North of Jewfish Creek

Dear Friend & Subscriber,

I've been writing this newsletter since September, 1986 and I have received thousands of letters, phone calls and faxes from people expressing their appreciation for what they got from reading those letters.

But never anything like what I got from my last issue.

The response from that issue has put me back on the board. Financially, emotionally and spiritually. I could devote this entire issue to expressing how grateful I am for all the help and encouragement I have received.

But, I'm not going to do that. Not now. I'm too close to it. Truth be told, I have a hard time dealing with appreciation and compliments. It's not what I got much of when I was growing up and, because of that, it's hard for me to take it in and let myself enjoy it. Especially the degree and amount of it I've received since mailing out that last issue. I'm tempted to fill up this issue by writing about all of you who've been so supportive this last month but, I daren't do that. Not now. It's too fresh and I'm afraid I'll get too caught up in it and not be able to do my job here. So, it'll have to wait. But, I've got to say something so, here's what I can manage at the moment.

Thank you.

OK, let's see if I can give you an idea or two that'll be profitable for you. First, if you use direct mail, I'm going to suggest something you can test which might give you a surprising increase in response. You know, since direct mail was invented, trillions of sales letters have been mailed. And untold thousands of things have been tested. Mailers test price. Red reply envelopes versus blue ones. Different mailing lists. They test (usually, based on my advice) attaching a "grabber" to the first page of their sales letters. They test offers. They test first-class versus bulk rate. They test different size envelopes and different size letters. They test different copy slants. Different appeals. Including a brochure or not including a brochure.

And on and on and on. Everything you can think of. But, there's one big thing you can test I bet you never thought of. It's something, if we lived in a perfect world, shouldn't make a difference. But, guess what? According to evidence I've been collecting, I now have reason to suspect we don't live in a perfect world (hard concept to accept, isn't it?) and so, if you use direct mail... I urge you... make this test...

Test Using One Post
Office Versus Using
Another Post Office!

I haven't moved. I still live right here in Miami Beach. But, I have changed my mailing address; it's now in Ocala, Florida. (See letterhead.) Why? Because, for a long time, I've suspected I wasn't getting all my mail. Then, about a week ago, I have dinner with another guy who has been, over the years, a very big player in the newsletter business. Turns out he moved here to Miami Beach about 1-1/2 years ago and he too has decided not to send or receive mail from the Miami Beach post office. He said he put out a big mailing the last week in December so it would hit the first couple weeks in January. His results were way off. As much as 40%. A mystery. Then, in March, three months after his mailing went out, the post office delivers a big bunch of orders to him that were postmarked in January. He tried to find out "why" but nobody had an answer for him.

Let's go back in time. Years ago, in another life, I lived in Ohio. Then, I decided I wanted to have an office in Florida. I started doing business out of Fort Lauderdale and, lo and behold, the response to the major mailing I was sending out back then took a dramatic nosedive. My wife at the time, Nancy, told me the reason was obvious: People simply wouldn't respond to a Florida address like they would to an Ohio address.

Sounded silly to me. Just didn't compute.

But I did a test and it turned out she was right. Very right. The difference in response was dramatic.

Here are, I believe, some of the reasons: (1) People don't trust people who live in big towns as much as they trust people who live in smaller towns. In fact, I believe people perceive some states as being more "trustworthy" than other states. New York, California, New Jersey and Florida are, in people's minds (I think) the most "untrustworthy" states of all. And, I'd guess, New York City, Los Angeles and Miami are the most "untrustworthy" cities.

(2) Secondly, I think you get way better service from post offices in small towns than you do from post offices in big towns. It seems to me, people who work in small town P.O.'s consider your mail important, whereas in some big town post offices, every letter seems to be a "pest" to be gotten rid of in any way that's convenient. Which does not necessarily include actually delivering that pesty piece of mail.

A guy in Provo, Utah told me about a very successful fund raising letter he had mailed from up there in Mormon Country. Actually, it was the test mailing that was profitable, not the "rollout" mailing which was a complete bomb. Same letter, same offer, same mailing list. What in God's name had happened?

He found out. He flew to Chicago and discovered 600,000 pieces of his mail...

Had Been Deposited In
Dumpsters Instead Of Mailboxes!

I don't know if it's still true but, Van Nuys, California used to be considered the "black hole" of the U.S. postal system. It was sorta like "The Hotel California For Letters" where much of the mail got checked in but never got checked out.

Big city postal employees are very busy: They've got a lot of drugs to take and a lot of people to shoot. Sometimes, in Miami or New York, when someone gets hot under the collar someone else will say, "Hey Man, don't go postal on me!"

Back in the days when I was riding high in the family coat-of-arms business with Dennis Haslinger, we got to where we were mailing upwards of a million letters per week. All the printing and lettershop work was done near Chicago but, we didn't mail from there. Instead, we had it trucked-in in a semi every week. I told Dennis I wanted to do it that way because it wouldn't appear authentic for a nice lady like Nancy L. Halbert who lived in Bath, Ohio to mail her letters from Chicago.

