December 21, 2019

Someone recently introduced me as the “O.G of direct marketing” and I didn’t know what that meant…I’m still learning the nomenclature of popular culture I guess.

Did you know that term?

If you did, why didn’t you tell me years ago?

I depend on you for this kind of information! 🙂

If you don’t know, it means “Original Gangster”—and I am far from that—but I was flattered that a 20-something saw me as that (but it was because he didn’t have a historical view of direct marketing. That is, pre-Internet…or anything from the previous century).

When I started in direct marketing in 1981, I always sought out the people in their 60’s and 70’s because they seemed to have all the wisdom.

But as I have lamented before, by running my life this way, too many of my mentors are dead.

The upside is that I got to learn from the real “O.G.’s” before they passed–so despite the grief I often felt and feel, I’ll take the benefits.

One of those I wrote about not too long ago—Gordon Grossman—was a tribute to him (and to also promote my book) since his book is one of the 11 bonuses at www.OverdeliverBook.com ( it’s #11–a PDF of Confessions of a Direct Mail Guy).

But Gordon Grossman was much more than just any old O.G.…and unfortunately he died on November 25th.

But not before leaving us with so much wisdom and innovation.

Here are some highlights from his obituary:

Gordon Grossman, 87, Pioneer in Direct Marketing Data Analytics and Creator of Direct Mail Sweepstakes

…pioneered the use of statistical analysis and data analytics for sales and marketing…while overseeing global sales and marketing…at Reader’s Digest…the world’s largest selling magazine, published in 21 languages and 70 countries. He developed the first direct mail sweepstakes and was the first to utilize regression analysis for testing mail order techniques. Gordon left the Reader’s Digest in 1974 to start his own consulting business and played key roles in direct mail and marketing growth initiatives for 85 clients…

Let that sink in if you have ever done a lookalike model on Facebook or used Groupon in your marketing…because Gordon was the “Original.”

1974 might as well be the Jurassic period.

If he didn’t invent it, he perfected it or enhanced it…and he was one of my most valuable consultants (and he was also a friend and mentor) during some of the most exciting times in direct marketing, specifically direct mail.

The lessons I learned from him are all with me today as I apply them to everything I do in marketing, both offline and online.

If you were one of the “lucky 85” (like me) to work with Gordon after he left Reader’s Digest, your experience would not be summed up with that line from the classic sweepstakes packages in direct mail:

“You may already have won”

You simply won. 

If you don’t know the full Boardroom story yet, it’s one of many great stories told from Gordon’s point of view in his book Confessions of a Direct Mail Guy, now a hard-to-find gem that I had the privilege of publishing on Gordon’s behalf (with the help of the wonderful team at Boardroom): 

I doubt I could have written my book without reading his first. 

He even allowed me to write the foreword. 

I want to share an excerpt from that foreword (with some added editorializing and updating since I originally wrote it over a decade ago). 

Reading this will hopefully inspire you to dive into Gordon’s masterpiece—I’ve heard from many of you who have done that already, letting me know how valuable Gordon’s book is for marketers today.

Updated from the foreword to Confessions of a Direct Mail Guy:

Boardroom became one of the elite direct marketing companies in the world while Gordon Grossman consulted with us. 

However, Boardroom is just one successful chapter in Gordon’s long career. 

A day never went by while I worked at Boardroom where my team was not quoting Gordon, referring to Gordon or calling Gordon…for advice, counsel or even a great story about the “good old days of direct mail.” 

And the stories were not told for the sake of nostalgia; they always had a purpose and led to lessons to live by–and ideas to implement. 

While his book contains many of those stories and remembrances in his own frank and fearless voice, it is also about direct marketing–how to do it right and how to do it well. 

I am happy to give you some specifics on how Gordon changed the Boardroom business…and my life…as a direct marketer:

  • He taught us that direct marketing is about customers first–not products. (“Lists are people too”).

As you’ll read in the Boardroom chapter, he wrote the most important memo in our history which launched us into the world of database marketing forever. 

Back in the early 90’s, Gordon advised us that we would be out of business in 10 years if we didn’t make a strong commitment to developing a marketing database.

Well, the results are in and we not only survived but the company is still alive and well to tell the story. 

Boardroom was—and still is– a leader among publishers in all aspects of database marketing.

  • Along with those lessons in database marketing, he helped us navigate through the tricky area of regression modeling, teaching us that modeling is not a panacea but rather a powerful tool, and one of the most powerful in the marketer’s toolbox when done correctly. 

The fact that all of our mailings to our “house list”—in the tens of millions under Gordon’s guidance–were based on precise regression modeling (rather than simple RFM) was a game changer. It came about primarily from Gordon’s demanding leadership. (I talk about this more extensively in Overdeliver).

The results were solid and predictive from day one and we were always improving.

Once we committed ourselves to regression modelling, there was no turning back.

Oh…and one more thing…

Facebook did not invent modelling. (I have that story in my book too).

This also inspired Chapter 2 of Overdeliver which is all about “Original Source” (I guess by “Original Gangsters?”)  J

  • Gordon’s maxim of “First, find out if you have a business” saved us from wasting millions of dollars in unnecessary tests with our launches.

I use that advice today with every client or mastermind member I coach. 

He taught us–and so many other clients–the discipline to set up each new product or project launch to determine if you have a viable business, and not to spend one penny more until that question is answered.

I had a plaque made with his wise words on it, had it hung up in the War Room at Boardroom (where all marketing brainstorming took place)…and now it is on my wall in my home office above my desk to remind me every day: 

  • Gordon’s constant reminder, “Don’t Make Tiny Tests,” also saved us millions. 

