Whether or not you should use direct mail depends on the industry you are targeting and your accomplishments and experience.


Why Direct Mail Works for Many Executives

Let's start with a word of caution about the direct mail recommendations of certain firms. You have probably seen ads for mailing services with many testimonials and strong success claims. The success rate with this search method have been greatly reduced in modern times.

Unfortunately, many executives have purchased such services, including sending out 10,000 to 20,000 mailings, and have gotten nothing in return! These services don't work, because the firms send out five-line cover letters attached to resumes which are simple historical recaps. They are not solution resumes and they don't qualify people for a significant range of new industries.

On the other hand ... if carefully targeted at decision makers in industries for which your materials have built a strong candidacy, direct mail can be very productive.

And, putting together a mailing list through our private website is easier to do than ever before. There you can get connected to ... or order ... virtually anything you might need. Keep in mind the following: direct mail is an extremely low percentage game, one that requires truly superior materials, highly focused targets and carefully thought-out strategies.

Every day we are on the receiving end of direct mail. Now, however bad that junk mail may look to you, the fact is that the ones you see again and again are working; otherwise, the senders wouldn't be wasting money repeating the process.

Direct mail is a game of testing, revising and testing some more, until you get the right return for the right dollars. And, historically the number-one rule in direct mail is that long copy is the name of the game, because that's what it takes to motivate all of us to action from unasked for correspondence.

Why? Well, give it a little thought. Let's assume your local lawn mower shop wants you to come in and see a new product they're carrying.

Assume that you and your next door neighbor are both out cutting your lawns on a brutally hot day. However, your lawn mower keeps stopping and starting, and finally doesn't work at all. Then, the mail carrier arrives at both residences with mail that tells you all about a revolutionary new lawn mower. It gives a long explanation of why it's superior to everything ever manufactured and guess what, it's available locally.

Now, chances are your neighbor will look at the mailing piece for about two seconds and toss it, wondering how anyone could ever read all that material.

Obviously, he isn't in the market for a lawn mower. On the other hand, because the mailing piece has reached you at precisely the right time, you are apt to read it quite thoroughly. Perhaps you might be motivated to make a local visit and a purchase!

Now, your position, relative to using direct mail, is really very similar. Your interest is in reaching the right person who might be in the market for someone like you right now. No one else counts.

I asked a friend of mine, a CEO of a high tech company, "What would you do if you had to look for a job?" His response was, "Well, besides exhausting my contacts, and covering recruiters, I would get an awful lot of resumes to board members who might view me as a possibility. It works with my board. They know our problems and are very active at referring talent."

Another friend, a senior VP of Marketing at a Fortune 500 company, put it another way. He said, "I look at resumes that cross my desk. If something stands out as a match to my needs at the moment, I usually respond directly. It is really a matter of timing."

A third associate, the head of HR at a Fortune 500 company, sent me the following comment when he knew I was updating this book. His comment was, "I would recommend direct mail for most executives. Third-party letters can be especially effective if the right person is writing for you. The person doesn't need to be a close friend; just prepare a letter they approve for their signature ... making it easy for them to assist."

10 Key Rules for Direct Mail

  1. Assembly-line materials don't work. Image is critical, you want to look important. We prefer monarch size cover letters with 8 1/2" x 11" resumes.
  2. A good list is a necessity. Direct mail always works best with smaller and mid-size organizations.
  3. A superior letter is required. Consider using the name of the individual in the body of the letter.
  4. Cover letters must be kept short. Keep paragraphs to three to five lines and use short sentences.
  5. Mention industry experience if you have it. Avoid explaining in detail the reasons for your search.
  6. Personalize your letters by using "I" or "my." Be enthusiastic and never mention income.
  7. The resume you attach must reflect benefits. Telegraphing any liabilities must be minimized.
  8. Direct mail is least effective with larger firms. If you have strong interest in a large firm, consider sending materials to more than one executive.
  9. Follow-up mailings work and generally get 80 percent of the response of your first mailing.
  10. Third-party direct mail, sponsored by someone in a position of respect, can work extremely well.

Managing Direct Mail: The Role of Letters

Letters can sometimes be more important than resumes. However, you must always customize your appeal to each audience. Typically, different letters should be used for answering ads, sending to HR executives, contacting CEOs, answering opportunities uncovered through events, networking friends, networking influentials, for requesting references, and for contacting recruiters.