That was true but, there was another advantage we were getting by trucking our mail to Bath... a much bigger advantage... I wasn't even thinking about back then. The post office we were using was very small and located directly across the street from the small, red house on Ira Road that was our office. We had a personal relationship with the postmaster. As you can imagine, it wasn't long until we were buying 99.9999% of all the stamps purchased from his little post office. And, believe it or not, he appreciated it. He took care of us. If we gave him 100,000 letters to mail... all of them got mailed!

Do you think that would've happened anyway if we had let that Chicago lettershop do it for us?

I don't.

And I believe that more strongly now than ever before. Think of stamps as "paper coins." What that means is, if you are a big mailer, you should have checks and balances and accountability for all your paper coins... every bit as stringent...

As Those Used To Safeguard
Metal Coins By All The
Casinos In Las Vegas!

Stamps are money. Yet, we in the direct mail business often have only minimal (if any) accountability control when it comes to our postage currency. Therefore, if you are a big mailer or ever hope to become one, I'd like to suggest you make the following test: Let's say you've got a mailing of 100,000 pieces coming up. You tell your list broker you want to do an A/B split. That means every other name will be put on a different print-out of labels or put on a different computer disk or whatever. Then, you give one set (50,000) of those names to one lettershop (the one you normally use) and, you give the other set of 50,000 names to a different lettershop. You have your usual lettershop do what they normally do: Which is, of course, get the letters all ready to go and put them in the mail for you.

You have the second lettershop do everything the first lettershop did... except... you have that lettershop deliver the mail to you. Then, you count those letters and you take them to the post office yourself. You do this on the same day the first lettershop mails the other 50,000 letters. Then, you sit back and wait for the orders. (Naturally, you have the orders "coded" some way so you know which orders came from which mailing.) OK, now... I'll bet you a dollar to a donut...

The 50,000 Letters You
Counted And Took To The
Post Office Will Dramatically
Outpull The 50,000 Letters
Your Lettershop Took To
The Post Office!

Every time.

Does this mean I think all lettershop owners are dishonest? No. Not at all. What I do believe, however, is most employees of lettershops earn only a minimum wage and, they can't help but be tempted by all those "paper coins." I also believe "security" for all forms of postal currency is either extremely lax or, in fact, pretty much non-existent.

Plus, plenty of lettershop owners are dishonest!

Did you see that movie "Casino" starring Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro? It's about a real life guy named Lefty Rosenthal who ends up running a Las Vegas casino. If you watch the movie, you get an idea how all those mob guys make sure their coins are all accounted for. And, I'll tell you what: If those guys were buying 100,000 stamps to put on letters... well... I bet all of those letters would get mailed!

Yet... yet... some of the largest mailers in the world, some of them mailing hundreds of millions of letters per year treat their "paper coins" or their "metered coins" or their "indiciaed coins"... as though... they weren't real money. The consequences can be painful. Even financially disastrous. Recently, I myself made a multi-thousand piece mailing which was very important to me. It was an oversized mailing weighing more than one ounce and the postage necessary to mail it was 55 cents. You probably already know it (oddly, I didn't) but, the post office has a 55 cents self-adhesive stamp you can buy.

So, I bought thousands of them with which to make my mailing. The mailing was prepared in my office. When it was ready to go, a couple of the temporary employees who were working on that project took the mail to the post office.


The post office returned about 14% of the envelopes to me right away because the envelopes hadn't been sealed and there was nothing in them. When the nixies started coming back, there didn't seem to be enough of them. And maybe 15% to 20% of the nixies were sealed and stamped but had no sales letter or anything else in them. Then, we found one of our trusted employees with a bunch of 55 cent stamps. When questioned, he said he had purchased them with his own money... and... who am I to say he didn't?

When that letter went out about a month ago, I thought it was maybe the best sales letter I've ever written. Guess how many orders I got back in the mail?

None! Not one! Zippo! Nada! Zilch! Zero!

Listen, the letter could be a loser. I write losers just like  everybody else. (Rarely, but it does happen.) But not one? Not one order in the mail? To the best of my recollection, I've never had that happen before.

Which brings me to another little dealybop you'd better watch out for. Let's say you move and you send your post office one of those "change-of-address" forms. What happens? Just what's supposed to happen: They forward all your mail to your new address.

What's wrong with this picture? Consider this: What happens if someone else sends in a change-of-address form for you or your business? No mystery. The post office will forward your mail to the new address on the card. What? You thought they had an ANTI-FORGERY SWAT TEAM to verify your signature?

Sorry to disappoint you. Actually, it's a very common scam these days. The bad guys send in a phony change-of-address form and your mail gets forwarded to a mail drop. Then, they get your checks, your credit card numbers, all kinds of info about you... and... if you are in the mail order business... they get... your orders!

