Why Direct Mail? My Story

I’m not sure exactly when it all started … my near-obsession with direct mail, that is. The signs were all there when I was growing up. There was the excitement I felt whenever the Edmund Scientifics catalog arrived at our family’s house. Despite its spare 2-color graphics and tiny type, I was still inspired to order microscope slides and other awesome things for my room. And as a bonus, it saved my dad a trip to the “hobby” shop at the Bazaar of All Nations (an indoor shopping complex) a few miles down the road.

I’m not sure exactly when it all started … my near-obsession with direct mail, that is. The signs were all there when I was growing up. There was the excitement I felt whenever the Edmund Scientifics catalog arrived at our family’s house. Despite its spare 2-color graphics and tiny type, I was still inspired to order microscope slides and other awesome things for my room. And as a bonus, it saved my dad a trip to the “hobby” shop at the Bazaar of All Nations (an indoor shopping complex) a few miles down the road.

It could have been that postage stamp collection I started when I was 8, one that I still have sitting in big red albums on my shelves. Sure, it helped me sharpen my geography and history knowledge, but I also learned about the wide world of mail — first-class, business, air mail, and much more.

Or, maybe it was my first direct mail campaign. For a fifth-grade school project, I asked for a bumper sticker or game program from every major league sports team in North America. My response rate was over 60 percent, I think. Sorry, I didn’t do any testing! I’m pretty sure everyone got the same letter — a simple, straight-up appeal to flattery, with a little pity thrown in.

So call it Destiny, if you want. All I know is that I’ve always liked mail — getting it, sending it, thinking about it, and responding to it. It’s often been a source of amusement for family and friends. But instead of going to work for the U.S. Postal Service, my first career was in database publishing. That’s how I started saving my mail for Denny and Peggy Hatch’s archive and newsletter, Who’s Mailing What!, back in 1989.

I had no idea of the complex education that was ahead of me when I was tapped to run that very same archive 9 years later. It was kind of like my first skydive, a leap into a cool universe where a thousand different details rush past and around you all at once.

Since then, because I’ve looked at pretty much every piece of mail that’s landed on my desk (and read most of them), I’ve developed a pretty sharp sense of what’s been going on in direct mail, and more importantly, what offers, copy, designs and formats work. I’ve used that expertise to help out marketers big and small, through the Archive and my writing. I’m hoping that by offering my perspective here, and continuing a dialogue with you, my friends, we’ll all be more successful.

Anyway, that’s my story. What’s yours?

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