Never let it be said that you know it all and can never learn anything new, because I just learned this morning that I’d been taught something wrong and have been doing it wrong…along with a LOT of other wrong-doers…for a long time.
Hmm…sounds a little like “the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain,” doesn’t it?
Anyway, traditional direct mail fundraising letters – as political copywriters have been taught by the DC insiders – end with a P.S. that repeats the “ask” and urges the donor to “act right now.” Indeed, open up almost any campaign fundraising letter you get in the mail and more often than not, you’ll find exactly that kind of ending.
So I always thought that was the right way to do it. Today I learned it’s not. And so will you from the column below by high-dollar direct mail guru Kevin Gentry, who quotes direct mail svengali Mal Warwick on the CORRECT way to write a P.S.
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Direct Mail Openings and Closings
by Kevin Gentry
You might laugh at this suggestion – but I wish I could see your face as you read this email.
Because it helps prove a point about the importance of an attention-grabbing opening line. Just some elaboration…
First, the opening sentence. If it doesn’t pull your reader in, you’re doomed. Otherwise, the trash can prevailed in the tug-of-war over your sales pitch. Your recipient will never even read those clever sentences you compiled for pages two, three and four. Your recipient determined your letter wasn’t worth of any more time and moved on.
Here’s what Mal Warwick says about “writing the lead” in How to Write Successful Fundraising Letters –
If the opening paragraph of a letter doesn’t engage the reader’s attention, he’s unlikely to read further. Research shows the lead of the letter has higher readership than any other element but the outer-envelope copy and the P.S. The lead paragraph – a simple sentence, more often than not – is one of the most important elements in a fundraising letter…
Second, the P.S.
This might seem counter-intuitive, but most studies show that readers usually turn to the P.S. first. They will frequently jump from the opening line straight to your postscript, though sometimes they will quickly scan the body text of the letter to see if there’s anything especially interesting.
Here’s a bit of a twist on this, as more from Mal Warwick –
Don’t…use the postscript to restate and reinforce the ask. The overwhelming majority of fundraising letters make this mistake. Simply pleading with the reader to “act now” or “send your gift today” is a waste of this valuable real estate. That’s boring. Use the P.S. instead to disclose some benefit or intriguing fact or to comment on an enclosure in the package that’s not discussed in the body copy. Make the P.S. irresistibly interesting. After all, its function is to involve the reader and motivate him to turn to the lead of the letter.
One additional hint that I’ve always found helpful: to avoid writer’s block as you anguish over a great lead, just start writing your letter. Then review it. Ask yourself, what is your most interesting sentence in the entire letter? Then consider moving that sentence to the opening, as the lead.
You can do something comparable with your postscript, as well.