Meet the Master of Letters

The great guru Dick Benson wrote, “A letter should look and feel like a letter.” I believe this is true in print and online.

The guy who taught me the craft of writing a letter was a great copywriter and most elegant gentleman, Malcolm Decker — friend of 40 years and a sometime client. Mal wrote for my book, “Million Dollar Mailing$”:

The letter itself is the pen-and-ink embodiment of a salesperson who is speaking personally and directly to the prospect on a one-to-one basis.

The letter is the most powerful selling force in direct marketing, once the product, price and offer are set. The letter is likely to be the only “person” your market will ever meet, at least on the front-end of the sale. Don’t make him highbrow if your market is lowbrow and vice versa. Make sure he speaks your prospect’s language. If he’s a Tiffany salesman, he writes in one style; if he’s a grapefruit or pecan farmer, or a beef grower, he writes differently.

I develop as clear a profile of my prospect as the available research offers and then try to match it up with someone I know and “put him in a chair” across from me. Then I write to him more or less as though I were talking with him. The salesperson in the letter is doing the job he obviously loves and is good at. He knows the product inside and out and is totally confident in and at ease with its values and benefits—even its inconsequential shortcomings—and wants to get his prospect in on a good thing.

How Long Should a Letter Be?
The best answer to that age-old question is: “As long as it has to be.” That doesn’t tell you much, but it suggests two important criteria: economy and efficiency.

As a sometime angler, I get a better sense of length by remembering a fishing trip to Maine when we used dry flies with barbless hooks. Unless you kept up the tension all the way to the net, you lost the trout. Try it. You should feel the same sort of tension when you write and read a letter. If not … reel in the slack.

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at

Publish date: June 16, 2015 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT