North of Jewfish Creek
Dear Friend &
I've been writing this newsletter since
September, 1986 and I have received thousands of letters,
phone calls and faxes from people expressing their
appreciation for what they got from reading those letters.
But never anything like what I got from my
The response from that issue has put me back
on the board. Financially, emotionally and spiritually. I
could devote this entire issue to expressing how grateful I am
for all the help and encouragement I have received.
But, I'm not going to do that. Not now. I'm
too close to it. Truth be told, I have a hard time dealing
with appreciation and compliments. It's not what I got much of
when I was growing up and, because of that, it's hard for me
to take it in and let myself enjoy it. Especially the degree
and amount of it I've received since mailing out that last
issue. I'm tempted to fill up this issue by writing about all
of you who've been so supportive this last month but, I
daren't do that. Not now. It's too fresh and I'm afraid I'll
get too caught up in it and not be able to do my job here. So,
it'll have to wait. But, I've got to say something so,
here's what I can manage at the moment.
OK, let's see if I can give you an idea or two
that'll be profitable for you. First, if you use direct mail,
I'm going to suggest something you can test which might give
you a surprising increase in response. You know, since
direct mail was invented, trillions of sales letters have been
mailed. And untold thousands of things have been tested.
Mailers test price. Red reply envelopes versus blue ones.
Different mailing lists. They test (usually, based on my
advice) attaching a "grabber" to the first page of their sales
letters. They test offers. They test first-class versus bulk
rate. They test different size envelopes and different size
letters. They test different copy slants. Different appeals.
Including a brochure or not including a brochure.
And on and on and on. Everything you can think
of. But, there's one big thing you can test I bet you never
thought of. It's something, if we lived in a perfect world,
shouldn't make a difference. But, guess what? According to
evidence I've been collecting, I now have reason to suspect we
don't live in a perfect world (hard concept to accept, isn't
it?) and so, if you use direct mail... I urge you...
make this test...
Test Using One Post
Office Versus Using
Another Post Office!
I haven't moved. I still live right here in
Miami Beach. But, I have changed my mailing address;
it's now in Ocala, Florida. (See letterhead.) Why? Because,
for a long time, I've suspected I wasn't getting all my mail.
Then, about a week ago, I have dinner with another guy who has
been, over the years, a very big player in the newsletter
business. Turns out he moved here to Miami Beach about 1-1/2
years ago and he too has decided not to send or receive mail
from the Miami Beach post office. He said he put out a big
mailing the last week in December so it would hit the first
couple weeks in January. His results were way off. As much as
40%. A mystery. Then, in March, three months after his mailing
went out, the post office delivers a big bunch of orders to
him that were postmarked in January. He tried to find out
"why" but nobody had an answer for him.
Let's go back in time. Years ago, in another
life, I lived in Ohio. Then, I decided I wanted to have an
office in Florida. I started doing business out of Fort
Lauderdale and, lo and behold, the response to the major
mailing I was sending out back then took a dramatic nosedive.
My wife at the time, Nancy, told me the reason was obvious:
People simply wouldn't respond to a Florida address like they
would to an Ohio address.
Sounded silly to me. Just didn't compute.
But I did a test and it turned out she was
right. Very right. The difference in response was
Here are, I believe, some of the reasons: (1)
People don't trust people who live in big towns as much as
they trust people who live in smaller towns. In fact, I
believe people perceive some states as being more
"trustworthy" than other states. New York, California, New
Jersey and Florida are, in people's minds (I think) the most
"untrustworthy" states of all. And, I'd guess, New York City,
Los Angeles and Miami are the most "untrustworthy" cities.
(2) Secondly, I think you get way better
service from post offices in small towns than you do from post
offices in big towns. It seems to me, people who work in small
town P.O.'s consider your mail important, whereas in some big
town post offices, every letter seems to be a "pest" to be
gotten rid of in any way that's convenient. Which does not
necessarily include actually delivering that pesty
piece of mail.
A guy in Provo, Utah told me about a very
successful fund raising letter he had mailed from up there in
Mormon Country. Actually, it was the test mailing that was
profitable, not the "rollout" mailing which was a complete
bomb. Same letter, same offer, same mailing list. What in
God's name had happened?
He found out. He flew to Chicago and
discovered 600,000 pieces of his mail...
Had Been Deposited In
Dumpsters Instead Of Mailboxes!
I don't know if it's still true but, Van Nuys,
California used to be considered the "black hole" of the U.S.
postal system. It was sorta like "The Hotel California For
Letters" where much of the mail got checked in but never got
Big city postal employees are very busy:
They've got a lot of drugs to take and a lot of people to
shoot. Sometimes, in Miami or New York, when someone gets hot
under the collar someone else will say, "Hey Man, don't
go postal on me!"
Back in the days when I was riding high in the
family coat-of-arms business with Dennis Haslinger, we got to
where we were mailing upwards of a million letters per week.
