Corrections or additions?
These articles by and about Jeffrey Dobkin were published in U.S. 1
Newspaper on July 29, 1998.
Jeffrey Dobkin’s Tips
To the trained eye, small business owners who read
Dobkin’s book, "Uncommon Marketing Techniques," should
stand out. They would be the ones who are heavy on the direct mail,
who are especially fond of letters and press releases, who thank
and who might even call once in a while just to say hi.
Dobkin’s self-published, 266-page book (Danielle Adams Publishing,
$17.95, 610-642-1000) is chock full of marketing tips for the small
business owner, all rendered in Dobkin’s fun, direct, and sometimes
Dobkin, an entrepreneur and writer who lives in Bala Cynwyd, is an
avid letter writer. To him, writing a letter that sounds sincere is
no more than a form of advertisement. "What you see in most direct
mail packages is a one-page, highly stylized ad designed to look like
a letter," he writes. "It’s the hardest-working part of the
package you mail."
He also entreats his readers to use his letters as templates for their
own direct mail campaigns. "A letter is the most effective
of a direct mail package," he writes. "If you mail potential
customers just a brochure and no letter, you’re missing most of your
sales, as well as all of the goodwill you can generate with a letter.
In fact, a well-written direct mail letter can be so effective, it
can be mailed by itself and still draw a terrific response. Ask any
"It takes me five to eight hours to write a crisp, one-page direct
mail letter. Sometimes longer," he writes. "And most of the
time I know what I’m doing, and it still takes that long. No, no TV
on; not even in the background."
For his big clients, Dobkin says he can spend up to 10 to 15 hours
per page. "But the letter may go to 100,000 people on a test,
a couple million people on a roll-out," he says. Dobkin’s clients
pay $5,000 up front for a large roll-out, and two cents for every
piece, he says.
Also, an accompanying letter lends credibility to the press release.
Dobkin’s former company, the Merion Station Mail Order Company,
a refund rate of less than 1 person in 10,000," he says. "We
were able to say that in a letter instead of a press release."
(Last year he sold that company to another marketer.)
But he still recommends sending out press releases at least monthly.
"The press release is the most valuable single sheet of paper
in all of marketing," says Dobkin. "Most people don’t use
it and they don’t take advantage of the free press that’s out there
that they can get if they were creative in writing that one sheet
of paper. If you’re creative with press releases it levels the playing
But whether it’s a letter, a press release, or an ad, the magic is
all in the wording. "Keeping the words fresh, exciting, and
while continually pointing the reader toward the order form or the
phone call takes time," he says.
He also has chapters on effective ads (see sidebar, page 8), marketing
inventions, press releases, do’s and don’ts for small businesses,
classified ads, real estate marketing, attitude, logos, and kitchen
His chapter on staving off bankruptcy could probably help to clear
away a lot of the caseload excess from the bankruptcy court.
go bankrupt," he writes. "This is always the worst choice,
and it’s just the beginning of dragging you through the court system.
Lawyers, all of whom will insist on payment up front, are expensive.
It’s a horror, and then you drag the bureaucracy in. I don’t know
about you, but I’ve found that whenever the government gets involved,
everything gets worse; it gets more expensive, and your money buys
about one-third as much. I don’t recommend you even think about
bureaucracy until it’s forced upon you."
His number one rule for staying in business: "It is a privilege
to serve your customers," he writes. "Be honest and fair in
all your dealings. Thank your customers — it comes back to you
in repeat business and referrals." His own marketing company
its customer seven times on its shipping forms, he reports.
Underneath all of his tips, quips, and commandments is a desire to
get prospective small business owners to "just jump in."
says that "a lot of people think you need so much to start a
You only need two things: sales and profits. Everything else will
fall into place. In 10 years, you’re going to be 10 years older
you started it or not. Don’t let the small stuff bog you down."
— Peter J. Mladineo
All my ads say the same thing: Call, write, or come
in. If a customer hasn’t done any of these, we didn’t get his
At one point the advertisement has to stimulate this response, or
the ad fails.
The process of writing every ad starts exactly the same way: Write
your objective in the upper right-hand comer of a blank sheet of
Nothing kills an ad faster than having no objective. It should say
one or more of the above: Call, write, come in. This is a reminder
that the response you are seeking is the reason for your ad. Draft
your entire ad with your objective in mind. Every line, every word,
every graphic — does it increase your response?
The importance of writing the objective of the ad can be demonstrated
best by example. I was once called in for a consultation by a large
real estate company whose sales were slipping. After an hour’s
with the owner, who had over 50 years of experience in selling real
estate, I outlined the consulting agreement: We’d meet for 10 hours
or so, and I’d outline a plan to increase his sales. Disbelievingly,
he stated, "I have over 50 years experience selling real estate
— do you mean to tell me in 10 hours you’re going to show me how
to sell more houses?"
"Yes," I replied. "Sir," he said, in continued
"I have forgotten more about selling houses than you will ever
learn in your life."
We spent a good deal of time reviewing the listings for houses in
the local newspapers. When I asked him the objective of the very
one-third-page ads he ran day after day, month after month, he told
me quite sincerely, "To sell houses." When I asked him the
purpose of the individual listings within these ads, again he replied,
"To sell a house."
