Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Making Snail Mail Work For You

When I went to college, I took a one or two credit course in letter writing.  It turned out to be one of the most useful classes I took.  I still have the text and refer to it constantly.  But I fear that the art of real letter writing is disappearing.  Pity, because there  postage stamp photo: U.S.P.O. Violates Flag Code stamp.gif are still times when an old fashioned hand written or formally typed note is not only appropriate, but can cut right through.

If you ever read or studied Marshall McLuhan, who was a media philosopher back in the 1960’s, you will know about hot media and cool media.  Email is a totally cool media.  In his seminal book, Understanding Media he described cool media as that which is not involving – like television (during which you can be reading, talking, etc.); film is a hot media.  Email is totally uninvolving.  Some executives literally receive hundreds a day.  They skip from one to another.  Some are barely read, if at all.  Few are absorbed.

So that is where a real letter can actually work for you to get attention and get noticed.  I received a thank you note a few weeks ago which began, “Dear Paul; I thought I would send you a hand written note because I knew it would get your attention…”  The writer was right.  I have always believed that hand written thank you notes can garner attention.

These days 99% of correspondence is through email.  So, a typed  and mailed note with an attached résumé may just end up in the right hands if it is well written and appropriately asks for a meeting (never end a selling letter asking the reader to call you; you should ask for the meeting and call them).  

But in either case, those notes had better be spelled properly and well formatted and easily read if typed.  (Beware of spell check which does not differentiate between hear and here.)  And don't overwrite.  The letter should be visually appealing and easy to read. 

Once upon a time, I received dozens of mailed résumés every week.  Today, I rarely get any.  Everything is email (which I have written about before).  Even the best thank you notes via email are “cool”.  It is not that I disavow emails.  Quite the contrary.  Emails are actually a wonderful way of communicating.  

But because of the volume of email that everyone receives, if you really want to stand out and show real effort, a mailed note can attract attention and be really effective..


  1. Jeez, Paul. If I didn't know and respect you, I'd be mad as hell that you cast aspersions on my beloved email! I spent seven years of my life in email marketing. I'd like to think I was "hot" once...

    True enough, though, that email doesn't always break through the way we want it to. Of course, it helps to throw in a joke. Did ya hear the one about the time a priest, a rabbi and a lawyer went into a bar?

  2. Agreed. As a business development pro, I've gone back to using snail mail (mixed with email) in my prospecting with the hope that it will get the attention of someone who receives hundreds of business emails a day.

    1. That's great, Ed. Has it increased the percentage of responses?

  3. Wasn't going to comment on this, but I must!

    I always use snail mail as part of my new business development marketing media outreach, along with e-mail; polite and thoughtfully timed follow-up telephone calls; agency updates; etc. Even voice-mail, which I regard as yet another marketing tool when used appropriately, rather than as the sales obstacle my brethren typically perceive it to be. Indeed, another opportunity for me to make another selling point that was left unsaid in my earlier efforts.

    As Paul suggested, the great thing about snail mail is that very few people or agency “prospectors” do it anymore. E-mail is so much easier. Just “blast” away to 200 folks and see what happens. The answer is usually nothing of any consequence, because it’s totally impersonal and generally perceived as a thoughtless, one-size-fits-all outreach gesture.

    On the other hand, a personally addressed envelope (no postage meter or address labels allowed because then it looks like mass-mailed “junk mail”) gets attention with C-level execs and their administrative assistants. And if you limit your letter of introduction to 150-200 words (with a great opening headline; “reason why”; and next-step), they’ll probably read it and remember it.

    I know this as a fact from many years of direct experience and I’m sharing it (even with my new biz agency competitors) just because I’m such a great guy. LOL.

    The really hard part of it all is when you actually get through and have a CMO, president, or CEO “live” on the phone, or sitting across from you at a table for lunch or dinner. Then, you’d better be saying something truly important to them (not to you) and know what you’re talking about. And even then, that you do it all in YOUR own personal style - which is ultimately where the “chemistry” either begins or ends. Bill Crandall

  4. Paul, I completely agree. I send hand-written thank you notes to business contacts, and often get a thank you for my thank you note!

  5. Here's another alternative: I'm a big fan of Paperless Post (gratuitous link warning) http://www.coolmompicks.com/2010/05/paperless_post_thank_you_notes.php which lets you send emails that read like actual letters. You can design them yourself, and they pretty much demand to be opened. Shows far more effort than a hastily dashed off email.

    And for what it's worth, my snail mail drop at work has become my new junk mail. Because it's so often...well, junk mail, I rarely go through it until a few days after it's been on my desk. (Terrible, I know.)

  6. Snail mails, right before hi-tech communication gadgets are made, are the most important and most efficient long distance communication tool that is still in active use today.

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