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#36 From 42 Years Ago: A Glorious Antidote to the Poisons of Washington, D.C.
Denny Hatch -- Marketing Expert Denny Hatch -- Marketing Expert
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Philadelphia , PA
Tuesday, December 18, 2018


Issue #36  - Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Posted by Denny Hatch

From 42 Years Ago: A Glorious Antidote to the Poisons of Washington, D.C.

This is the story of a remarkable sales letter that pulled in over 600,000 subscribers to a new magazine... continually beat the best efforts of the industry’s top writers for more than four years... and most astonishingly, was written by a man who never attempted a direct mail solicitation before or since. —DH


In 1984, Robert Shnayerson agreed to an interview, and we met in a midtown Manhattan apartment-office. He came in nattily dressed, with a full head of silvering hair that made him look a decade younger than his 56 years. Right away he set the scene of the times.
    Early in 1976, a bloody civil war was raging in Beirut; every night television news was parading a series of decapitated bodies through America’s living rooms in full color. The country was just coming out of shock from Vietnam and Watergate.  In a political aberration, the voters had rejected the Establishment candidate in favor of a Georgia peanut farmer [Jimmy Carter].         
    Shnayerson’s own life was a shambles. He had just resigned from Harper’s magazine after new management had done violence to all he had achieved there. His beloved wife of 23 years had recently died. And he was realizing more and more that he had spent his entire career as an editor “contributing to the misery of the world.." He was ripe for change.

Robert Beahan Shnayerson (b. 1925)

    By coincidence, as he was leaving Harper’s, Shnayerson was approached by a magazine consultant—Arthur Murphy, formerly of Time Incorporated—who had a client interested in starting a new magazine. Shnayerson listened, and liked what he heard—the possibility of a magazine that was upbeat for a change, an elegantly produced a publication that dealt with excellence, achievement and hope, but at the same time, one that “would not be sappy.." Best of all, he would have carte blanche in the running of it, and there was plenty of money to get the thing going.
    Shnayerson went back to his apartment, and on his old Remington typewriter in the bedroom wrote out the prospectus for the new magazine. It was accepted. Agreements were signed promising Shnayerson and his staff a free hand. All systems were go. For a man who describes himself as “a congenital, deep-dyed Irish pessimist,." these were heady times.
    Magazine consultant Jack Ladd was hired to do the computer modeling and get the publication launched, and one of his early dictums sounded vaguely like the Claude Rains’ line in the last scene in Casablanca: “round up the usual copywriters.."
    Several world-class freelancers were brought in to create the launch mailings for subscriber acquisition. In Shnayerson’s eyes, the efforts did not capture what QUEST/77 was all about. And he was right; those initial test mailings did not work.
    Shnayerson asked if it would be all right if he took a shot writing at his own letter. The consultants, marketing professionals and circulation people winked and smirked—smug in the knowledge that editors never beat the professionals—told him to go ahead.
    Starting with his original prospectus, Shnayerson went back to his old Remington and began to spill his guts. Here is his six-page letter, printed on high-quality 6." x 9." tan stationery with the big Quest/77 logo and address in the upper right corner of page 1.

      “I’m Robert Shnayerson, editor of
      QUEST/77 -- a new magazine for closet
      optimists, people who suspect the
      world is NOT going to hell. You’re
      invited to become a Charter Subscriber,
      receive the premier issue and save 25%
      while you're at it.."

Dear Reader:

For 20 years I helped edit three of the world’s best magazines: Time, Life, and Harper’s.  Last summer, after five years as editor-in-chief of Harper’s, I took a hard look at my profession.

Journalism had trained me to assume that every day in every way, things were getting worse and worse.  I enjoyed that notion.  Yet all around me was contrary evidence.  New life-styles, inventions, works of art, world records.  The quiet heroism of ordinary people coping, healing, teaching.  The unknown best and brightest in a billion corners of the earth -- unknown because good news isn’t news.

I’m tired of journalistic myopia.  Fed up with publications that appeal to our worst instincts.  Let other editors drag readers through cesspools of mediocrity.  I’m interested in people as they really are -- and could become.

