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#156 Blog Post McLean Letter
From:
Denny Hatch -- Direct Mail Expert Denny Hatch -- Direct Mail Expert
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Philadelphia, PA
Tuesday, May 17, 2022

 

http://dennyhatch.blogspot.com/2022/05/156-blog-post-mclean-letter.html

#156 Blog Post — Tuesday, 17 May 2022

 Posted by Denny Hatch

 

Remembering Ed McLean and His
First and Greatest Direct Mail Letter

Peggy Hatch and Ed McLean

Once upon a time, if a marketer wanted to make an offer, lists wereselected and a copywriter hired. In the 1960s, legendary freelance copywriterEd McLean was commissioned to write a direct mail subscription letter for Newsweek. At the time he wrote it,McLean was new to the business and became fascinated with the whole concept oflists in a long discussion with Red Dembner, Newsweek’scirculation director. McLean’s letter began:

 

Dear Reader:

      If the list upon which I found your name is any indication, this is not the first -- nor will it be the last -- subscription letter you receive. Quite frankly, your education and income set you apart from the general population and make you a highly-rated prospect for everything from magazines to mutual funds.

“Probablynothing in the annals of direct mail has been more widely copied than this leadparagraph of a letter used by Newsweek magazine for nearly 15 years.”
—Dick Hodgson, The Greatest DirectMail Sales Letters of All Time

 

It was an offbeat approach—onethat both flattered the reader and, at the same time, let prospects in onhow they came to receive the solicitation. It was masterful feelgood copy. Impliedbut not said: “Gosh, I’m in awe of who you are and what you are accomplishingin life!”

 

Many people wrote in to ask whatlist they were on. A few complained. Many, many more responded by subscribing to the magazine. It was a long,long, long-term control for many years and was mailed in the tens of millions.

 

Here's How Ed McLean Described It

Red's senior copywriters thought the copy approach was infantile and amateurish. 
 
Red insisted upon testing the new approach — which he dubbed the "sincere" letter — and a five-way copy test that fall proved him right.

I brought the opening paragraph and the five remaining paragraphs of page one to the copy test meeting — along with 17 other ideas and openings. The reaction from the other copywriters in the room — all the old-timers — was negative. But Red liked the approach and told me to develop it further.

 That turned out to be anything but easy. The personal approach of the opening might get me to look at the letter, I was sure. But what would get me to send away the order form?
 
When I had sold pots and pans door-to-door in Brooklyn, I learned quickly that I sold more when I did not stray from two key subjects:
     1. The prospect's needs and wants
     2. The product's benefits
 
I decided to focus most of the letter on the reader's self-interest and tell how he or she would benefit from a trial subscription to Newsweek.

This is called the "you" orientation of a letter. And this letter has it in spades. The words "you" and "your" appear 55 times in the copy — perhaps an all-time record. But they aren't just tossed in for effect: They fit logically into the flow of the copy. 
 
Through test after test, this "sincere" letter remained Newsweek's control for nearly 15 years: Nothing else could beat it. And even today the idea expressed in the opening paragraph — and often the exact words themselves — is copied over and over in one way or another, making it the starting point for more direct mail letters than any approach ever developed. 

I stopped collecting adaptations and outright swipes of the sincere letter opening years ago. It is interesting that few, if any, of these "take-offs" were successful. I am convinced, now, that the mailers who used the sincere opening should not have stopped there. They should have also swiped the "you'll get" litany of all the goodies on pages two and three.

 



Dear Reader:

      If the list upon which I found your name is any indication,
this is not the first -- nor will it be the last -- subscription
letter you receive. Quite frankly, your education and income set
you apart from the general population and make you a highly-rated prospect for everything from magazines to mutual funds.

      You’ve undoubtedly 'heard everything' by now in the way of promises and premiums. I won't try to top any of them.

      Nor will I insult your intelligence.

      If you subscribe to Newsweek, you won't get rich quick. You
won't bowl over friends and business associates with clever remarks
and sage comments after your first copy of Newsweek arrives. (Your conversation will benefit from a better understanding of the events
and forces of our era, but that's all. Wit and wisdom are gifts no magazine can bestow.) And should you attain further professional
or business success during the term of your subscription, you’ll
have your own native ability and good luck to thank for it -- not Newsweek.

