April 4, 2014

Richard “Dick” Benson was a true master when it came to direct mail…for my money, no one could hold a candle to him when it came to discussing anything to do with that medium.

Of course that also made him the most knowledgeable person I could go to on anything to do with direct marketing/direct response…he got it at every level and in every medium.

I guess the fact that “doing it” for over 50 years made him an expert…the guy had seen every possible test and could comment on any test you were doing with experience and authority.

And while he was often called a curmudgeon and was known to “never say goodbye” on the phone (he simply hung up when he assumed you were done), he was an awesome mentor.

I learned to embrace his gruff exterior rather than be intimidated by it which made our relationship very special. He had me call him “Timid Timothy” whenever possible…

Having said that, I could only get so far with him…I always said that I would have been his favorite client had I been a woman…the man was a charmer when he wanted to be…not as much with “the guys”…

But he liked me…:-)

And all he wanted to do was to educate everyone in his path…a noble mission indeed.

He was also incredibly quotable.

His “31  Rules of Thumb” which make up chapter one of his all time classic, Secrets of Successful Direct Mail  are timeless, eternal truths about direct response (and he died well before the Internet became part of our lives).

Another amazing thing about Benson was that he never had his clients blindly follow his rules.

Specifically, I remember when I challenged him about #9 on his list:

“Self mailers almost never work.”

I told him that in the newsletter and book category, “magalogs” (self mailers on steroids!) were hot and I made my case for using the format based on the fact that our products needed a longer sales message and we didn’t have a known brand.

His response?

“Self mailers almost never work. You, however, should test a self mailer.”

I loved that man. He knew the rules and also knew how and when to break them properly…

I also remember putting together a bunch of his most important sayings from his most famous “students”–a who’s who of direct marketers in the 1980’s and 90’s–and the one that was the most important to me was:

“No mailer spends enough time on lists.”

Today that would be:

“No marketer spends enough time on lists.”

A different topic for a different day for sure…

Now I was a list manager at the time…and I spent ALL of my time on lists and segmentation…and I always made sure it was the highest priority for every promotion we put together.

That led to a highlight of my career.

On one of my all day visits with him (and he is the consultant who popularized “the client comes to me” concept), after discussing dozens of tests, results and new test ideas, he started asking ME about lists for his own products (he also published multiple newsletters, two of which that grew to over a million subscribers each).

After the day, he simply said:

“Brian I don’t know you all that well yet but frankly, I’m impressed.”

Those of you who knew Dick would agree that I probably should have hung up my spikes right there and retired. But I did decide to go on for the next 25+ years anyway…leading to this e-mail today!

Then I asked him: “How do you know so much?”
And he answered with his thumb and index finger about an inch apart:

“I know everything about this much.”

Benson taught me the value of knowing everything about a little is much more fulfilling and valuable than trying to know everything about everything.

That doesn’t mean we should not look to grow and learn in every aspect of our lives…but I love the concept of focusing on your passions and the incredible satisfaction of “knowing everything about this much…”

Until next week…



About the author 

Brian Kurtz

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