So I’m starting a new magazine about the pursuit of excellence -- the search for the fully lived life, yours as well as mine.

A Fresh Look at Ourselves

QUEST/77 offers a fresh look at the human condition.  It takes a sophisticated stand against fashionable despair and disengagement.  With drama, humor and zest, it argues that happiness lies in expending ourselves for a good purpose.  It brings us back to life, back to our senses, the full use of our minds, bodies and emotions.  It asks: Who among us is admirable and why?  What in our lives is still wonderful, worth celebrating, still excellent?

QUEST/77 is the first magazine to focus directly on mankind’s possibilities with all the wit, clarity and sensibility that this great subject demands.  A superb-looking bimonthly -- stitched at the spine like a fine book, crisp, elegant, richly illustrated in color -- it combines the literary quality of the New Yorker, the exciting photographs of Life and the lush graphics of Audubon.  It appeals to every person who wants to excel, every person in quest of the larger self that lurks within.

QUEST/77 won’t promise to make you healthy, wealthy or wise; beautiful, strong or sexy.  It won’t claim to do for you what only you can do for yourself.  It will show you the best in everything from art to humor, science to sports, It will leave you exhilarated by your own possibilities, or at least enchanted by the performances of others:

Gifted people in demanding occupations:
athletes, scientists, novelists, actors, inventors, painters, surgeons, explorers -- not excluding feisty eccentrics who create their own worlds.

Gallant people who personify life, spirit and substance. Free people who value excellence for its own sake ahead of fame, money or safety. Honest people who refuse to cheat, sell out or betray themselves. Joyful people who seize life and never settle for second best.

All people, famous or obscure, whose achievements bolster our courage, advance our knowledge, delight our minds and refresh the human spirit.

QUEST/77 relishes adventure.  Epic rescues.  Solo voyages.  Treasure hunts.  Business comebacks.  Mystical experiences.  It reveals the human stories behind great inventions like the transistor. It introduces a Japanese daredevil who plans to dog-sled alone across the Antarctic.  Tells you about other quixotic characters who keep trying to fly the Atlantic in balloons.  It explores the most remote frontiers of human potential, from genetic engineering to space colonization.

An Examination of Life

QUEST/77 celebrates grace under pressure.  The examined life is one of its constant themes.  Who among us is astoundingly immune to fear, hate, envy moral cowardice?  What accounts for the agelessness of some beautiful women and great old men?  In our pages you’ll read the moving words of a dying painter who spurned easy money in favor of artistic freedom.  You’ll meet all sorts of people who survived life crises, public ordeals, imprisonment, falls from wealth or power. People who’ve hit bottom and bounced back, setting examples of resilience for all of us.

QUEST/77 asks the world’s finest writers and photographers to describe things they honestly admire, preferably on the basis of personal experience.  All kinds of things: ideas, places, crafts, rituals and customs; examples of artistic integrity, moral courage and intellectual elegance.

We’ll print informed opinions about the “best." wines, beaches and airlines -- as well as the “best." poets, philosophers and presidents.  We’ll give you practical information about sex, health, food and children.  At the same time, we’ll demand the highest standards of taste, writing and performance.

We’ll apply rigorous critical judgment not only to books and films, but also to new fads, laws, buildings, scientific discoveries, political speeches, peace treaties, athletic performances and Supreme Court decisions.  We’ll “review." such things in order to explain why they’re excellent or how they could have been.  We will seize every opportunity to draw distinctions and puncture nonsense.  We will unabashedly separate the best from the worst in all callings, trades and objects.

First Issue: A Collector’s Item

The first issue of QUEST/77 will appear in February 1977 and I’m determined to make it so memorable that you’ll be torn between displaying it on your coffee table as a collector’s item -- and cutting it to pieces to send clippings to your friends.  In the pages of this premier issue and those to follow you will find:

• Spectacular pictures and firsthand reports by eleven young Americans who climbed Mount Everest and wrote about it exclusively for QUEST/77.