      What, then, can Newsweek do for you?

     The answer depends upon what type of person you happen to
be. If you are not curious about what's going on outside your own
immediate daily range of concern...if you are quickly bored when
the topic of conversation shifts from your house, your car, your ambitions...if you couldn't care less about what's happening in Washington or Wall Street, in London or Moscow...then forget
Newsweek. It can't do a thing for you.

      If, on the other hand, you are the kind of individual who

 

 

-2-


would like to keep up with national and international affairs,
space and nuclear science, the arts -- but cannot spend hours
at it...if you're genuinely interested in what's going on with
other members of the human race...if you recognize the big stake
you have in decisions made in Washington and Wall Street, in
London and Moscow...

      then Newsweek may well be the smartest investment you
      could make in the vital weeks and months ahead!

      For little more than l¢ a day, as a Newsweek subscriber,
your interest in national and international affairs will be served
by over 200 top-notch reporters here and around the world. Each
week, you’ll read the most significant facts taken from their
daily dispatches by Newsweek's editors.

      You’ll get the facts. No bias. No slanting.
      Newsweek respects your right to form your own
      opinion.

In the eventful weeks to come, you’ll read about

      -election strategy (Who will run against JFK? Medicare,
         education, unemployment: how will they sway voters?)

      -Administration moves (New civil-rights bill in the
         works? Taxes: what next?)

      -G.O.P. plans (Stepped-up activity in Dixie? New faces
         for Congressional races?)

      -Kremlin maneuverings (Will Cold War policies change?
         New clashes with Red China?)

      -Europe's future (New leaders, new programs? How can
         America compete with the Common Market?)

You’ll also keep on top of latest developments in the exciting
fields of space and nuclear science. Whether the story describes
a space-dog's trip to Venus or the opening of a new area in the
peaceful use of atomic fission, you’ll learn the key facts in Newsweek's Space & The Atom feature -- the first and only weekly
department devoted to space and nuclear science in any newsweekly.

      The fascinating world of art will be reviewed and interviewed
      for you  in Newsweek. Whether you are interested in books or

-3-


      ballet, painting or plays, movies or music -- or all of                them -- you will find it covered fully and fairly in                    Newsweek.

Subscribe now and you’ll read about

       international film awards...new art shows at the Louvre
       in Paris...the opening of the Metropolitan and La Scala
       opera seasons...glittering first nights on and off
       Broadway...plus revealing interviews with famed authors
       and prima donnas, actors and symphony conductors.

AND you’ll be briefed on happenings in the worlds of Business and
Labor (More wage demands now?)...Education and Religion (Reforms
in teacher training? More church mergers?)...Science and Medicine
(Cancer, arthritis cures on the way?)...Sports and TV-Radio (New
world records? More educational TV, fewer MD shows?)

      You read Newsweek at your own pace. Its handy Top of the
Week index lets you scan the top news stories of the week in two
minutes. When you have a lull in your busy schedule, you can
return to the story itself for full details. In this way, you are
assured of an understanding of the events and forces of our era.

      TRY Newsweek.

      Try it at our special introductory offer:

             37 WEEKS OF NEWSWEEK FOR ONLY $2.97

      That's about 8¢ a week -- little more than a penny a day.
You would pay $9.25 at newsstands for the same number of copies;
$4.98 at our regular yearly subscription rates.

      And try it with this guarantee: if, after examining several
issues in your own home, you do not agree that Newsweek satisfies
your news interests, you will receive a prompt refund.

     An order form is enclosed, along with a postage-paid return envelope. Do initial and return the order form today. We'll bill
you later, if you wish.

                              Sincerely,

                              Circulation Director

SAD/jnb

 

The Passing of Ed McLean

By Chief Marketing Staff, posted on September 7, 2005

 

Copywritinglegend Ed McLean died on Aug. 13 after a long illness. He was 77.

Bornin 1927 in Chicago, McLean was possibly best known for his first piece ofcreative work: a Newsweek control letter that remained unbeaten for 15 yearsand reportedly reached more than 150 million people.

“DearReader,” the letter began. “If the list upon which I found your name is anyindication, this is not the first – nor will it be the last – subscriptionletter you receive. Quite frankly, your education and income set you apart fromthe general population and make you a highly rated prospect for everything frommagazines to mutual funds.”

