Add a Letter

How to Increase Advertising Response Tenfold

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

hard-selling style.

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.

Top Of Page
Add a Letter

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

table marketing.

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

Top Of Page
How to Increase Advertising Response Tenfold

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

a headline.

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?

You bet.

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


your product.

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

Previous Story

Corrections or additions?

This page is published by

— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.

Facebook Comments