WAY West of Jewfish Creek
Dear Friend & Subscriber,
Hark unto me. As promised, this month I'm
going to teach you how to steal!
There's lots of theft going on in direct
marketing, isn't there? Here is how (sort of) some of it got
started. Once upon a time, there lived a man in Direct
Marketing Land whose name was Cletus Fleetfeet. Clete was a
bright boy. He had written a book on how to beat the horses
and, after being rejected by several publishers, he decided to
market the book himself by direct mail. He wrote a compelling
sales letter and he put together a very effective,
high-pulling DM package. He was able to mail this package with
outstanding results to several lists.
Then, he had a stroke of real
luck! He found a list of people who had already bought several
other books on horseracing and were eager to buy more. This
list was owned by a man named Ned Notsoswift and, although it
took a lot of wining and dining, Clete finally convinced Ned
to let him rent his list.
And so he did. With unreal
results. He was selling his horseracing book for $59.95 plus
$3.00 for postage and handling (total $62.95) and, when he
mailed Ned's list, he got a 14% cash-with-order response!
He was in heaven. He decided to keep mailing
Ned's list over and over with other offers on how to win at
gambling. Pretty soon he had six different offers and he was
developing new ones at the rate of one or two per month.
Clete was mailing like crazy. And making money
hand over fist. And driving a big Caddy with a sunroof and
mudflaps. And learning to eat caviar (which he hated) and to
drink Dom Perignon (which he loved) and how to impress dumb
little girls with small minds and big chests.
However, in spite of all this, Clete was in
pain. Real pain. Big pain.
What was the source of his pain, you ask? It's
quite simple: The source of Clete's pain was that $200.00 per
thousand list rental he had to pay Ned Notsoswift every time
he rented Ned's list. Clete hated that. It didn't matter to
Clete that he was making a fortune mailing to Ned's list. No.
What mattered to Clete was that he was now having to pay Ned
upwards of $30,000 per month in rental fees.
And who the hell was Ned to deserve that kind
of money? Hell, all Ned had to do, every time Clete wanted to
use the list, was make a phone call and tell his letter shop
to run off more labels. Thirty thousand a month for making a
few phone calls? Unfair! Unjust! Outrageous!
And so, Clete decided to steal Ned's list.
And so he did. And he mailed it over and over
and made lots of money. And poor old Ned, even though he was
very suspicious, could never prove a thing so he took to
drinking and shooting up with chicken fat until his arteries
got all clogged and he died of a heart attack.
So much for Ned.
Clete, however, kept rolling right along. He
continued to mail Ned's list and found several others that
worked nearly as well. He would've also stolen these lists
except, by this time, Clete had developed a rep. Nobody really
trusted him. Therefore, when Clete came to these more savvy
list owners, they said:
we want to rent our lists to you because, like you, we
are greedy for money. However, since we are somewhat
paranoid, we have invented a procedure that
hereinafter shall be known as salting the list."
And, of course, they went on to explain to
Clete how that worked. How they would "salt" their
lists with "dummy" names and how, if those names
received more than one solicitation from Clete, they would
know he had stolen the list.
Clete was chagrined. By this time, he was
making a fortune but other people around him like printers,
letter shops (and especially list owners) were making a little
too and Clete didn't like that. Not one bit! So Clete started thinking and scheming, and
eventually he figured out a new way to steal large portions of
valuable mailing lists, even though those lists were liberally
salted with decoy or "dummy" names. Here's how he
did it. First, he contacted a computer expert and he told the
guy that he wanted him to invent the "merge/purge".
a merge/purge?" asked the expert.
what you're going to invent," said Clete.
"You see, many mailing lists that are made up of
buyers of similar products have a lot of overlap. In
other words, many of the names are on more than one
list. So what I'm gonna do is, I'm gonna tell all the
owners of the gambling lists that I rent that it's
unfair for me to pay six times for a name that appears
on six different lists and identical promotions. And
therefore I'm gonna tell them they should let me merge
all the files and then purge
out the dupes so I don't have to mail a name more than
once. I'm also gonna tell those owners I should pay
them a reduced rental rate and pay them on what I'm
gonna call a ‘net name’ basis."
good to me," said the expert.
Well, after a while, it sounded good to the
owners also and they agreed to Clete's scheme.
Which, in fact, really
was a good idea if
used for legitimate purposes.
