My Dad’s Lettershop

Mr. Donald Keyes

My dad, Mr. Donald Keyes

In 1954, Peter Drucker wrote in his seminal work, The Practice of Management,

There is only one valid definition of a business purpose: to create a customer.[1]

This statement served to elevate the role of the modern professional marketer – including my own father who has lived by this statement most of his professional career.

I was looking for some files on my hard drive and stumbled upon a document concerning my father, a direct response marketing practitioner since 1972.  In it was an idea to commemorate my father’s work in the field of direct response marketing.  It was also an idea to pay homage to a man who got into the business when there weren’t many formal marketing degrees in academia let alone documented work in the field of direct marketing (which was called direct mail back in his day).

My father rose through the ranks of the American Marketing Association to be elected twice Vice President and be the recipient of the coveted Wayne Lemburg award for distinguished service.  Not bad for a guy who ran a successful agency in a small town where selling forward thinking concepts would want to make you pack up and head for New York or Chicago just to keep your sanity.

Working with my brother whose inspiration is the driving force behind this commemorative project we sat in a cafe with our laptops and kicked around a few ideas. He came up with a concept that was sort of inspired around David Chilton’s accessible book The Wealthy Barber.  In this case, it was “My Dad’s Lettershop.”  A lettershop is an enterprise that handles large corporate mailings mostly for direct mail campaigns.  They often print the entire collateral material, sort, collate, stuff it into envelopes, postage meter it and prepare the mailings to be dropped into the postal system.  I ran an operation liked this when I took a year off from McGill.  We also did DM consulting work too working with companies on creative strategy.

We were using the lettershop idea as a vehicle to explain some rudimentary concepts in the field of marketing that in the technological age are being lost.  Instead of coming up with a poster or a commercial to illustrate what “My Dad’s Lettershop” meant I proposed that we write down what would be the copy on the inside cover of a published book.  This approach is interesting because it forces you to create an overriding narrative that lays out the stakes for the protagonist and attempts to seduce the book buying public curious to see how the story unfolds to its ultimate conclusion.  This is hard to do with a business book, but if you can pull it off, you are putting out there a simple model others can repeat when trying explain complex marketing strategies in a very simple way – the kind of strategy that made David Chilton a very successful author and authority in his field on personal financing and investment.

While spit-balling in the cafe with my brother, this is what I wrote:

My Dad’s Lettershop – Sage wisdom for broken down marketers in the technological and information age

With all of the social and technological changes going on in our world some marketers are asking, “Why am in this racket?  I wonder, is it getting far too complicated than it should be?”  Between the binary challenges spoken in ones and zeroes, the retreat from traditional media and all of this talk about social media and social networking you need a bloody engineering degree to tap into the vast potential these coming of age concepts can offer to the modern marketer.

Well, you can finally relax.  It’s time to get back to basics.

Lettershop is a breezy insight into a small family-owned direct response marketing business that lasted for more than 30 years based on unconventional wisdom and 10 simple stories (or truths) about the concept of marketing that even today transcends technology and social change.

You witness each day the brinksmanship from technology-influenced marketers throwing out the latest buzzwords genuflecting around the latest Web 2.0 concept in the boardroom arena.  You sense that the primary mission of marketing is being lost.  The new language is forever drowning the basics and the principle reasons why you got into the marketing game in the first place.

Lettershop recounts stories in the field, provides a moral to its narrative in the form of unshakable models you can use to look beyond the World Wide Web and keep your strategic compass adroit to the mission at hand.  It is also a self-effacing look at you, the marketer, to know thyself in relation to others and to understand how empathy is the building block for understanding your primary mission: to create a customer… adding an important corollary, with the highest degree of intimacy possible.

Lettershop is about the concept of marketing that will inspire those in the profession to its fundamental and noble purpose from the sage wisdom of a man who served it wisely and passionately for over 30 years.

[1] Peter Drucker, The Practice of Management, 1954, p. 37 via WikiQuotes

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