“On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar”
The subject line of this email was the best eighty cents I ever spent…
It served as a headline (i.e. the copy on the outer envelope) and it led to a successful direct mail control package worth millions of dollars selling a book on a topic no one really wants to read about.
The story about how it came to be is a story with some valuable lessons.
In his prime, Bill Jayme was the most sought-after copywriter in the world.
He had a two-year waiting list of clients who wanted him to write a direct mail package for them… every major magazine publisher, non-profit, and a slew of other mailers in every category at the time were on that waiting list.
Bill charged top dollar and he had an incredible track record of successes in a wide range of topics, using many different approaches and copy platforms.
He is regarded as both a poet and a marketing expert…and he is famous for some of the most memorable and successful promotions in the history of direct mail.
(In the P.S. I will tell you about how I made sure that everything he ever wrote has been saved for posterity.)
My favorite Jayme headline was an outer envelope for the magazine Psychology Today and it was their control for years:
“Do you close the bathroom door even when you’re the only one at home?”
No need to answer…but I bet you want to read the rest of the package now…
And here is another Jayme gem:
“How much do you tip the waitress, when you’re planning to steal the ashtray?”
Creativity like this made us (and so many others) huge Jayme fans…and my company, Boardroom Inc., always had a prominent place on the Bill Jayme waiting list. He wrote some wonderful packages for Boardroom, including the one that launched our newsletter, Bottom Line/Tomorrow which led with the headline:
“How To Succeed in Retirement Without Really Trying”
Over the years, Bill became a close friend and confidant with Boardroom’s founder, Marty Edelston.
After one winning assignment, Marty sent Bill flowers…or balloons…or some other celebratory gift.
That was always Marty’s style.
And there’s lesson number one:
Treat the people who help you grow your business like royalty.
Bill then sent Marty a thank you note in a plain white envelope that simply said on the outside:
“Deeply and Irrevocably Personal…”
Enclosed was pure poetry from Bill –a funny and witty thank you note like no other–the guy could write eloquently about anything to anyone.
I actually have two Bill Jayme “notes” framed and hanging on my wall.
Marty took Bill’s envelope, marched into to our art department, and told the artist who was mocking up a direct mail piece for one of our niche books, The Encyclopedia of Estate Planning, that he had an envelope test for him to execute.
The rest is history…
A plain, white #10 outer envelope with the words “Deeply and Irrevocably Personal” in simple typewriter font became the control for that book for years…initially lifting response by almost 50%.
The package, written by Boardroom’s secret weapon copywriter Mel Martin ( I need to write about him one of these weeks!), was decent before the new “Jayme envelope”; with the new envelope, it became a huge winner despite its narrow topic.
We sold somewhere in the neighborhood of 200,000 to 300,000 copies of that book using that envelope.
Who said estate planning was a niche that no one was interested in talking about?
And somehow, even with those sales numbers, I never saw the book listed on the New York Times Bestseller List…not that we cared.
“Direct mail bestsellers” is the unpublished list I tended to follow…it’s simply calculated in profits with no fanfare.
So what are the other lessons in this story beyond treating your copywriters like family?
There are at least two others:
1) Great copy and headlines (and subject lines) can come from where we least expect them.
You should never stop searching for ideas while watching the news, reading a book or looking through your mail (online or offline).
Being aware of what conversations are happening in people’s heads can turn into headlines and subject lines—and they are everywhere. You have to be ready to pounce on them in a moment’s notice.
I talked about this in my new Afterword to Gene Schwartz’s Breakthrough Advertising: Gene read everything (from academic journals to heady business books to trashy fiction–and his favorite magazine was The National Enquirer).
Gene knew that you had to get under the skin of your prospect…and to do that, you had to know what was on their mind all the time.
Bill Jayme knew this as well (although maybe not when he sent Marty that thank you card).
But this is a big reason why Schwartz and Jayme are two of the greatest copywriters of all time.
Bill was famous for saying that the outer envelope was like the “…hot pants on the hooker…”; and I am sure he would say the same today about subject lines. But let’s go deeper.
When Marty realized we would be able to mail millions of names because of this new envelope idea from Bill (which Bill had no idea Marty was using for such a purpose), he sent a check in the thousands to Bill Jayme for his “new copy.”
Bill tried to return the check, obviously surprised that Marty felt the need to pay him for using a line from a personal letter…but Marty wouldn’t have any of that and insisted that Bill keep the money.
The lesson there?
2) We must pay to play.
Over the years, I’ve talked a lot about being generous with copywriters (and not just with flowers or balloons).
In fact, when I tell people that there were many years at Boardroom where an outside copywriter was the “highest paid employee” (despite not being on the payroll) they cringe.
I just smile.
After all, without their promotion we’ve got no sales, revenue or profit; however, with a killer promotion from a top copywriter, we get to mail many more names and we get rich…why shouldn’t the copywriter who wrote it get rich too? The difference between isolated revenue events and building a business for the long term begins and ends with great messaging.
But keep in mind that great messaging is not always free.
Being a cheapskate or cutting corners on creative is a huge mistake. Caring for your creative (messaging) “talent” must always be a top priority.
Legendary copywriter Gary Halbert said it best (and it’s truly a rule of thumb for anyone selling anything to anyone):
“Any problem in the world can be solved with the right sales letter”
And sometimes, even a headline or a simple concept can do the trick too.
But getting “the right sales letter” will cost you something…maybe a lot more than you ever thought you would pay…BUT it will cost you a lot more if you refuse to invest in world-class creative.
It doesn’t matter how much your business is earning today. It’s all about your mindset.
If your mindset is “to get the best… I have to invest in the best”…you will ultimately get what’s best for you and your business.
This topic is deeply and irrevocably personal to me…I hope it is to you as well.