But, of course, we all know that sweet Ol'
Clete had a bit of difficulty staying on the straight and
narrow and, as I'm sure you've already figured out, an
"invisible" benefit of the merge/purge process had
already occurred to Clete. That benefit, of
course, was that the process would enable him to steal
a lot of names, in fact, the very best names, with no worries
about getting caught.
You see, as Clete realized, a merge/purge
kicks out only multi-buyers; those hot customers who have
bought more than one gambling system, or diet book, or
whatever. And, of course, a name that appears on more than one
list cannot be a "decoy" name, can it?
It worked like this: Clete would get in a
dozen or so mag tapes of lists he was going to use. He'd put
them through a merge/purge process and kick out all the dupes.
Then, he'd pay a reduced "net-name" rental to all
the list owners plus he'd save a lot on mailing costs since he
would only be mailing one solicitation to each multi-buyer.
But the big benefit, the one that made Clete
really happy, was when he made a separate tape that contained
all the dupes (which were the multi-buyers) which he then
considered his own private property that he could mail to
whenever he wanted, without paying any sort of rental fee.
Pretty neat, huh?
But wait. Clete wasn't finished yet. No sir.
Not by a long shot. You see, after Clete mailed all his
promotions to his hot new list, he decided to make even more
money by renting that list
to other mailers. That's right, what he did was, he made up a
phony list card describing how the people on the list had
responded to a certain non-existent offer, and he sent that
card around to all the list brokers in the U.S. Now, some of
these brokers were a bit suspicious since they'd never heard
of the offer that was supposed to have built the list.
However, no big deal. You see, that list really
was hot. After all, it contained only
multi-buyers and, therefore, it worked like crazy for a lot of
Clete's larcenous little heart just loved this
kind of action. I mean, just imagine. In some cases he was
renting names back to the same people from whom he'd stolen
But there was more to come. Clete decided to
become the very best list thief in history. He purchased a
controlling interest in the service bureau that was doing all
his computer work and then, using a couple of his friends as a
front, he set himself up in the list management and list
Here's how Clete works today: Every time any
kind of list tape passes through his service bureau for any
reason whatsoever, that mag tape gets duped. All those duped
tapes are then run off against each other on a structured,
orderly basis and then, whenever there is a match, in other
words, when a certain name and address appears on more than
one list, that name becomes Clete's property.
And what does Ol' Clete do with these names?
It's very simple. Whenever he has a proprietary promotion that
will work to these names, he mails it. And, when he doesn't,
he'll create a mag tape out of some of them, create a phony
list card to describe the names and then he rents them to the
And wow, did Clete ever get sophisticated at
this kind of stuff!
Check this out: In Washington D.C. there is a
government agency called the Federal Election Commission. It
is the job of this agency (FEC) to keep politicians honest (hyuk,
hyuk) and elections clean; to minimize the control exerted by
lobbyists, fat cats, and political action committees. It is
mandated by federal law that all elected federal officials
must give the FEC the name and the address of everyone who has
contributed money to help them get elected. The amount donated
must also be negotiated.
This list is a matter of public record.
Everybody has access to it. However, it is illegal to use this
list for fund raising or any kind of solicitation to get money
to help some politician elected. This list is heavily seeded.
But oh so
So what is a guy like Clete to do? A guy who
realizes the enormous potential of such a file and who is well
connected to certain shrewd political hopefuls who know full
well the power of direct marketing and the value of such a
sweet list. How about this? How about running this file
against a really huge file
of compiled names like those maintained by Donnelly, Polk, or
Metromedia, and looking for telematches?
And then, whenever you get a "hit"
(match) you can mail that name with impunity, because, if push
comes to shove, you can always say you got that name from the
Hmn? Has Ol' Clete got any other tricks up his
sleeve? You bet! How about "tagging"? Let's say I've
got a big list of 10 million names and let's say you rent me
your list of 100,000 names which is made up of buyers of porno
tapes. What I do, in addition to making that mailing you said
I could, is also pass your little file against my big file and
every time there is a match, (a "hit"), I tag the
name on my file with that little bit of extra info that
"tags" my guy as a lover of porno.
Does Clete know any other tricks? What? Are
you kidding? Clete has a bushel of them and he comes up with
new ones almost daily! I've hardly scratched the surface and I
don't pretend to know them all. In fact, to tell the truth, I
bet I don't know even 10% of Clete's tricks!