• A special 16-page section on Courage.

• World famous photographer W. Eugene Smith analyzes his 10 best photographs...six top American artists revealing their favorite painting and how it influenced them...Sam Keene: are humans inherently evil or potentially good?...a salty British adventurer’s incredible sailboat trip across South America...Loren Eisley: the difference between holy and unholy science...Green Liberation: how ex-city women are faring on the land as self-subsistent farmers... J. B. Rhine on his 50 year search for ESP...the inside story of America’s five women airline pilots...Lox with Love: how to run a great delicatessen...a photo essay on Seattle, the nation’s most livable city...profile of a master teacher: Robert Penn Warren...the next Guinness Book of World Records telling us the latest human accomplishments.

• Plus: Max Lerner on Thomas Jefferson, America’s only philosopher-king...Frederick Busch: a day in the life of a country pediatrician...George Plimpton on the art of football coaching...the adventures of two English girls who canoed down the Congo River alone...Stan Lee on why he invented Spider man...Paul Goldberger: America’s 10 best designed buildings...Mark Vonnegut on megavitimin therapy for mental illness...Richard L. Rubenstein on what torture does to torturers...Richard Ford: The world’s best fly rod maker... Sam Posey: Why I Quit Auto Racing...James Cameron on living with a bad heart...Harold Schoenberg: how to raise a musical prodigy...John Cole on living in a solar house...Edward Luttwak on the pursuit of excellence in elite military units, from British Commandos to the Israeli raiders in Uganda.

• Plus: Fiction by Cynthia Ozick, Tom Boyle, Roberta Silman, Paul West, Gerald Jonas, Martha Saxton...Poetry by John Updike...Book Reviews by William Saroyan, George V. Higgins, Margaret Drabble, Richard Poirier, Leslie Fiedler, Victor Navasky, Murray Kempton, Anthony Sampson, Maxine Kumin, John Gardner, Joy Williams, Gary Wills.

QUEST/77 may awe you -- achievement does that -- but it will never bore you, never preach windy sermons.  It will be realistic, specific, entertaining -- full of lively writing, great pictures, good thinking and a sense of playfulness.

If you’re ready for a new magazine that talks up to its readers, not down to them...embodies the excellence it pursues...provides a relief from slackness and slobbism...makes you feel larger, not smaller...then you’re ready for QUEST/77.

Charter Subscriber Privileges

On newsstands, QUEST/77 will cost $2.00 a copy or $12.00 for the six issues.  But when you reserve Charter Privileges in advance by mailing back the enclosed card now, you gain in these valuable ways:

Immediate Cash Savings.  Instead of $12.-- your rate is just $9.00.  Right away, you’re ahead $3.00 -- a savings of 25%.

Perpetual Savings.  You’re guaranteed preferential rates in perpetuity -- always the lowest possible price on renewals and on any and all gift subscriptions.

Volume I, Number One.  Your subscription starts with the premier edition -- the issue most prized by collectors, most likely to increase in value.

Full Refund Guarantee. If ever QUEST/77 lets you down, just cancel and get all your money back -- a full refund of 100% of your current subscription.

PLEASE DO NOT SEND MONEY NOW.  We prefer that you hold off payment until you’ve had a chance to assess the premier issue.  To see for yourself whether it delivers what it promises.

But don’t hold off your reservation.  We’ll be printing only so many copies of our Volume I, Number One issue -- no more. To avoid disappointment or delay, the enclosed reply form should bear the earliest possible postmark -- today’s if at all convenient.  Many thanks!

                     Cordially Yours,

               /s/  Robert Shnayerson
                     Robert Shnayerson

The letter broke every rule in the book. Start with the lede or Johnson Box (the section above the salutation, a visual device reportedly invented by the great freelance copywriter Frank Johnson).