It took a while until we got religion on this one–we had to make dozens of “tiny tests” that showed little or no lift in response before we took his advice to heart-but once Gordon drilled this into us, we avoided tiny (and sometimes silly) tests that were a waste of time and money. 

  • Gordon also reminded us at the same time: “Little Things Mean A Lot.” 

And while that sounds like a contradiction to “Don’t Make Tiny Tests,” it’s not. 

Knowing the difference between a “tiny test” and a “small but significant test” is part of the PhD course Gordon gave us in direct marketing every day we worked with him. 

I am assigning you Gordon’s book as required reading for that course (if you choose to accept that assignment).

  • Gordon’s ultimate truth about testing is the one that should keep all of us on our toes:

“The control is the enemy.”

Gordon never let anyone get too cozy (i.e. complacent) with a new control package, no matter how big the lift or how profitable it was compared to the incumbent package.

The day to start planning to beat a new control is the day it becomes the control. 

And he taught the additional lesson that simply going back to old copy because it was such a big winner in the past rarely (if ever) works without major enhancements or changes. 

One of my other favorite quotes of Gordon’s is another one about testing: 

“Long-time controls are often more about not testing enough rather than your winner being unbeatable.”

  • Another Gordon truism is:

 “Marketers sell subscriptions (i.e. “acquisition”); Editors (i.e. “product creators”) sell renewals.”

This one saved us a ton of money and time too…and kept our marketing focus on getting new, qualified customers for our newsletters and books while making sure that what we did on the marketing side was aggressive yet consistent with what we were delivering to the customer.

In our case, the editorial side created to perfection (and customer service and fulfillment did their job well too).

This one is not just applicable to publishing–and I explain how it applies to every kind of business in Overdeliver.

In all businesses, customer service and fulfillment is a marketing function.

Doing “acquisition with the end in mind” (or at least with the second order or renewal in mind) is a critical element in direct response.

I can thank Gordon for creating that universal truth for me. 

There are so many more lessons Gordon taught his students throughout his career. 

I hope from this sampling you get an idea of what a one-of-a-kind direct marketing consultant he was– and that you also know more about his massive contributions. 

When I said I wanted to write the foreword to his book, Gordon’s only request was: 

“Brian, don’t get soupy.”

Well, that is hard to do. 

Gordon changed the lives of so many people, including me, because he changed the way we all did business…and we are all more successful than we ever would have been had it not been for Coach Grossman. 

I once asked Gordon what he thought was his secret in becoming a great consultant. 

He had three: 

1. Be smart and be yourself.

2. Write out your thoughts and the reasons behind them for clients–and he lived by this even before e-mail. 

(Note: Gordon was known for his “classic memos” and you’ll get a healthy taste of them in his book. Most were sent to us via fax—I need to let Dan Kennedy know that Gordon was ahead of his time!)

3. Understand the tremendous value of sharing rather than “keeping secrets” (especially since there really are very few secrets). 

These are lessons for a lifetime…whether you are an independent consultant or corporate executive—or whether you are an expert or a novice. 

When Gordon said he was ready for the “ultimate share” by writing his book, we told him we had to be the guys to publish it. 

“Guy” is also Gordon’s kind of word-he’s a “Guy” who lacks pretense, though he has a brilliant marketing mind, and he had an enormously successful career. 

Plus he has a unique gift for storytelling. 

Now everyone can get the same gift so many successful direct marketers have had for so many decades–the gift of Gordon Grossman’s wit and wisdom. 

Gordon Grossman changed our business and so many other businesses. By publishing his book, we hope he will help change many more businesses. 

Putting his wisdom and his stories into this book was the best gift Boardroom could give to direct marketers everywhere. 

Read, enjoy and prosper!

Brian Kurtz 
September 2006

As I mentioned, I updated the foreword above but also left quite a bit of the original foreword intact as a tribute to Gordon…and I was melancholy to hear about his passing.

Thank you for allowing me to continue to share all my many mentors with you (which I do often in this weekly blog) so they are never forgotten.

That is the lesson in the movie Coco which I always watch after I lose a mentor (and friend) like Gordon—and he was at the top of that list. 

Sorry if I just got soupy. 

It’s hard not to…now that he’s gone.



P.S. When I wrote this post originally, I spent much time selling my book since that is how you get Gordon’s book…and if you want to do that, go to:


His book is better than mine…and that it’s one of the eleven bonuses with my book—indicates I am “overdelivering” just giving away Confessions of a Direct Mail Guy.

To conclude this lengthy and deserving post, I would like to share with you something Gordon wrote that I will cherish forever.

It was dictated by Gordon to his wife April earlier this year because he couldn’t write due to a stroke he had a number of years ago.

This endorsement is not to brag…it is to prove that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear:

I left The Reader’s Digest in 1974 and set up business as a direct marketing consultant.

Brian was one of my favorite clients because we sought each other out.

He had been looking for some wisdom, as he called it, and I was looking for somebody as bright as my daughter (a list broker) claimed he was.

When I finally met Brian, it was a form of love at first sight.

You’ll find his book has a lot of wisdom in it and he’s done an outstanding job of communicating it to you.

He’s a good man, an outstanding executive, and a true student of marketing.

                     -Gordon Grossman, Legendary Direct Marketer and Business Builder at The Reader’s Digest

To my friend and mentor Gordon Grossman:

You were a great man, the most innovative executive and a true professor of marketing.

You will be missed.

About the author 

Brian Kurtz

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