And he seems to be in the process of living
happily ever after.
Who is Clete? Actually, he's a composite.
There are any number (more than you would ever guess) of
Cletes throughout our industry. Truly. There really
are many service bureaus that automatically
dupe and retain a copy of every
file they receive. Do you know what that means? Do you fully
understand the ramifications of what I've been trying to tell
Listen. If you are actively engaged in direct
marketing, your customer list is by
far the most valuable asset your company will ever have.
You know, I realized I could have told "Clete's
story" in fewer words. However, I decided it was worth
the risk of being criticized for being garrulous in order to
drive home my point which is...
Mailing Lists Are Routinely
Being Stolen Everyday!
Don't let it happen to you. Your customer list
is the life blood of your company. Here are the ABC's of how
to protect it:
your lists with a lot
of decoy names. I know. I know. This advice is old
hat. But the key words here are "a lot".
Believe it or not, under today's conditions, if you
have a customer list of 100,000 names, your list
should contain no
fewer than fifty
decoy names. That's right. One out of every 2,000
names you send out for rental should be a decoy. Not
only that, you should be systematically adding new
decoy names at least
once every month.
Here's an easy way to do this. Let's say your
middle name is Clifford. O.K. then what you do is you ask
permission of your friends and associates to use their last
names and their addresses as part of your decoy system. Let's
say you have a friend named Baker. Well, what you do is you
make an arrangement with him to give you every piece of mail
that arrives at his home or place of business that is
addressed to "Clifford Baker". Do this with lots of
people (as long as their first name isn't Clifford) and then
have your service bureau make all those Cliffords (Clifford
Baker, Clifford Halbert, Clifford Adams, etc.) part or your
And then, watch all that mail that goes to all
those Cliffords "like a hawk."
By the way, you may also want to contact the
U.S. Monitor Service (914-634-1331) and ask them about their
mail decoy service. In addition, it may be worthwhile to check
your phone book under "mailing receiving services"
for the names of companies that rent private mail boxes.
next thing you should do, after you've liberally
salted your own customer file, is you should salt the
files of all of your competitors.
It's easy. You do this by using a decoy name and
becoming one of their customers. Now obviously, you
can't always know when you get a mailing from one of
your competitor's competitors if the second guy did or
did not in fact rent the list. However, if your decoy
name starts getting battered by mailings from one particular company, you might want to
phone whomever owns the list you have decoyed and tell
him you are getting a lot of mail from "Clete's
Handicapping Service" and see if he has been
renting his list all that much to Clete.
By the way, if you are actively engaged in
direct marketing, you should make some sort of mail order
purchase every month from every
one of your competitors PLUS you
should be one of the customers on every file you rent with any
regularity whatsoever. You know, it never ceases to amaze me
how few people do this. It's the cheapest market research you
can buy. Just think: For a couple of hundred dollars a month,
even a huge multi-million dollar company can
know just about everything their competitors are doing!
known as a "junkyard dog" when it comes to
protecting your list. Let people know your list is
liberally salted. Let people know you will actively
pursue anybody you even suspect of pilfering your
list. Every time you send out a mag tape, also send a
letter that says in effect "DON'T YOU DARE COPY THIS LIST. DON'T EVEN DREAM OF STEALING THESE
NAMES!" Then tell them who your attorney is
(mine is Sid Vicious) and tell them how he gets paid a
bonus for biting off the kneecaps of list thieves. And
By the way, get yourself a copy of the list
rental agreement you have to sign if you want to rent the Wall
Street Journal or Barron's subscriber list. Now there's
the way a rental agreement should look.
I'm sure you get the idea.
You know, I'm fearful this issue of my
newsletter was not as interesting as some of the others. This
time, I think some of the points may have been too obvious and
old hat for many of you. I'm sorry if that's the case.
However, if this elementary info helps save even one
subscriber from falling victim to Ol' Clete, then maybe it was
maybe I'll make it up to you next month by writing about
|| Gary C. Halbert
"The Sunset Scribe"
you like to hire me to help you improve your DM
packages? If so you should call me right away,
because, for a very brief period of time, I can now
"be had" by my subscribers on a very
favorable basis. Ask me why.
Copyright © 2003 Gary C. Halbert. All Rights