What I Learned From Mr. Direct Mail

Who invented the mailing list in marketing?

In my opinion, it was David Beckerman, Vice President of Advertising and Marketing for Radio Shack. They called him “Mr. Direct Mail,” as it was with his guidance that Radio Shack launched its direct mail efforts, helping to create a template that companies all over America follow to this day. He also happened to be my godfather. I can remember many years ago going into a Radio Shack when I was 14 to buy a stereo. I had been saving up and had just enough money to put the stereo receiver with speakers on layaway. I completed the transaction and paid my 20% down, and then the manager had me sign a form with my name, address, and zip. Within six weeks, I received the biggest catalogue for electronics and parts. I continued to receive these catalogues for what seemed like years on a regular basis. I can only imagine how many names and addresses Radio Shack collected annually from its 7,300 stores back then. I believe they invented the direct marketing/direct mail concept to their consumer which has evolved into what we now know as email marketing/eblasts, in our ever-changing media consumption world.

David was also instrumental in mentoring me as I entered into the advertising world. I can remember a specific instance in which he guided me through a work challenge many years ago with some solid advice that I apply today, while I’m working with my clients.

Here is the dilemma I was faced with at an agency many years ago.

When I was placing print advertising for Southwestern Bell Mobile Systems (later to merge with AT&T), the creative department for the agency I was with at the time accidently sent the creative meant to run in Houston to Dallas newspapers and the creative meant for Dallas to the Houston papers. This was a total of $150,000 worth of print advertising that just ran incorrectly in both markets in all papers.  The agency was going to have to eat the cost of their mistake. These are the scenarios that my nightmares are made of.

When conveying this challenge to David, he said the following: “Our media partners are partners in our business and our client’s business. When campaigns are successful, all parties share in the success. When campaigns have issues, problems, or miss the mark, all parties work towards a solution.”

I called the VP of Advertising at all the papers and explained the situation and how the agency was potentially going to have to pay out of pocket for the mistake. I shared my godfather’s advice with my media partners, and they finally agreed to run the ads at no charge with the correct dealer listings in each market.

Moral of the story: we are ALL partners in our client’s business in both the good times, as well as the struggling times. David showed me that when an issue arises in business, the burden is not one person’s to hold. There is always a solution, you just need to be able to work together to find it.