Theletter was revolutionary. It actually told recipients their names were pulledfrom a list – quite a gamble in 1959.

“Atthe time, right after McCarthyism, lists were rather unpopular,” said McLean’sson, David, reached at the family home in Ghent, NY. “It beat dozens of lettersthat tested against it. It was really quite phenomenal,” he said.

McLeanwent on to write more than 9,000 mailings, direct-marketing print ads, radiospots and publication inserts in a career that spanned four decades.

Aveteran of the U.S. Navy, McLean began his business career as aradio-advertising salesman during which time he started a newsletter forsharing tips with other salesmen.

“Heconstantly broke convention and did things that others might think would not tobe in his best interests,” David McLean said.

McLeanwas one of the founders of the Direct Marketing Writers Guild. In 1967, for NewYork University, he was the first to design a college course devoted to directmarketing copy.

In1966, McLean created the first airline seat-pocket catalog for Eastern Airlineswhere items other than airline-labeled merchandise such as playing cards andtoy airplanes were sold.

“Hewas one of the best copywriters we ever had,” said long-time friend AndiEmerson, president of the Emerson Marketing Agency and The John CaplesInternational Awards. “If he were alive, I’d put him up against anybody we havetoday.”

Besidesthe recognition McLean’s writing skills received in the industry, they alsoearned him some unwanted government scrutiny. In the late 1950s, he shared anapartment in New York City’s Greenwich Village with liberal cartoonist,novelist, playwright and screenwriter Jules Feiffer. At the time, someanti-government editorials McLean wrote for the left-leaning Village Voiceresulted in federal officials paying a visit to McLean to “question him abouthis intentions,” said David McLean. However, Feiffer was the cousin ofMcCarthy’s right-hand-man Roy Cohn and McLean was able use that connection tosatisfy his questioners, said David McLean.

Likemany marketing copywriters McLean apparently aspired to a career writingfiction. David McLean said he found boxes of unfinished and/or unpublishedmanuscripts – along with correspondence with editors – in his father’sbelongings. The longest manuscript was a mystery several hundred pages long.David McLean said he hadn’t yet been able to determine if his father finishedit.

“Heused to say often that his marketing skills came from his skills as a consumerand that his creative skills came as a result of his love of literature,” saidDavid McLean. “A lot of his letters contain narrative that is Hemingway-esque.I think he always wanted to be a novelist, but he found his niche in directmarketing.”

McLean’sawards included a Gold Mailbox Award from the DMA for a letter he wrote forMercedes-Benz in 1965, a Volunteer-of-the-Year Award from DM Days New York, aSilver Apple Award in 1990 and a Caples: Irving Wunderman award in 1993.

Heis survived by his wife of 48 years, Ylavaune, and three sons, James, David,and William.

In accordance with McLean’swishes, there will be no funeral service. His ashes will be scattered in afamily ceremony.
 
Takeaways to Consider
 
• Ed McLean was one of the greatest direct marketing copywriters — up there in the pantheon with David Ogilvy, Rosser Reeves, Bill Jayme, John Caples and Max Sackheim. 
 
• He was also a lovely guy who traveled the country sharing his knowledge and experience at giant marketing expos and tiny local direct marketing clubs. 
 
• In researching this blog post I stumbled on to Dick Hodgson's extraordinary anthology, The Greatest Direct Mail Sales Letters of All Time.  It is a billion-dollar swipe file. Here's the link:                                                                                  https://vdocuments.mx/gslat.html
 
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Word Count: 2223 
 
 

 

 

The Most Fun You Can Have
In the English Language
 
 
 
At age 15, Denny Hatch—as a lowly apprentice—wrote his first news release for a Connecticut summer theater. To his astonishment it ran verbatim in The Middletown Press.He was instantly hooked on writing. After a two-year stint in the U.S. Army (1958-60), Denny had nine jobs in his first 12 years in business. He was fired from five of them and went on to save two businesses and start three others. One of his businesses—WHO’S MAILING WHAT! newsletterand archive service founded in 1984—revolutionized the science of how to measure the success of competitors’ direct mail. In the past 55 yearshe has been a book club director, magazine publisher, advertising copywriter/designer, editor, journalist and marketing consultant. He is the author of four published novels and seven books on business and marketing.

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