He was partly right: He had forgotten even more about selling houses
than he thought. The objective of the ad was not to sell a house.
No one sees a four-line listing and buys a house. The objective of
each listing was to generate a phone call. The objective of the entire
ad was to generate phone calls. I’ve never known anyone to see a
for a house in a newspaper and send a down payment. They see the ad
and — if it works — they pick up the phone. Rule number one:
The objective of an ad is generally not to sell the product. The
is to generate phone calls.
So I proposed a format change in each listing. Call now, the new ads
said. Call for an immediate appointment. For information call! And
we gave the phone number in a multitude of places. After customers
read our ads, with all the boxes saying, "CALL NOW!" and the
phone number showing repeatedly, my clients’ phone calls tripled in
the very first week. That’s the value of first writing the objective
of the ad, then writing the ad to fulfill the objective. (This lesson
was much more expensive for him than for you.)
An axiom in writing direct mail copy also holds true for
and even more so: AIDA — Attract attention, generate Interest,
stimulate the Desire, and ask for Action. You have about two or three
seconds to entice the reader to stop, look at your ad, and read your
headline. Which brings us to the second rule of making an effective
ad: The headline is the most important line in the ad. The headline
is the ad for your ad.
If you work on writing your ad for 25 hours, make sure to spend 10
of them on the headline. Ten hours on one line? You bet; it can be
worth it. The difference between the effectiveness of an ad with a
poor headline and one with a great headline can be 10 times. Ten
Imagine that you take out an ad and get 100 responses. Then, keeping
all the other elements of the ad the same, you just change the
and now you get 1,000 responses. That’s the difference.
Don’t write just one or two headlines and pick one. Don’t write a
dozen. Write 80 or 100. Yes, that’s what I do. Write even more if
none looks good.
The most powerful headline you can write contains your biggest reader
benefit. "What is the biggest benefit of using this product?"
In the answer lies the headline of your ad. For example, if you are
selling lawn mowers and yours is the fastest-cutting, cuts the widest
path, or has the most horsepower (these are features), you might write
in the headline: "Mow your lawn in half the time!"
What is it that makes your product unique and different? This is
your Unique Selling Proposition, or USP, and it can be an effective
headline if you can show it as a reader benefit. A headline that shows
the biggest benefit is my first choice and the safest way to write
Another effective style is the "How To" format. "How to
buy any airline ticket at a 50 percent discount." If your product
lends itself to the how to-do-it market, even people with mild
will read the ad if the headline shouts "How To!" "How
to specify printing to get the lowest price." "How to set
type without a computer." (Whoa! Remember those days?) Effective?
An attention-arresting headline makes an incredible statement. This
is called "teaser copy" when it’s placed on the outside of
an envelope. Use copy that stirs the reader’s interest to such a
that it forces him or her to read the rest of the ad. Make your
so irresistible people have to read the body copy to see how you
it. A perfect example is our lawn mower ad with the headline,
Lawn Mower Makes Cutting the Grass So Fast and Easy, I Bought It for
My Wife!" The copy that follows says that she is a professional
landscaper, and I bought this mower to make her job easier.
Another great formula for success in an ad headline is "New!"
New is always exciting. Is there a new idea, part, feature, or benefit
you can show as new? "New" and "Now" are two favorite
words of every copywriter, and with great reason: They work.
Some words really are magic in advertising. The word "free"
in the headline (or in the subhead) beats anything else in attracting
attention and getting people interested. For additional value, also
include it in the first line of the copy, and again in closing. This
is probably the best single word you can use in a headline.
A free offer increases response. Although overplayed and overused,
this remains one of the most effective ways to generate a response
to an ad. Just be careful to make sure you get qualified responses
when offering something for free. Don’t wind up sending out mountains
of free merchandise or literature and getting back no sales. Ugh.
When making free offers, make sure you are advertising to the correct
market and that your audience has the money and the authority to
Think of the brilliance of this: A moving company offers in its
"Free booklet shows you how to pack your house and valuables for
moving." It offers (1) a free book that (2) directly benefits
its ideal audience: people who are moving. I’m sure it produces a
ton of well-qualified leads. The formula for the safest, most
ad headline is simple: "Free booklet offers benefit, benefit,
benefit." When you are having trouble, this formula is the answer.
Low-cost free gifts make for great response, too. If you sell
the free offer of a type chart on acetate or a film showing character
height and leading is an excellent choice. Or a photo percentage
wheel. These free offers fulfill the requirements of a call generator
and a great gift: They (1) are only needed by your perfect audience,
those who specify and buy type; (2) are low in cost and ship
(3) have a high perceived value; (4) have a useful and long life;
and (5) stay in your prospect’s view all the time. Nice.
One of the lowest-cost ways to raise your response rate is to create
free literature. Paper is cheap. Create a data sheet that is
contains "how to" Information, or explains something practical
about your industry, product, or service.
When drafting your ad, remember you aren’t in a contest to see who
can be the most unusual. You just want to make money; so create a
good, solid ad, built on a traditional format that has proven it will
pay for itself by generating maximum response (your objective). Don’t
forget to track the results of each ad to its source. But that’s
— Jeffrey Dobkin
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