How Not to Write a Direct-Mail Package (Or, Their Mistake Is Your Gain)
I'm a direct-mail junkie. It's not that I admire those who kill trees and fund the U.S. Postal Service in order to sell magazines no one in his right mind would read and that future historians will not even bother to reference in a footnote.
No, it's a pragmatic kind of addiction. It's my job, you see, to comb over the letters and reply cards and mailing envelopes that are developed by professional copywriters at four or five grand a pop, to ferret out ideas that might help us in our own direct-mail campaigns for Chronicles. Because, sadly, even the best magazine in the United States (and one of the best in the Western world) loses subscribers over time. And even in this age of electronic communications (at least until the promised Singularity arrives), the most efficient (though admittedly expensive) way to replace those lost subscribers (not to mention increase subscriptions) is to send out our own direct mail.
(You didn't think the readers of this website kept us in business, did you? By their own account, a majority of them are allergic to both the paper Chronicles is printed on and the paper used to print checks. But that's another story for a different day.)
Unlike most junkies, I'm rather disciplined about my addiction. As various direct-mail packages arrive at the office, I let them pile up on my desk. About once per month, a day or two after we send the latest issue of Chronicles to press, I clear away the last round of page proofs and settle in for a long afternoon of direct-mail bliss.
This month, I've been anticipating opening one particularly interesting piece of direct mail. There's nothing fancy about the plain white envelope, and, unlike many direct-mail packages, it doesn't rely on an additional ink color to catch the recipient's eye. The bold black sans-serif font provides a certain weight to the short message, presented in all caps:
DO YOU SUPPORT A WAR WITH IRAN?
IF SO, THROW AWAY THIS ENVELOPE.
Clever, that. In the guise of weeding out recipients who might not be interested in the contents of the envelope, that message really whets the appetite of the type of reader the publication—in this case, our good friends at The American Conservative—wants to attract. There's a lesson to be learned there, and I thank The American Conservative's well-paid copywriters for teaching it to me, free of charge.
Before I got around to opening the envelope to see what other lessons I might learn, however, one of our board members sent us a copy of the letter inside. And it turns out that, despite the promising outer envelope, The American Conservative severely overpaid its copywriters.
After all, what publication spends money on a direct-mail package to promote its competition? As any reader of our magazine (or even just of this website) will immediately realize, the following lines clearly describe Chronicles:
Only one magazine on the Right warned against the Iraq War before it started. (And warned about the housing bubble as well.) Only one magazine on the Right opposes war in Iran and empire-building around the world.
The only thing The American Conservative's copywriters forgot to mention was how to subscribe to the magazine that Patrick J. Buchanan, a subscriber to Chronicles since 1981 and a founding editor of The American Conservative, described as "the toughest, best-written, and most insightful journal in America." But their oversight is your gain:
For a limited time, you can receive 12 issues of Chronicles at the special low introductory rate of $19.95 by calling (800) 877-5459 and mentioning the code "AMCON."
That's over 65 percent off of the newsstand rate of $59.40—the equivalent of seven free issues. Have your credit card (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover) ready when you call—and remember, this offer won't last forever!
P.S. It turns out there was one final lesson that The American Conservative's copywriters could teach us, though I'm afraid it was one they didn't intend: Remember that some of the people who receive your direct mail have long memories, and don't try to pull the wool over their eyes. You see, The American Conservative's direct-mail letter was signed by Wick Allison, the president of the American Ideas Institute, which underwrites The American Conservative. Back in 1991, when Chronicles and Pat Buchanan were opposing the first Gulf War, Wick, of course, was the publisher of National Review, which was beating the war drums for it.