All the printing and lettershop work was done near Chicago
but, we didn't mail from there. Instead, we had it trucked-in
in a semi every week. I told Dennis I wanted to do it that way
because it wouldn't appear authentic for a nice lady like
Nancy L. Halbert who lived in Bath, Ohio to mail her letters
That was true but, there was another advantage
we were getting by trucking our mail to Bath... a much
bigger advantage... I wasn't even thinking about back then.
The post office we were using was very small and located
directly across the street from the small, red house on Ira
Road that was our office. We had a personal
relationship with the postmaster. As you can imagine, it
wasn't long until we were buying 99.9999% of all the stamps
purchased from his little post office. And, believe it or not,
he appreciated it. He took care of us. If we gave him
100,000 letters to mail... all of them got mailed!
Do you think that would've happened anyway if
we had let that Chicago lettershop do it for us?
And I believe that more strongly now than
ever before. Think of stamps as "paper coins." What that
means is, if you are a big mailer, you should have checks and
balances and accountability for all your paper coins...
every bit as stringent...
As Those Used To Safeguard
Metal Coins By All The
Casinos In Las Vegas!
Stamps are money. Yet, we in the direct
mail business often have only minimal (if any)
accountability control when it comes to our postage currency.
Therefore, if you are a big mailer or ever hope to become one,
I'd like to suggest you make the following test: Let's say
you've got a mailing of 100,000 pieces coming up. You tell
your list broker you want to do an A/B split. That means every
other name will be put on a different print-out of labels or
put on a different computer disk or whatever. Then, you give
one set (50,000) of those names to one lettershop (the one you
normally use) and, you give the other set of 50,000 names to a
different lettershop. You have your usual lettershop do what
they normally do: Which is, of course, get the letters all
ready to go and put them in the mail for you.
You have the second lettershop do everything
the first lettershop did... except... you have that
lettershop deliver the mail to you. Then, you
count those letters and you take them to the post
office yourself. You do this on the same day the first
lettershop mails the other 50,000 letters. Then, you sit back
and wait for the orders. (Naturally, you have the orders
"coded" some way so you know which orders came from which
mailing.) OK, now... I'll bet you a dollar to a donut...
The 50,000 Letters You
Counted And Took To The
Post Office Will Dramatically
Outpull The 50,000 Letters
Your Lettershop Took To
The Post Office!
Does this mean I think all lettershop owners
are dishonest? No. Not at all. What I do believe,
however, is most employees of lettershops earn only a minimum
wage and, they can't help but be tempted by all those "paper
coins." I also believe "security" for all forms of postal
currency is either extremely lax or, in fact, pretty much
Plus, plenty of lettershop owners are
Did you see that movie "Casino" starring Joe
Pesci and Robert De Niro? It's about a real life guy named
Lefty Rosenthal who ends up running a Las Vegas casino. If you
watch the movie, you get an idea how all those mob guys make
sure their coins are all accounted for. And, I'll tell
you what: If those guys were buying 100,000 stamps to
put on letters... well... I bet all of those letters
would get mailed!
Yet... yet... some of the largest mailers in
the world, some of them mailing hundreds of millions of
letters per year treat their "paper coins" or their "metered
coins" or their "indiciaed coins"... as though... they weren't
real money. The consequences can be painful. Even financially
disastrous. Recently, I myself made a multi-thousand piece
mailing which was very important to me. It was an oversized
mailing weighing more than one ounce and the postage necessary
to mail it was 55 cents. You probably already know it (oddly,
I didn't) but, the post office has a 55 cents self-adhesive
stamp you can buy.
So, I bought thousands of them with which to
make my mailing. The mailing was prepared in my office. When
it was ready to go, a couple of the temporary employees who
were working on that project took the mail to the post office.
The post office returned about 14% of the
envelopes to me right away because the envelopes hadn't been
sealed and there was nothing in them. When the nixies started
coming back, there didn't seem to be enough of them. And maybe
15% to 20% of the nixies were sealed and stamped but had no
sales letter or anything else in them. Then, we found one of
our trusted employees with a bunch of 55 cent stamps. When
questioned, he said he had purchased them with his own
money... and... who am I to say he didn't?
When that letter went out about a month ago, I
thought it was maybe the best sales letter I've ever written.
Guess how many orders I got back in the mail?
None! Not one! Zippo! Nada! Zilch! Zero!
Listen, the letter could be a loser. I write
losers just like everybody else. (Rarely, but it does
happen.) But not one? Not one order in the mail?
To the best of my recollection, I've never had that
Which brings me to another little dealybop
you'd better watch out for. Let's say you move and you send
your post office one of those "change-of-address" forms. What
happens? Just what's supposed to happen: They forward all your
mail to your new address.
What's wrong with this picture? Consider
this: What happens if someone else sends in a
change-of-address form for you or your business? No mystery.
The post office will forward your mail to the new address on
the card. What? You thought they had an ANTI-FORGERY SWAT TEAM
to verify your signature?
