Interview with Josh Manheimer, Writer of (Several of) The World’s Greatest Direct Mail Sales Letters

Today I’m interviewing direct mail superstar Josh Manheimer.

The books The World’s Greatest Direct Mail Sales Letters and Million Dollar Mailings feature Josh’s sales letters.  Need I say more?

I’m also impressed Josh brings an element of FUN to his copywriting.  Internet marketing educator Ken McCarthy once described copywriting as the art and science of transmitting emotions to the reader.  Reading his copy, you can just feel Josh is having fun writing it, which makes it fun for you the reader.

Read on for the interview…

RYAN:  How did you get started in direct marketing? Who were some of your top influences and mentors in the business?

JOSH: I started as a publicist writing funny letters and getting my clients press attention.  One letter, for a company that made fudge sauce and salad dressing, was sent to a magazine called New England Monthly.  Apparently, the food editor was laughing hysterically when the Circulation Director walked by.  He called me up and asked if I would write their next subscription solicitation.  I said “sure.”

At that time, I was working with a graphic designer named David Wise who know a lot about direct mail.  So I asked him if he would help me.  Our package did great and we were off.

Over the next 10 or 15 years, Manheimer and Wise created some of the most successful packages in the history of direct response marketing — mostly for clients in publishing.

David passed away a few years ago, and now I work with a bunch of talented direct mail designers.  But David was brilliant.  There was no such thing as type that was too large.

When I was starting out, I spent a lot of time upside down in the dumpster outside our local post office, reading copy by Bill Jayme, Ken Sheck, Judy Weiss, Linda Wells, Hank Burnett.

Today, Richard Armstrong is the copywriter I admire and would hire.

RYAN: Can you tell me a little more about your agency and what you do for clients?

JOSH: I provide creative — copy and design — for direct mail packages in publishing, insurance, credit cards, crafts, software … you name it.  I’ve also gotten into creating landing pages, websites, emails, and some political stuff.

RYAN: Why do you think most companies prefer general/image/brand advertising versus direct response?

JOSH: I don’t really know much about the other side of the business.  Frankly, now with Google AdWords and landing pages, everyone is turning into a direct marketer.

RYAN:  How much do you leverage direct response techniques in getting publicity?

JOSH: Publicity for my clients?  I will use letters and often include a reply form with an action device for them to return. Example: Including a plastic spoon for some fudge sauce…

RYAN: If you could summarize one secret to creating a control in direct mail, what would it be?

JOSH: There is no one secret.  You have to assemble hundreds of secrets, and they’re not secret.  Just study the masters.

RYAN:  Do you have any advice for starting a sales letter, i.e. the lead, or the first sentence after the salutation?

JOSH: Ideally, you want the letter to capture the tone of the product.  Since I often sell magazines, a letter to readers of MORE magazine — for women over 40 — sounds a lot different than a letter to the readers of Popular Mechanics.  You need to get people nodding their heads.  That means speaking in the language and vernacular they understand and respond to.

RYAN: For someone looking at a career in direct marketing, what advice would you offer?

JOSH: Which end of direct marketing?  A lot of copywriters have backgrounds in theater — no surprise there.  You have to be able to get inside someone’s head.  If you want to play with spreadsheets, well, learn Excel.

RYAN: How much do best practices in direct mail translate to Internet marketing (landing pages, websites, etc.)?

JOSH: The web is still evolving, so I’m not sure you can make any fast rules just yet.  But it does seem that sites with personality … that express an offer simply … that give you several paths to find your own way at your own pace … do well.

RYAN: Where can people go to learn more about you?

JOSH: Visit me at

RYAN: Thank you Josh. And I encourage all of you to visit to learn more about Josh and read some of his samples he’s got up on his site.

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