Cover letters should be interesting and brief. Get to the point and make sure it's good.

Letter resumes are stand-alone letters that are not forwarded with a resume. They should provide sufficient "resume-type information" to stimulate interest. Use them whenever you want to fully tailor the description of your credentials, and avoid revealing any liabilities. They are also recommended for professionals who wish to change careers.

Handwritten memos are fast and easy to send off, and executives are used to such notes. If you have a superior resume that is on target for your audience, attaching such notes can work very well.

Obviously, the content of your letters will be critically important. Materials that emphasize what you can do, as well as the results you can bring, are ideal.

If you write your own letters, there are some basic requirements. Some people start without a clear picture of what they intend to say, then get caught up in telling their story and wind up with a highly disorganized letter. To avoid this trap, the opening should demonstrate your specific interest (knowledge of the firm, its industry, etc.) and explain your reason for writing.

The body should lead off with your best selling-point and convey your qualifications and potential benefits. You need to then enlarge upon your selling points, citing examples when appropriate, and present yourself as the answer to a need or problem. The closing should be straightforward. It should restate your interest, confirm your desire for an interview, and say when you will be following up.

As part of our service, you will receive our comprehensive guide entitled, "Writing Outstanding Job Search Letters." This includes an extensive sampling of letters that have proven effective for others. They are included for all the situations you are likely to encounter.

Managing Direct Mail: Who to Contact

Make a list of high-probability targets—a "priority list" that takes into consideration the industries for which you are best suited, as well as your preferred locations. In the process, divide your initial list into three parts by classifying your prospects as "best of best," other "primary," and those who are really "secondary choices" that you might consider.

This carefully tailored target list of employers should be continually added to as you go through your search. Your goal, of course, is to get an interview with the right person in these organizations.

To make it easy to do this, you need to take advantage of the interactive capability of our client website. There, by using simple order forms, you will be able to take advantage of dozens of databases which our National Center maintains. They can save you an immense amount of time and enable you to quickly launch either small or large direct mail efforts.

When you compile your list, you will need each person's correct title, spelling of their name and address. Since most reference sources are 15 percent out-of-date (including those on the web), if it is an important target, call the firm for the correct information.

In the largest public and private organizations, the number two executive, or the heads of divisions, can be good targets. They are contacted far less frequently than CEOs of the largest firms.

The senior VP of a function may also be a good prospect as well as the top corporate HR executive. If you are at a medium level, contact someone two levels above where you want to be.

In smaller or medium-sized firms, you will want to reach the owner or the CEO. These firms are often able to reach decisions more quickly. They are also contacted much less frequently by direct mail.

Of course, if your goal is to be a corporate CEO, then obviously your direct mail effort would be more appropriately directed to members of Boards of Directors.

To make the most out of direct mail, you will want to do a telephone follow-up with the small percentage of organizations which are your very best prospects. Keep in mind that direct mail is going to be less effective if you are seeking a complete career or function change (but it is still recommended in these cases).

Now, you must recognize that an extremely low percentage of employers will need someone like you the day your material arrives. For example, if you were looking for a CFO position, since those jobs turn over only once every three years, this means the week your mailing arrives might be "perfect" ... but only once in every 156 weeks, if it gets to the right person.

For executives, from 3 to 6 positive responses, sometimes up to 10, will typically be generated from 1,000 mailings. Obviously, your personal success will depend on a host of personal and market factors at the time.

Of course, if you had five very good situations to explore, you might not need anything else. Unlike responding to openings or contacting recruiters, direct mail often produces highly qualified leads in a noncompetitive situation. After all, they will have read about you, and want to see you for what your material presents. Typically, they will have a position to be filled ... or they may be thinking about creating a position for the type of assets you possess.

Example of a Successful Custom Direct Mail Letter to a CEO content

Dear Mr. Walters:

For a number of years I have been associated with a firm which is somewhat related to your industry. In line with this, I thought you might be able to direct me to appropriate corporate or subsidiary executives with whom I could communicate. I am an experienced corporation lawyer. My career has spanned a broad range of legal functions involving substantial responsibility and sensitivity.

Most recently, I assisted in a major acquisition, as well as in the restructuring of a company under Chapter XI. In the course of my work, I uncovered millions of dollars in credits that had been unrecognized.

