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#192 First 10 Words
Denny Hatch -- Direct Mail Expert Denny Hatch -- Direct Mail Expert
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Philadelphia, PA
Tuesday, July 25, 2023



#192 Blogpost – Tuesday, 25 July 2023


Posted by Denny Hatch



“Your First Ten Words Are More

Important Than the Next 10,000.”

      —Elmer“Sizzle” Wheeler



Dear Friend,


     A lady should never get this dirty, she said.


     She stood there with a quiet, proud dignity.She was incomparably dirty — her face and hands smeared, her clothestorn and soiled. The lady was 11.


Of the literally thousands of direct marketing letters I havestudied over the 30 years of publishing, writing and sending out the monthly WHO’SMAILING WHAT! newsletter, the above lede was my favorite of all time. Astopper. You absolutely have to keep reading. Over its 27-year lifespan it was responsible for tens of millions of dollars in revenue.


A Brief History

The writer was Fr. Bruce Ritter, a Catholic priest who hadnever written anything his life beyond Sunday sermons. The proprietor of asmall Parish in Manhattan’s grungy, dirt-poor lower east side, he saw hisbiggest challenge as saving the hundreds of abused, homeless and endangeredteen-age kids roaming the streets in his down-at-heels neighborhood. Every dayof the week at all hours they rang his bell seeking something to eat and aplace to spend the night.


Ritter’s idea was to create a rescue center/safe house for thesedisadvantaged kids. His name for the refuge: Covenant House. In 1972 some unrememberedhero put Ritter in touch with Epsilon Data’s gregarious and funny John Groman, avisionary who put a deal together. He encouraged Ritter to write the letter. Fiftyyears later in 34 cities across five countries, “More than 2,000 youngpeople sleep in a Covenant House bed each night. No one is ever turned awaywithout support of some kind. And all services and programs are available at nocost.” In 2022, Covenant House revenues were $3.5 million. And it all startedwith Fr. Ritter’s “Dirty Lady” letter that had brought in millions of dollars overthe 27 years it was mailed.

         While Groman started out with this act of pure charity, it paid off big time. Overthe years Covenant House has morphed into a cash cow for Epsilon in terms of listsrentals.


WhatTriggered This Blog Post:

The Tedium of The New Yorker


In late July, Peggy and I tookour first vacation in four years (Covid had kept us home)—a splendid Viking cruisethough the five Great Lakes from Toronto to Duluth. On the way home a backup oflittle twin-engine United jet airliners stranded us for four unplanned hours inthe modest Duluth Airport.


At some point I wandered overto the newsstand looking for something to read. Amidst the five shelves of pop culturemagazines — front and center — was the July double-sized Fiction Issue of TheNew Yorker.


Over the years I have been anon-and-off subscriber to this legendary publication. As kid I loved the cartoons— particularly the ghoulish thigh slappers by Chas. Addams and the bawdy,brilliant hilarious world of Peter Arno. My very favorite:


Never in my life have I renewedmy subscription to The New Yorker. I always found it wordy and filled with what DavidOgilvy called “gray walls of type.” The contents were dense, and the stories (to me) seemed interminably long. I came to believe the writers were paid by the number of wordsand padded their copy to garner larger paychecks. Every 10 years I would try itagain — resubscribe and then not renew.


DirectMarketing Copy: The Grab-‘em by the Throat—

PolarOpposite of the Ever-so-literary New Yorker

Heaving a sigh, I mumbled “Whatthe hell, I’ll give it one more shot. There,in the Duluth Airport I ponied up the cover price of $9.99 for the 80-page issue.

Whereupon Peggy rushed up to tell me the plane was boarding, so I tucked the magazine into my carry-on and startedreading it when I got to my seat. I found the start of every article/story instantly boredme to stupefaction.


Remembering the Bruce Ritter’s powerhouse“Dirty Lady” 9-word lede, I decided I would compare ledes to see if anything grabbedme by the throat.


Here is the start of seven of thefirst eight stories:






Any proper obituaryfor affirmative action (1961) in higher education would be obliged to note thatit had been in decline for years before it met its ultimate demise last week. Thepolicy had weathered successive legal challenges dating back to the nineteen-seventies.It was often difficult to tell whether the effect of these suits was to inspire more nuanced and legally sustainable approaches forinsuring diversity or…

Jelani Cobb




The speed limit on the ShinnecockCanal, in Hampton Bays, is five miles per hour, which a group of hardy paddlersin a thirty-one-foot canoe were improperly exceeding the other day, when “theshit went down,” as one of them, Ryan Ranco, recalled…

Ben McGrath




“I could talk about chickens all daylong,” Ida DeFrancesco, a farmer and an affiliate of Rent the Chicken, anall-inclusive chicken-rental service, said not long ago…

Parker Henry




Where in New York does one findshoes for a shaman? At Meermin, in SoHo, Hong OK, a singer in the Korean thefolk-pop band ADg7 confessed recently that she and her bandmates usually shopat Zara or H&M…

Julian Lucas



Killing Dickens

Why I wrote a historical Novel


For the first thirty years of mylife, I lived within a one-mile radius of Willesden Green Tube Station. It’s trueI went to college—I even moved to East London for a bit—but such interludeswere brief. I soon returned to my little corner of Northwest London





I tried peeling the kitchen wall withmy fingernails, but that didn’t work, so I pressed hard with my fingers and a flakeof the “stucco,” which is what I call it, fell off. I don’t know if it’s really“stucco" or not, or even what stucco is, precisely, but I like the snappy sound of theword, and that's good enough for me...



Night of the Happy Bodies

I like parties where you sit aroundand talk to people. But I love parties where you dance and make noisewith people…


Takeaways toConsider

• If you ever find yourself waiting inthe Duluth airport for four hours, cheer up. Although there’s no restaurant or foodcounter, just behind the newsstand is a small, well-stocked bar.


• “Avoid gray walls of type.” —DavidOgilvy


• “The first ten words are moreimportant than the next ten thousand.” — Elmer “Sizzle” Wheeler 


• If direct marketing letters are written to generate instant interest, why shouldn't writers of fiction non-fiction use the same technique?


• I remember a chum of many years ago at Columbia College, R. Bruce Moody, told me his favorite lede for a long forgotten short story was: "'Take your hand off my knee!' cried the duchess."


For the complete text of Fr.Ritter’s legendary “Dirty Lady” letter, check out my pitch for Method Marketingthat follows this blog post. Also included: you’ll savor the text of TomGaffney’s “Paint Can” letter for Covenant House which brought in tens ofmillions more dollars over the next 20 years; Mel Martin’s multi-million-dollarletter for Boardroom; and Bill Bonner’s masterpiece for a newsletter that did not exist—RetirementLiving. Bonner's newsletter idea was profitable from day one and spawned Agora Publishing, today abillion-dollar corporation. Also, the astounding Carol Farkas once-in-a-lifetimechain letter for Memorial Sloan-Kettering and Bob Shnayerson’s upbeat launch letterthat brought in 600,000 paid subscribers to Quest/77, a magazine the existedonly in his head. Plus, a bunch more delicious Direct Marketing successstories, including the strange saga of the Western Monetary War College and what happened when the entire faculty flunked basic mail order math and the founder was sentenced to 16 years before parole in federal prison for securities fraud.


 Word Count: 1337



6" x 9"  292pp
Paperback:     $29.95
ebook/Kindle: $19.95



Barnes & Noble



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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