      “I’m Robert Shnayerson, editor of
      QUEST/77 --
    Having read thousands of mailings from 1984 through 1987, I cannot remember one long-term control that started with “I.."   According to Axel Andersson, who has analyzed the Johnson Box of more than 300 successful direct mail letters, the most common word is “you."; never “I.."
    Bob Hacker’s operative rule here:
        The consumer doesn’t give a damn about you, your company  
        or your product. All that matters is, “What’s in it for me?."
    Yes, many exceptions exist to Hacker’s, such as Martin Conroy’s 25-year control for The Wall Street Journal which brought in close to $1.5 billion in subscription revenues.  Conroy’s lead:

        Dear Reader,
        On a beautiful late spring afternoon, twenty-five years 
        ago, two young men graduated from the same college.   
        They were very much alike, these two young men...

    In analyzing this masterpiece, Hacker pointed out that where the typical magazine offer hits hard on product and price, Conroy had adapted a technique used by fund raisers who involve the reader in a powerful story. Fr. Bruce Ritter of  Covenant House used this technique in his “dirty lady." letter.

    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 hand smeared, her
    clothes torn and soiled. The lady was 11. 

    Yet, Shnayerson plunges ahead, with prose buoyed by his enthusiasm and absolute belief in what he is doing. And clearly, the letter is coming from Shanyerson, so it does seem personalized and you suspend disbelief.
Other Broken Rules
• Long paragraphs that create “gray walls." of type.
• Preachy copy. (e.g., “I’m tired of journalistic myopia.."  
   “Fed up with publications that appeal to our worst instincts.." 
   “Let other editors drag readers through cesspools of
   This is reminiscent of Jimmy Carter telling the country we 
   were all were suffering from a general “malaise.."
• Much of the copy is more cerebral than emotional (e.g., 
  “The  examined life is one of itsconstant themes.."  “Who among  
    us is astoundingly immune to fear, hate, envy, moral 
• The letter is full of “it." copy (“It introduces...." “It reveals...." 
   “It will be realistic....").
   Letters are supposed to be full of “you." copy, not “it." copy. 
• The letter must be quickly scannable: that is a reader should 
    get the gist of the proposition by reading the (1) eyebrow, 
    (2) lede paragraph, (3) crossheads, (4) wrapup, (5) P.S.  If 
    not, send it back for surgery, because without a strongly 
    integrated skeleton the body of the argument will slump. 
     —Malcolm Decker.
•The QUEST/77 letter is emphatically not scannable or easy 
  to read.
• Shnayerson compares QUEST/77 to other magazines—
  (“it combines the literary quality of the New Yorker, the 
  exciting photographs of Life and the lush graphics of
• Generally, you want to stay away from talking about the 
   competition; it’s imperative the prospect focuses on your 
   benefits rather than those of others.
• A direct mail letter with no P.S. is inconceivable.   
• Always include a P.S., say experts.  It can restate the  
  guarantee, premium offer, or major benefit or make a 
  provocative point that kicks the reader back into the letter.   
  Use a hanging indent—the entire message is positioned
  to the right of the P. and S.  —Don Hauptman
    The letter pulled an astonishing 6%. (Success in direct mail is typically 2% response.) By Shnayerson’s own admission, the promotional copy was better than the first issues of the magazine itself; where the magazine was slick and glossy, the letter had an earthiness that gave voice to the feelings of those who received it.
    Over the next four years, a string of tests went against it, written and designed by top guns in the industry. Meanwhile, Shnayerson’s control went through many variations: a sweepstakes... even a hokey computerized version... as well as new copy tests.
    But for all the tests and razzle dazzle against it—like the cat in the old folk song—the original letter kept coming back, its raw emotion and bold honesty simply overpowering the competition.  
   “Even today it still mystifies me,." Shnayerson said, “why those top guys couldn’t beat it.."
    In retrospect it’s obvious why the professionals kept losing. Quite simply, Shnayerson was a good writer who had become totally involved in his product and passionately  believed in it. And when that kind of involvement and passion burns through a piece of copy with such literate ferocity, you can chuck all the old rules right out the window. 
    No one could beat Shnayerson!