Prior to this, I developed the widely copied Budweiser franchise agreement. It is considered to be the standard against which all other agreements are measured. My education includes an MA from Hobart College and a Law degree from Georgetown University. I am a member of the New York Bar.

I have more than a passing familiarity with your business. Furthermore, I want to find a new position where I can make the best use of my expertise. I am willing to travel or relocate as the situation might require.

I would appreciate an opportunity to bring my qualifications to the attention of other senior executives in the firm who might benefit from my experience. I will call you a week from Monday to see if you can suggest the right people for me to contact.


Tom Summers

The Hierarchy of What Works Best in Custom Direct Mail

Success depends on your list, your materials and your phone follow-up for your best possibilities. Let's assume you were seeking a national sales manager's job. Here is a range of direct mail actions you might consider taking. Based upon our experiences, they are listed in ascending order of what will likely work the best.

  1. High risk... may result in no response.
    Sent to CEOs regardless of your level, functional area or geography. Takes good credentials in mainstream fields to work today. Response will be very low from large companies, but can be better from smaller firms.

  2. Better ... may still sometimes get no response.
    Sent to firms and people by generic titles, e.g., all SVPs of Sales at Fortune 500 firms. This also takes very good credentials to work today. This too works better with smaller and midsize organizations.

  3. Much better ... can do very well.
    Sent to SVP Sales, by personal name, selected by industry, size and location. Can be very good, especially with telephone follow-up to your "best-of-best" prospects.

  4. Very, very good ... works very well.
    Sent to SVP Sales by name, in industries where you have experience, mention it early, and follow up on the phone. This has been successful for many of our clients.

  5. Excellent ...
    Sent to SVP Sales you have spoken to first on the phone. It can be very effective for those who take time to pinpoint possible targets and make pre-direct mail calls.

  6. Excellent + ... if you can arrange it.
    Sent to SVP Sales, by name, where mailing goes out under someone else's letterhead and title—a third party mailing. If the third party has the right title and is with a reasonably well known firm, this can be highly effective for people at all levels.

  7. Outstanding ... if you can do some.
    Sent to SVP Sales, by name, to whom you have been referred by someone you can mention in your letter, (gets your materials read), with telephone follow-up. Works even better if you have researched the firm on our website and make observations on issues and trends. Having a referral will get your materials read.

  8. Best ... if you get your networking going.
    Sent to SVP Sales, by name, that you have met on some occasion, either social or business, with telephone follow-up. Those who make the effort to meet executives everywhere they go, and then who do a direct mail follow-up with superior materials, get results.

How Some of Our Clients View Direct Mail

"Your mailings went out to 1,000 companies in Dallas who were in consumer services. Response was low, but after six weeks the mailings yielded five good situations, and eventually two good offers. I did fairly well with recruiters and had a couple of situations through VCs, but I would recommend direct mail for other senior people who want to stay in their location."

"You did several thousand mailings for me in foods and pharmaceuticals. Results have continued for months. I had 12 interviews for jobs from the direct mail and accepted my first offer. I'll be a divisional president for Pfizer, where we have a number of exciting new products just receiving FDA approval."

"I just took a position with Sony Entertainment as a divisional marketing director. Your staff designed a very focused search within the music industry. The direct mail I did was the whole key. Nothing had come up through recruiters or ads in my industry, and very little from the trade media. My recommendation for your clients in a narrow industry segment is direct mail first, and networking second."

"I live in Columbus, Ohio and was not in a position to move. Because of this, your marketing plan had greater emphasis on custom mailings, running down spot opportunities and executive networking. I had been an EVP in a medium size manufacturing firm. As part of the mailing strategy I sent out several hundred 2-page custom letters, staggered over a 12-week period. I followed up by phone on all of my best prospects. The search took 17 weeks, but I have joined a New Jersey pharmaceutical firm as president of their Ohio manufacturing division."

"Mailings were more important for me because I did not want to rely on my contacts. First, it took me two months just to get over the emotions of being ousted by my board. Then the search took six months. A total of 6,000 mailings went out under the names of three close friends who are senior executives with well known firms here in the Chicago area. The materials involved one-page letters along with three different slants on the CEO biography your staff prepared. During the search I had three attractive offers: CEO of a division of a large firm, Dean of an up and coming graduate business school in Wisconsin, and Senior VP for a growth firm in an entirely new industry—which I have accepted."