Today I’m sharing an interview with Denny Hatch.
If you don’t know Denny, he’s one of THE experts in direct mail. How much of an expert? Well, he used to read and analyze 3,000 to 4,000 direct mail packages a month!
I was blown away by his book, Method Marketing. If you haven’t yet read it, you need to. It’s a classic. Not only does it cover the psychology of effective direct marketing, it also tells the origin stories of two companies famous for direct mail: Agora Publishing and Boardroom, Inc.
Here’s the interview:
RYAN: What is the origin story of Method Marketing? Where did you get the idea to write the book?
DENNY: After spending years of collecting, studying, analyzing and writing about direct mail for my newsletter, “WHO’S MAILING WHAT!” I wanted to understand what made for a control-a mailing that kept coming in month-after-month, sometimes for years. Here was a perfect stranger engaging another perfect stranger with such powerful copy and design that the reader becomes convinced to become a customer or donor. How was this possible?
The answer, of course, is research-with the writer becoming intimately familiar with the product or service being offered and studying the list being rented and (ideally) other mailings that the prospect responded to previously. In short, getting to know the prospect.
Rewind to 1950 and 1952 when I was an apprentice at the Ivoryton Playhouse, a summer theater in Connecticut and was able to study actors at work close-hand and actually talk to some of them. Among them: Cedric Hardwick, Carol Channing, Marlon Brando, Joan Bennett as well as many second bananas.
It was there that I first learned of Constantin Stanislavsky and the Moscow Art Theater where he developed the concept of Method Acting – actually becoming the character you are playing. This concept was, of course, taught at the Actor’s Studio In New York founded in 1947 where Lee Strasberg, Harold Clurman and Stella Adler picked up on Stanislavsky and taught the likes of Anne Bancroft, Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson and scores more.
Method Acting and Method Marketing came together in my head and resulted in the book.
RYAN: In today’s world of Internet Marketing and Twitter, do you feel Method Marketing holds up as relevant?
DENNY: I believe the concept of Method Marking will hold up just fine. The great copywriter John Caples said, “Times change; people don’t.”
What will not hold unless its management figures out how to monetize it: A recent survey (Pew, I think) asked Twitter users if they would pay to subscribe to the website and to a person, they said they would not pony up money. I think the demise of Twitter is just a matter of time. The business model is right out of the dot-com bust of the late 1990s where the cry was, “We are attracting eyeballs!” In the words of the great entrepreneur Bill Bonner of Agora Publishing, “The only bank that takes eyeballs is the eye bank.”
Will Facebook crash and burn also? My bet is yes.
RYAN: One of themes I picked up is how profitable it is for copywriters to transform themselves from service-providers to business-owners, such as Bill Bonner did with Agora. Do you have any advice for copywriters aspiring to take the leap into starting a real company?
DENNY: Bonner had serious ups and downs until he wrote a direct mail package for a newsletter that did not exist (a dry test). The newsletter was International Living. Prospects read the copy and signed up in droves. Bonner published it and became the foundation for the sprawling Agora empire.
Could a copywriter do likewise today?
Sure. You test and see what happens.
RYAN: What are your thoughts about learning direct response from courses, versus learning by taking action and putting it into practice?
DENNY: In the 1960s, Grolier Enterprises was run by four dynamos: founder Elsworth Howell, whose real love was judging dog shows; VP Bob Clarke, who started in the Grolier mail room; Ed Bakal, a rough-hewn ex-paratrooper; and Lew Smith, a brilliant, low-key creative genius.
Grolier’s business at the time was selling Dr. Seuss books to kids. The competition was Weekly Reader Book Club and Scholastic’s paperback book clubs, which sold books to students in classrooms through the teacher.
Using the Scholastic paperback model, a guy named Joe Archy started the Willie Whale Book Club. Elsworth (“The Shark”) Howell watched it grow and told Archy he was interested in buying Willie Whale. They signed confidentiality agreements and, stupidly, Archy laid out his entire business plan and results for Grolier to see. Whereupon Howell told Joe Archy that he had decided not to buy Willie Whale and started the Peter Possum book club offering children’s paperback books. Archy sued and lost.
I was Peter Possum.
Brand new to direct marketing, I was handed the book club to start from scratch and run. The only ground rules: All titles had to be 64 pages and in the public domain – Howell was not about to pay royalties. They could, however, be in full color.
I was expected to do everything – find royalty free books, put them into production, write and design the mailing pieces, work with the list people, figure out keys with production wizard Mike Chomko, count orders (if any) and tally up money.
A direct mail virgin, I charged forth. Every time I found myself in over my head I would yell for help and one of the four partners would immediately clear his desk, sit me down and talk me through the problem. I can say it was the greatest job I ever had, and I earned what had to be the equivalent of an MBA in book club management in three months.
RYAN: You didn’t mince any words with your analysis of The Teaching Company or Absolut Vodka. Do you know if anyone at those companies read your book? Or did you get any response from them regarding your analysis?
DENNY: I’m sure if either of them did, they didn’t give a damn—nor do I.
RYAN: Other than working directly with Agora, Boardroom or J. Peterman, what’s fastest easiest way for someone to learn how to become a Method Marketer?
DENNY: The best way for newbies to learn the business is by apprenticing at a direct marking company or agency and volunteering to do anything and everything that is hurled at them—especially the jobs nobody else wants. “Whoever knows only one direct marketing skill, whether it’s art direction, copywriting or list management, does not even know that properly,” said freelancer Martin Gross.
If jobs are scarce, find a product, do the arithmetic and do a small test in space, mail or email and see what happens. This is how Lillian Vernon and Richard Thalheimer of Sharper Image started.
RYAN: What’s next with Denny Hatch? Any new books in the works?
DENNY: Newest book out this past June: “The Secrets of Emotional, Hot-Button Copywriting.” See dennyhatch.com for details.
Finished and ready for publications is A TREASURY OF TAKEAWAYS: Quotations, Rules, Aphorisms, Pithy Tips, Quips, Sage Advice, Secrets, Dictums and Truisms in 98 Categories of Marketing, Business and Life.”
I am currently working on “WRITE IT RIGHT: What Authors can learn from the Great Copywriters.
RYAN: Where can people go to learn more about Method Marketing or your other books?
DENNY: You are invited to visit DennyHatch.com, BusinessCommonSense.com or e-mail me directly at email@example.com. I answer all e-mails.
RYAN: Thank you Denny for these valuable insights! These are worth money in the bank.