January 19, 2019

Over lunch, a colleague’s young nephew asked me how we tweeted before the Internet. Pneumatic mail tubes and a lot of stationery, kid”

                                         -Lester Wunderman on Twitter 3/25/12


We lost one of the pioneers of direct marketing last week, Lester Wunderman.

His book, Being Direct: Making Advertising Pay,was one of a few “bibles” I read early in my career.

And if he hadn’t stolen that title from under me (20+ years before I thought of it!), it would have been the title for my new book for sure.

I have often lamented that I wish guys like Gene Schwartz, Bill Jayme and Dick Benson could have had the opportunity to strut their stuff online but unfortunately they were all gone before this Internet thing caught on (and I really believe it will be hot)! 🙂

However, Lester Wunderman is proof positive how a direct marketing original (heck, the “father of direct marketing”), and the definition of an “old schooler,” can embrace online marketing.

Unlike many of my other mentors and heroes he was able to do that since he lived until he was 98.

For those of you who never heard of Lester Wunderman, he was the chairman emeritus and co-founder of what became the world’s largest direct marketing ad agency.

According to his obituary, “He never graduated from college, had no formal training in advertising and got into the mail-order business on a two-for-one offer: one salary split between him and his brother. It proved to be a big bargain for Madison Avenue.”

His brother Irving was a gifted copywriter who I had the privilege to share a few meals with in his later years and I learned a lot from him in a very short time.

Also from Lester’s obituary:

Long before anyone had ever heard of internet sales or interactive communications, Mr. Wunderman was widely credited with coining the term “direct marketing.” For decades he championed an industry that sent personalized ads to preselected people for products and services that they might actually want to buy, as opposed to the scattershot approach of general advertising for the mass audiences of printed publications and broadcast media.” 

He also invented or brought into the mainstream things like toll-free telephone numbers for ordering, postage-paid subscription cards, buy-one-get-one-free offers, and “loyalty reward programs” for brand buyers who came back.

He was quoted in an interview recently when looking back on his early days (days when he figured out how to make advertising pay):

“Direct marketing was out there. I didn’t invent it. But it had no definition and no strategy.” 

Studying the life’s work of a man like Wunderman is not just a stroll down memory lane—studying him, and others like him from his generation, is an inquiry into “original source,” or where bedrock principles come from; and that inquiry is the best way I know of to apply those principles as “marketing science.”

I even devoted an entire chapter of my new bookto “Original Source.”

Perry Marshall and I talked about it as well in an interview which I have been told has helped many online marketers better apply their new technology on top of core eternal truths (which only made them better).

The interview is part of my post “Where babies come from” and if you listen to the interview, hit me with an email and let me know what you think.

I also love that Lester Wunderman didn’t just watch the TV show Mad Men (about the advertising industry of the 1960’s)—he was one of them.

Here’s a tweet from Lester (one of many he sent weekly and over multiple seasons as he devoured Mad Men, rating each episode on a “1 to 5 martini scale” which relates to how much those guys drank every day):


“I liked this episode of #MadMen better the first time, when I lived it” 

Not only was he telling the truth but that the guy was tweeting in his 90’s is pretty cool too.

He was not living in the past, either–he understood that the Internet was the ultimate direct marketing medium and rather than run away from it, he embraced it (as I said earlier).

Here is another of his tweets:


“Enjoying the nostalgia of #MadMen, but the golden age of advertising is here and now.” 

I’ll use Lester’s “wunderment” (new word!)  as being anecdotal evidence that my heroes would have felt the same way had they lived as long as he did.

Lester spoke often in his later years about that “here and now golden age of advertising” being about technology and marketing techniques he never could have dreamed of, even while he almost invented direct marketing; but I think he would also believe that human beings are still human beings and no matter what the technique we use, communication, connection and relationship trumps all.

In tribute to the passing of this legend, and “being direct” with you, I want to talk specifically about “your damn emails.”

(I’m quoting Senator Bernie Sanders from a presidential debate he had with Hillary Clinton in 2016 when he said that everyone was sick and tired about hearing about her “…damn emails…” which had some controversy around them as many of you recall).

I am not interested where your email server resides nor does this have anything to do with politics…it was just a great line and it is what I thought about when reading  Wunderman’s tweets and the notion of “being direct.”

Specifically I am interested if you are being as direct as you can by paying close attention to your (damn) emails.

That means reading them and maybe even responding to them too.

If Lester Wunderman can tweet in his 90’s can’t we communicate with folks who write back to us (or reach out to us) as a general rule of thumb?

It amazes me that so many marketers who are all about list building and creating funnels to sell products and services (and many make millions of dollars with thousands or even millions of followers) often forget that “lists are people too.”

Why am I bringing this up?

First of all I am hurt.

I send too many emails to gurus, thought leaders and even folks I would call friends and get zero response.

Do they hate me? Maybe.

Do they get too many emails? Of course they do.

Do they think email is old technology? Possibly.

But if they are not responding to personal emails from a nice guy like me, I wonder how they are dealing with emails from their larger audience.

