Apparently, Changing Direct Marketing Forever is not an Accomplishment
By Ken Magill
This year marks an important anniversary in direct marketing. It’s been 50 years since Barry Goldwater’s 1964 landslide loss to Lyndon Johnson inspired the compilation of the first political direct marketing list.
Unlike his main GOP rival, New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, Goldwater relied on small-dollar donors. Rockefeller was in good with the big money. Goldwater was not.
Presidential candidates at the time were required by law to report the names and addresses of people who had donated $50 or more to the clerk of the House of Representatives.
Conservative activist Richard Viguerie knew this.
So Viguerie and some assistants went to the House and began hand copying the list of Goldwater donors. By the time they were done they had 12,500 names, according to Viguerie.
“That allowed me to quit my job because I had those 12,500 names,” Viguerie told me in a 2008 interview for Direct Magazine.
Conservatives then dominated political direct mail for the next 15 years—that is until Ronald Reagan was elected president.
Viguerie believes direct mail allowed conservatives to get around liberals’ dominance of mass media. He credits direct mail with helping propel Reagan into office in 1980.
“In my opinion, Reagan could not have been nominated or elected without direct mail,” he told me in 2008. “Direct mail leveled the playing field for conservatives. Without direct marketing, liberals would have dominated politics for 40 years.”
After Reagan’s victory, it didn’t take Democrats long to catch on to the power of direct mail, according to Viguerie.
“In November 1980 I thought, ‘It took me 15 years to achieve whatever it was I achieved, so it’s going to take the Democrats 15 years.’ Not so,” he said. “Within three or four years, much to my surprise, the left had caught up with conservatives. And in my opinion, the left as a general rule does a better job of direct mail and Internet marketing today than conservatives do.”
That was in 2008. Does any particular presidential candidate known for his fundraising prowess via email come to mind? He owes a debt to Viguerie.
In fact, everyone involved in non-profit and political direct marketing owes a debt to Viguerie. He did it first.
So would someone please explain why Don Peppers and Martha Rogers are in the Direct Marketing Association’s Hall of Fame and Viguerie is not?
According to the DMA, among the criteria for being inducted into its hall of fame is: “An individual who has made a major contribution to the theory and practice of direct/interactive marketing and who has given back to the industry.”
Viguerie created an entire segment of the direct marketing industry. The sheer number of people employed by political and non-profit direct marketing who can trace their roots to Viguerie—i.e. all of them—is staggering. This is not to say no one else would have fathered political direct marketing if Viguerie hadn’t. But he did. And it took 15 years for everyone else to catch on.
In the 1970s, Viguerie’s only competition came from a few firms started by former employees—people he had trained.
Based on accomplishments alone, Viguerie is a shoo-in for the DMA Hall of Fame. It’s difficult to conceive any reason he hasn’t been inducted other than his politics.
Maybe the DMA is avoiding inducting Viguerie for fear of backlash from some of its liberal-leaning members. I understand this inclination well.
I have always written about political campaigns solely from a marketing standpoint. But some folks simply can’t put their politics aside.
Over the years, I have written and edited numerous stories about political campaigns left, right and center. With few exceptions, whenever one of those stories would appear, someone from the story subject’s political opposition would contact either me or my editor to complain about what a shill I was.
Marketing publications I have edited and I personally have been accused of being a shill for Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Howard Dean.
After my interview with Viguerie appeared in Direct, a reader sent the following:
“Why not put a KKK mask on John McCain? Direct’s obvious bias toward Democrats could not be more clear. And the photo used in the piece about a future hall of fame direct marketer (conservative fundraiser Richard Viguerie) showed him on a worn bench among the weeds in front of a rusty fence. Nice location and great composition for someone who wants to put certain people in a bad light.”
For the record, here is the piece with the accompanying photo.
Unfortunately, I think the reader was wrong when he referred to Viguerie as a future hall of famer. And I think we know why. If it’s not his politics, what is it?
Whatever the rationale, every year Viguerie is not inducted into the DMA Hall of Fame should deeply shame those who are.