The Demise
Three years later the magazine was called QUEST/80. The mailings had come full circle and were back to the original invitational size “I’m Robert Shnayerson...." 
     The Rapp & Collins Agency was hired to come up with some new marketing concepts. They began talking about a Quest Award for people who did outstanding things and trying to build it into something akin to the Academy Awards.

The Giraffe Society 
Instead, Shnayerson came up with the "Giraffe Society" to honor those people who weren’t afraid to stick their necks out. He created a special issue devoted to 25 people who had stuck their necks out in the past year.
What’s more, he invited readers to become members of the society for $2 each, and to nominate people they knew who had stuck out their necks. From among 350,000 subscribers came an immediate $30,000 cash, 15,000 applications for membership and an avalanche of letters, every one of them as passionate and earthy and moving as Shnayerson’s original. That was an unheard of 4.3% response to a casual cash-with-order offer! He had found an extraordinary constituency of Americans yearning for excellence long before “In Search of Excellence." became a catch phrase.
            But in November of 1980 the whole thing blew up. According to Shnayerson, the magazine’s backers—The Worldwide Church of God, a Christian fundamentalist organization headquartered in Pasadena, California, who had originally promised complete hands-off treatment—now began to exert editorial pressure. Shnayerson and his staff quit. Advertising dried up, and the magazine died several months later.

Takeaways to Consider
Bob Shnayerson had two problems with QUEST/77: He was probably ahead of his time and he obviously had the wrong backer.

• Reread his 1977 letter and see if it doesn’t resonate with just as much power some 42 years later.
        I’m tired of journalistic myopia.  Fed up with publications
        that appeal to our worst instincts.  Let other editors drag 
        readers through cesspools of mediocrity. I’m interested in   
        people as they really are -- and could become.

Dissatisfaction with the media today is rampant.  Everyone knew what Donald Trump was and elected him anyway (thanks to an estimated $3 billion free coverage by the ratings-crazed lamestream media).
    Congress is an embarrassment.
    Bob Shnayerson got it right; the politicians and talking heads today have it wrong. He was able to get inside the heads of the people he was writing to and talk directly and conversationally with them. And relate to them in a powerful way that resonated in the deep heart’s core. Okay, Donald Trump's speeches and tweets resonate with his private electorate—the hardcore one-third underclass.
    I believe the majority of us are desperate for a publication like QUEST/19 today.
Bob Shnayerson said it best to me when I interviewed him: 
    I believe if you’re gong to be the editor of a new magazine, 
    you—the editor—must try to write your own direct mail 
    letter, even if you’re a terrible writer. You have to think 
    through what this magazine is... what the benefits are to 
    the subscriber... and then write a 4- or 6-page letter with
    all the passion and intensity of your last will and
    testament, as though it were going to be carved in stone 
   and signed with your blood.
       Even though this letter may never be mailed, you will 
   have created a document that your circulation copywriters,
   your advertising promotion people and your editors can work 
   from. It’s an absolutely essential step in any magazine start-up.
So, Why Limit This Concept to magazines? 
Logic dictates this would be an invaluable exercise no matter what the product or service—consumer, business or fund raising.

• Whether you’re a banker with a new mortgage offer... and insurance underwriter with a new policy... a product manager with a new piece of merchandise... a merchandise manager with a new catalog.... a fund raiser with a new cause... or a broker with a new investment opportunity... you should sit down—however painful it may be—and write your own deeply felt “I’m Robert Shnayerson...." letter to serve as your credo, constitution, wiring diagram and marching orders for everyone involved in the project.

• Who knows... you might find yourself with a winning promotion (mail, space ad or digital) that beats all the so-called “experts."—just as Bob Shnayerson did!


Word Count: 3506

P.S.  This cranky blogger is taking two weeks off and will be back in the saddle early January. Season's Greetings and best wishes for glowing good health and happier New Year to All! 

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 founded in 1984—revolutionized the science of how to measure the success of competitors’ direct mail. In the past 55 years he 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. and went on to save two businesses and start three others. One of his businesses—WHO’S MAILING WHAT! newsletter and archive service

Denny Hatch
The St. James
200 West Washington Square, #3007
Philadelphia, PA 19106

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