This can be financially disastrous. It can also wreck your rapport with your customers. Trust me, I know. This is getting to be very common. Happens every day. "60 Minutes" did a segment on it. However, this is one of those deals that works better in a large post office in a large city. In a small post office in a small town where everybody pretty much knows everybody else, it's much less likely to work. Also, it seems to me, postal employees in large cities are often individuals much lower on the food chain than postal employees in small towns.

I consider this business of treating your postage like it was  money so serious, I'm fully aware of being... redundant... redundant... redundant... about this point. I don't care. If what I'm writing here saves just one of my subscribers from taking the kind of financial bath I've just endured, it'll make me feel like that young boy in the "Starfish Thrower." I was reminded of that story recently by one of my friends and subscribers. I may not have it exactly right but it goes something like this:

Thousands of starfish washed ashore on a beach. A young boy stands among them, bends down, picks one up and throws it back into the ocean. Then he does it again. And again. A man comes along and asks him why he is doing this. "Starfish can't live out of the ocean," the boy explains, "so when I throw one back into the sea, it gets a chance to live."

"But what's the use?" asks the man. "There are thousands of starfish on this beach. You can't even begin to help them all. What difference does it make?"

The boy picks up another starfish and tosses it into the sea. Then, he looks at the man and says...

"Made A Difference To
That One, Didn't It?"

Perhaps some of my more "sophisticated" readers will consider the message in this issue too basic to have value. After all, when you boil it down, my only advice so far in this letter has been:

A.    Consider sending your mail from a different post office. Preferably a small one in a small town.

B.    Treat your postage just like it was real money... because... it is!

Maybe it doesn't sound like much... but... I'll tell you what: It's "core."

Here's more on the subject of mail: Last year, for the first time ever, more messages were sent by E-mail than by regular mail. And since you can send a jillion E-mail messages practically free, you'd think this would be a bonanza for marketers, wouldn't you? Well, it appears that is not the case. At least, not now. I've got a friend who lets me watch, once-in-a-while, as he accesses his E-mail. There's almost always a bunch of unsolicited commercial messages in his mailbox. Well, since these were sent mostly without charge by the sender, why is it none (or few) of them are making money?

Imagine this: There are two guys and both of them want to be entertainers. One guy has no talent and he's lazy. Aside from a few basic sloppy chords, he never even really learns how to play his guitar. His singing voice sucks and, he considers it to be beneath him to get a voice coach.

Then he gets a big break. Someone gets him on the "Tonight Show." He's got three minutes and tens of millions of people watching him. And, for some lucky reason, it didn't cost him a cent to get this chance of a lifetime. What happens to his career?

Doodley squat. Zippo. Nothing.

The other guy, he has some talent. Plus, he works his butt off mastering his guitar. He practices his songs over and over. He starts performing before small audiences and he takes note of what they like and what they don't. He changes and hones his act until it's a "killer." Then, he gets a shot on the "Tonight Show"... and... he becomes rich and famous and hated by the likes of Gary Halbert because of all the hot, sexy women who throw themselves at him.

The moral is obvious. You gotta pay your dues. I'm sorry but, you just gotta. Anyone who thinks otherwise should think about this...

Most People Who Want To
Be In The Mail Order Business
Couldn't Make It Even If
The Postage Was Free!

E-mail proves it.

   Gary C. Halbert


P.S. Given my "public persona," you may not believe it... but... I have been left... literally speechless... by the reaction of my readers to the last issue of this newsletter. I've always been slightly put-off when someone talks about having a "mission" in life. Well, hokey as it may sound, I now believe my "mission" in life, and pretty much my only mission is... to keep writing The Gary Halbert Letter... to spend more and more time on it... to strive to make it better and better... to put even more of my heart and soul into it... to avoid cluttering up my life by trying to run a business (or even an office)... to become a better and better teacher... to be a teacher who teaches substance... and... who brings some smiles, some laughter and maybe a "patch-of-sunlight" into a few people's lives. From now on, that's it. That's my job, my only job, and I'm going to put everything I have into it.

        By the way, I wouldn't mind getting laid once-in-awhile either.


P.S.#2  As I told you at the onset of this newsletter, my mailing address has changed (that includes Fed Ex and UPS deliveries) but my phone and Fax numbers have remained the same. So, if you want me to actually receive the letters you send to me, don't send them to Miami Beach any more. Send them to Ocala which is a small town (population 43,000) north of Miami where (according to rumor, at least) some of the post office employees and residents... actually speak English!

            So, once again, here's my new mailing address:

The Gary Halbert Letter
Suite 905-467
3101 S.W. 34th Ave.
Ocala, FL  34474 

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Copyright © 2002 Gary C. Halbert.  All Rights Reserved.