The man who screams


Gem of genius slowly blazing

The one man who, without a doubt

Knows what this business is about.

The man who screams, when words are arranged.

Still, were he quieter or politer,

He wouldn’t be a copywriter

My first marketing communications project was to write and produce a six color 140+ page catalog for DG Direct, the direct marketing catalog and telemarketing channel at mini computer manufacturer Data General, in Westboro, Massachusetts, in the legendary high tech corridor.  The DG Direct catalog was a 16 page brochure which was essentially product advertisements with an order form on a coated paper stock (making it very difficult to write on).  Products sold were mostly commodities like diskettes, printer ribbons and computer furniture.

Four of us, manager Jeff Clack, product specialist Bruce Young, director Norm Hodge and I were tasked in re-inventing DG Direct. Expand the product line and become a revenue-generating low cost sales and distribution channel. An inside sales staff was hired, and the catalog became direct marketing-focused. Copy was written to describe and sell. In fact, “creative” wasn’t considered creative unless it sold.  That’s how direct marketing works.

At the time, Data General was a celebrated $1 billion mini computer manufacturer, which consisted of engineers who had previously worked at Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), a larger computer firm up the street in Maynard. DG had the reputation of being a scrappy competitor. Author Tracy Kidder made a name for himself with his book The Soul of a New Machine, the story about how Tom West, previously at DEC, left to start Data General and design and build a new generation of mini computers.

About the same time, I used to be called on by a printing salesman who introduced me to the wonders of direct mail and paper and printing.  It was common for printing salesmen to drop off beautiful four and six color collateral and paper samples with special die cuts, photography, artwork and typography, inspiring creative types like me. One of the brochures that caught my eye was produced by S.D. Warren, a division of Scott Paper Company headquartered in Boston. The full color brochure was simply titled “Direct Mail”, but it was “a workbook, a review, a manual, a guide” …. It displayed creative envelopes, business reply envelopes and collateral.  With features such as direct mail applications, the importance of the mailing list, “tricks of the trade to get past a secretary and through to her boss”, direct mail math and much more, it was something to behold.  Beautiful photography and illustrations reminiscent of the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine album featured graphic artist Seymour Chwast.

Direct marketing is really a system of contacts, using a variety of media, developed and maintained using a database, which measures costs and results. While direct marketing is a means to influence behavioral change; those that it influences may be more than the intended or targeted users. Direct mail as practiced at DG Direct influences and motivates the sales force as well as existing and new customers.  Most business people consider using direct marketing for demand or lead generation, but it is actually used during the entire marketing and sales continuum.  It can close business and re-activate dormant audiences.

Direct marketing has always been about a database, and it profited from technology by helping to generate more intelligence about audiences, especially in consumer behavioral data.  Direct marketing was the forerunner to Internet marketing.  While Facebook, amongst many others, track your online Internet behavior beyond the Facebook website, nearly 25 years ago, ski resort Northstar-ar-Tahoe conducted their own innovative data-driven program to build greater understanding of its target audience away from the ski slopes.

In 1994, they gave free wristbands to their skier clients that “track where and when they ski and dine…..Before, if you paid cash, we had no idea who you were … While this lets us get close to customers and understand their skiing habits in a non intrusive way”.  Skiers benefit by accumulating points toward equipment purchases. Sound familiar?  Today programs like this happen all the time online, and offline too.  Programs are tailored based on audience participation.

I’ve always been interested in the history of marketing and ideas, so I want to mention a most interesting page in the S.D. Warren guide previously mentioned:

“How direct mail cleared up my marketing problems and made me a more loving husband — in only 60 days” is very similar to an advertisement for classical music station WTMI in Miami: “How classical music changed my life” thst was found in an advertising periodical.

A variation of this advertisement for a different radio station shows up in Elaine Fine’s blog

I in turn used a variation of it for a “situation wanted” job seeking advertisement, “Save a Tall, Skinny Guy from Starvation” from some forty years ago.  One of the responses received came from the VP of a Wellesley ad agency run by the sister-in-law of a future friend of mine. Being the pack rat that I am, I saved the response which was addressed to “Dear Skinny” and shared it with my good friends Scott & Bonnie Dittrich a few years ago.

Nothing’s new.

Published by Richard Halpern

Retired (but busy) after a lengthy career in business marketing, communications and research. Worked at four start-ups and one turnaround. Now volunteer doing prospect research for a climate activity and social advocacy non profit, amongst other things.

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