Sorry to disappoint you. Actually, it's a very
common scam these days. The bad guys send in a phony
change-of-address form and your mail gets forwarded to a mail
drop. Then, they get your checks, your credit card numbers,
all kinds of info about you... and... if you are in the mail
order business... they get... your orders!
This can be financially disastrous. It can
also wreck your rapport with your customers. Trust me, I
know. This is getting to be very common. Happens every
day. "60 Minutes" did a segment on it. However, this is one of
those deals that works better in a large post office in a
large city. In a small post office in a small town where
everybody pretty much knows everybody else, it's much less
likely to work. Also, it seems to me, postal employees in
large cities are often individuals much lower on the food
chain than postal employees in small towns.
I consider this business of treating your
postage like it was money so serious, I'm fully aware of
being... redundant... redundant... redundant... about this
point. I don't care. If what I'm writing here saves just
one of my subscribers from taking the kind of financial
bath I've just endured, it'll make me feel like that young boy
in the "Starfish Thrower." I was reminded of that story
recently by one of my friends and subscribers. I may not have
it exactly right but it goes something like this:
Thousands of starfish washed ashore on a
beach. A young boy stands among them, bends down, picks one up
and throws it back into the ocean. Then he does it again. And
again. A man comes along and asks him why he is doing this.
"Starfish can't live out of the ocean," the boy explains, "so
when I throw one back into the sea, it gets a chance to live."
"But what's the use?" asks the man. "There
are thousands of starfish on this beach. You can't even begin
to help them all. What difference does it make?"
The boy picks up another starfish and tosses
it into the sea. Then, he looks at the man and says...
"Made A Difference To
That One, Didn't It?"
Perhaps some of my more "sophisticated"
readers will consider the message in this issue too basic to
have value. After all, when you boil it down, my only advice
so far in this letter has been:
A. Consider sending your mail from a
different post office. Preferably a small one in a
B. Treat your postage just like it was real
money... because... it is!
Maybe it doesn't sound like much... but...
I'll tell you what: It's "core."
Here's more on the subject of mail: Last year,
for the first time ever, more messages were sent by E-mail
than by regular mail. And since you can send a jillion E-mail
messages practically free, you'd think this would be a bonanza
for marketers, wouldn't you? Well, it appears that is not
the case. At least, not now. I've got a friend who lets me
watch, once-in-a-while, as he accesses his E-mail. There's
almost always a bunch of unsolicited commercial messages in
his mailbox. Well, since these were sent mostly without charge
by the sender, why is it none (or few) of them are making
Imagine this: There are two guys and both of
them want to be entertainers. One guy has no talent and he's
lazy. Aside from a few basic sloppy chords, he never even
really learns how to play his guitar. His singing voice sucks
and, he considers it to be beneath him to get a voice coach.
Then he gets a big break. Someone gets him on
the "Tonight Show." He's got three minutes and tens of
millions of people watching him. And, for some lucky reason,
it didn't cost him a cent to get this chance of a lifetime.
What happens to his career?
Doodley squat. Zippo. Nothing.
The other guy, he has some talent. Plus, he
works his butt off mastering his guitar. He practices his
songs over and over. He starts performing before small
audiences and he takes note of what they like and what they
don't. He changes and hones his act until it's a "killer."
Then, he gets a shot on the "Tonight Show"... and... he
becomes rich and famous and hated by the likes of Gary Halbert
because of all the hot, sexy women who throw themselves at
The moral is obvious. You gotta pay your dues.
I'm sorry but, you just gotta. Anyone who thinks otherwise
should think about this...
Most People Who Want To
Be In The Mail Order Business
Couldn't Make It Even If
The Postage Was Free!
E-mail proves it.
Gary C. Halbert
P.S. Given my "public persona," you may not
believe it... but... I have been left... literally
speechless... by the reaction of my readers to the last
issue of this newsletter. I've always been slightly put-off
when someone talks about having a "mission" in life. Well,
hokey as it may sound, I now believe my "mission" in life, and
pretty much my only mission is... to keep writing
The Gary Halbert Letter... to spend more and more time on
it... to strive to make it better and better... to put even
more of my heart and soul into it... to avoid cluttering up my
life by trying to run a business (or even an office)... to
become a better and better teacher... to be a teacher who
teaches substance... and... who brings some smiles,
some laughter and maybe a "patch-of-sunlight" into a few
people's lives. From now on, that's it. That's my job, my only
job, and I'm going to put everything I have into it.
By the way, I wouldn't mind getting laid
P.S.#2 As I told you at the onset of this
newsletter, my mailing address has changed (that includes Fed
Ex and UPS deliveries) but my phone and Fax numbers have
remained the same. So, if you want me to actually receive
the letters you send to me, don't send them to Miami
Beach any more. Send them to Ocala which is a small town
(population 43,000) north of Miami where (according to rumor,
at least) some of the post office employees and residents...
actually speak English!
So, once again, here's my new
The Gary Halbert Letter
3101 S.W. 34th Ave.
Ocala, FL 34474
Copyright © 2002 Gary C. Halbert. All Rights