best," they'd say.
"What in the world are you doing here at a direct mail
course for beginners?"
To me, it was simple. I went to the basic
course to make sure there was nothing I had forgotten or had
overlooked or simply never known. I went there because I've
learned I can learn a lot from the fresh, uncluttered minds of
beginners. I went there because...
I Wasn't Nearly As
Concerned About My
"Image" As I Was
About My Results!
But what if my "image' as the all-knowing
direct mail expert would have stopped me from going? What
would have happened then? It's no big mystery. What would've
happened then is I simply wouldn't have learned all that neat
stuff I'm still using today.
So, the first benefit of "image
suicide" is that...
It Gives You The
Here's another thing. In my opinion, the
profession of advertising has more incompetence per capita
than any other American profession except psychiatry. In fact,
most ad agencies don't even know what good advertising is. They
don't even know what they are trying to do! Hear this.
Good advertising is simply...
can't multiply zeros! Therefore, if you don't have any
salesmanship ability in the first place, how in the world are
you going to multiply it? You're not. You're going to end up
creating stupid, expensive campaigns that feature dancing
raisins and cute little jingles.
Or, if you end up working for people who
belong to PIMA, you'll create direct mail that totally ignores
the vitally important fact that...
The People Of America
Sort Through Their Mail
While Standing Over
I guess I caused quite a stir with my talk.
Those people had a jillion questions for me. And later, at a
cocktail party, some people were going around saying,
"Did you hear that arrogant SOB? Who does he think he is
anyway, going around saying our direct mail is the worst he's
Ah, but there were others. The truly
smart ones who were willing to learn, who said,
"Yeah, but did you hear what he was saying? How much
sense it makes? Let's try it."
And those people called me and subscribed to
this letter and opened up a new avenue of communication and those
people, I bet, will soon have more business from PIMA than
all the rest of those "frozen" marketing experts (I
call them "shallow breathers") who are so protective
of their precious "image" that they can't be
open-minded enough to really learn anything about anything.
Think I'm wrong? Well, you just keep your eye
on Jackalyn Stouffer, Catherine L. Cox, Mike Garee and Susan
Now, let's go on to a discussion about how
"image suicide" can immediately
help your bottomline profits. Another of the groups I spoke
with recently is a group of coin dealers who were charged
$5,000 apiece to attend a 3-day seminar where I was (as the
guest of Jay Abraham) the featured speaker. Let me ask you
something: What would you say to a group of hard-nosed,
capitalistic coin dealers who paid $5,000 to hear YOUR pearls
of wisdom? Here was my question:
"Is There Some Law That Says
That In Order To Be A Coin
Dealer You Have To Have A
The reason I asked that question is because so
many coin dealers seem to me to take their business so
seriously that they are so stiff they almost squeak when they
walk. They give their companies names like FIRST AMALGAMATED
INTERNATIONAL FIDUCIARY BULLION AND COIN DEPOT OF NEW ENGLAND
and so forth.
Kinda puts you off, doesn't it?
A far better name would be John Smith Coin
Company. You know, people respond to people. Warm
people. Consider this: Many utterly beautiful women spend many
lonely nights all by themselves. Why? Simply because, when an
eligible, young man sees one of those frozen-faced beauties in
a nightclub or a restaurant, he is often too intimidated to
make an approach. Is that what you want? To have your would-be
customers come to your cold, forbidding place of business,
enter your marble lobby, gaze wonderingly at the 747 jet-type
console manned by your haughty, aloof, Nordic receptionist and
then felt a little ashamed because all he wanted was to buy an
Indian Head penny or a few silver dollars?
What's that? You say you don't have a big,
imposing building with a ice-cold receptionist? You say you do
most of your business through ads or direct mail? Not to
worry. You can still practice intimidation with the format of
your mail or the "look" of your ads. Just print your
letterhead so it looks like it would be used by a big New York
law firm. Use sentences like this:
be advised that we have been informed of your possible
need for a comprehensive insurance vehicle
encompassing all aspects of your fiduciary
Yuk! And while I'm at it, you want to know the
silliest question I hear over and over whenever I lecture? It
goes something like this:
Gary. What you are saying is fine for most products
and services but our customers are different. They are
more sophisticated. You can't talk down
Whoa! I don't talk down to anyone.
Except, of course, true idiots like most attorneys and all
psychiatrists. You know, I am probably responsible for more
successful direct response advertising than almost anyone
you'll ever meet. My clients are often huge, multi-national,
multi-million dollar corporations that sell incredibly
sophisticated products and services. Yet, no matter how large
the company or how complex the product, I always slave
to bring the sales message down to a human
level. And, one of the ways to do that is to "break the
image" that is normally used in their sales literature.
You see, another big advantage of "image suicide"
You Make Yourself
More Accessible To
Lighten up. Let your hair down a little. Let
people see a few of your warts. Come down off that lofty
perch. Stop trying to impress and start trying to
"humanize" your selling efforts. Hey. Most of us are
not curing cancer or splitting the atom. The fate of the
western world truly does not
hinge on the success of our efforts.
But don't get me wrong. I'm not saying you
shouldn't take yourself seriously. Or that you should act like
a clown. Or that you have to be as crude and rude and
ridiculous as me. I'm also not saying what you are doing is
not important. What I am saying is that the girls who get the
most dates (and the ads that make the most sales) are those
that appear warm, non-threatening and assessable.
||Gary C. Halbert
||I feel funny
about this issue of my letter. It scares me a little.
It's not what my
readers are used to. Reading it over I realize that
this issue is really a lecture.
As you know, most of my issues are jam packed with
immediately practical "how to" info that is
Well, fear not. Next month I'm reverting to style
and I'm going to reveal a little something I've been
saving that just might double
your income. It's a little-known "remote
control" mass marketing technique I bet you've
never heard of.
So there. But please, in the meantime, give some
thought to what I've written here.
||By the way, if
you'd like to order a video of Sir Gary "in
concert," open the sealed envelope. Otherwise,
there's no need since all it contains is a crass
Copyright © 2003 Gary C. Halbert. All Rights