That is, if they are treating me like that, how are they treating their bigger tribe of students, followers and what truly is their “online family?”

Interesting side note—I received an email from one of these weekly posts from a reader (and friend) asking why I do these posts in email (and then post to a blog page) rather than as a blog post so everyone can see other comments and create a discussion.

There’s a bit of that on my blog page but I made a conscious decision early on to make email my primary medium to encourage return email so I can communicate one-on-one with many of you.

However, that is a personal preference and not necessarily best practice.

Best practice is probably a blog…but whether email or blog (or tweet or postcard or voicemail or anything), making sure you interact with those who want to interact with you (within reason and time constraints of course) is the point I am getting at.

I try to respond to every email from these posts even if it takes me a couple of weeks; and I know the best-of-the-best bloggers are in there with their readers every step of the way, commenting and sharing which not only shows you care but it also proves you are not a robot.

It’s also a way to segment or “sift and sort”—that is, a way to figure out who you can help in different ways and what new products and services you might consider offering in the future.

In short, it’s the most direct and personal way to survey and learn.

After all, you really can’t have a relationship with someone unless you start up a conversation up in the first place.

I know that boundaries need to be considered here too which is different for everyone.

But I encourage you to set your boundaries in a way so that you don’t lose touch with all humans worth interacting with who might get lost in an auto responder series.

Since I believe that email is still the best way to create one-on-one relationships most intimately and efficiently, I am focusing mostly there; but reading and then responding is not unique to one medium.

There is also gold in emails from any person who takes the time to communicate with you—and if you open them and read them carefully, looking for key words and nuance, you would definitely find that out.

I’m sure many of you do this regularly.

Even when you are sending thousands of emails to a large audience, all automated, you would be amazed if you take the time to try and respond to every one (or most or many) of them (even if not immediately)  with an attempt to go beyond “all auto responder all the time,”  what you will learn.

And dare I say sell better too?

Quick idea: When sending out a mass email, ask a question or encourage feedback or try to get a response.

And if you do that, figure out a way to respond one-on-one as much as you can.

Also, read responses for clues on how you can take a relationship deeper right away.

We are so obsessed with automated funnels (which are necessary as we grow)–but when I see a response from someone that begs for a deeper conversation I jump at the opportunity, sometimes leading to nothing except good cheer, lively banter and a smile–but sometimes leading to something that most funnels can’t do as well.

I recall receiving an email once from someone receiving one of these posts on a Sunday that had some wording and sophistication about marketing in his response that led to a back-and-forth correspondence which eventually led to an enrollment in my highest level mastermind group.

I know there are sophisticated automated funnels that could do this…but the human touch adds so much to the experience. And the higher the price, the more deserving of that human touch.

Another tip: Before simply accepting a Linked In request or even a Facebook friend request, start a short dialogue first before superficially connecting.

I know you can’t do this every time but it makes a difference when you can establish common interests at the outset.

Short of engaging with every email or contact request, when you can open yourself as much as possible, it can be magical.

I’ll leave you with neat story about opening and reading an email when there was probably no reason for this person to do so…and what it led to.

Many of you know that I am an avid baseball umpire—for varsity high school games and high level tournament Little League too.

One of my buddies wanted to surprise me with a gift so he researched the major league umpires who live within a 50 mile radius of me–and he actually emailed three of them personally.

He asked them if they would be interested in having lunch with his friend who is an “umpire groupie” (and an experienced amateur umpire himself) despite being a marketing/business guy “in real life” which has nothing to do with baseball.

I know that major league umpires are far from big time celebrities to you…but they are to me.  Regardless, the motivation for any of these three guys to respond to a stalker-like email is pretty low (or so I thought).

Surprisingly one of them did respond, saw that my friend was legit and I ended up having lunch with major league umpire Phil Cuzzi which was the surprise gift from my buddy (at the famous Four Seasons Restaurant in New York City).

He brought me a signed cap…I gave him a marketing book he will never read I assume…but that day we became lifelong friends.

It has also led me (and my buddy) to support his fundraising efforts for ALS where we have contributed thousands of dollars over the years and we look forward to a huge annual event he hosts every year.

Oh…and I get to text him when I see him working a game on TV and I can live vicariously as a major league umpire through him….even when he is throwing someone out of the game for arguing balls and strikes.

I still can’t believe he opened that original email.

I told my buddy that he was smart not to introduce himself as a Nigerian Prince.






P.S.  If you found any of the discussion about “original source” particularly interesting please listen to this interview with Perry Marshall where we go deep on this subject.


And in the spirit of paying attention to my own damn emails, let me know what you think.


P.P.S. One more tweet from Lester Wunderman which I loved (and it has nothing to do with direct marketing):


“I remember when the Stones played NYC in 1965. Big ruckus. But that kid Mick wrote some toe tappers.” 


I saw The Rolling Stones for the first time in 1985…big ruckus then too!

And I am seeing “that kid Mick” this coming June…hope he’s toe tapping at 75 as well as Lester was at 95.

About the author 

Brian Kurtz

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