There was a shipping box sitting on my desk when I came into my office this morning. It had a handwritten label on it addressed to me, care of Early to Rise. The return address was for a man from Montana – someone I didn’t know.
If it were a letter, it would have been scrutinized by Terry, who would have put it in the “don’t know” pile along with all the other unsolicited and mostly unwanted mail that finds its way into our mailbox each morning. Sitting in that pile, its chances of getting more than a second’s glance from me would have been very slim.
Don’t judge me too harshly for this. Early to Rise reaches 420,000 people every day. That generates a lot of one-sided (“Can you help me?”) correspondence. And there’s a limit to how much of my time I can reasonably afford to spend on new projects and people since my life is so full of good ones right now.
But this wasn’t a letter. It was a box – a box with printing on it that promised fresh, gourmet coffee inside. At 7:00 in the morning, my appetite for good, fresh coffee is great. There was no question in my mind about whether I should bother to open this mystery package. And there was no hesitation in my actions.
Once opened, the box did not disappoint. It was filled with packets of exotic coffees. There was a little Post-it note with a handwritten message: “Each packet makes one 12-cup pot. For best results brew in a commercial-style brewer.”
I sorted through the brightly colored packets. One was a Supremo from Colombia. Another was 100% Arabica. I set them in my outbox so that Terry could brew me up a pot of one of them when she arrived. And then I noticed that there was a longer, also handwritten, note enclosed. It read:
“Dear Mr. Masterson:
“My life was long on autopilot until I came across Paul Hollingshead’s compelling invitation to become a copywriter. I decided to grab the wheel and begin steering again.
“This morning, I finished reading your book “Automatic Wealth”. And I need to thank you for showing me how to steer!
“You mention in your book that you start many mornings with ‘a cup of 7-11 coffee.’ Since I currently manage the office for a coffee business here in Springfield, what better way to say ‘thanks’ than to send you a few pots of the finest coffee I’ve found.
1. “If you’re not already using a commercial-style brewer in your office (Braun makes a good one), go buy one today. It makes a tremendous difference in the finished product, no matter which coffee you start with.
2. “Buy your coffee directly from a reputable roaster. It’s better quality, fresher, less expensive, and most will sell direct to the public.
“I look forward to meeting you in person when I get down to South Florida. The ‘student who’s a coffee guy’ really wants to thank you in person.”
Wow! Was I impressed!
Here was a kid who figured out two secrets about getting noticed that 90% of the people who write me, hoping for help, never understand:
If you want to get an introduction to a busy person, you have to find a way to get through an elaborate system he has set up to protect himself from people who want to take his time. If you do the conventional thing – a letter, an e-mail, or a phone call – you’ll be handled in a conventional way. In other words, you’ll be put off.
Once you get through to your target, give him a reason to like you. Telling him that you have a problem doesn’t make you seem as likeable as you may think. And flattering him doesn’t work either. Everybody else who is trying to get a favor from him does that.
What this fellow did was unique and effective. The packaged coffee was the perfect opening salvo. It was friendly. (The printing promised fresh ground coffee.) It was informal. (The handwritten note suggested that.) And it was beneficial – to me!
Had there been nothing inside but a sales pitch, I would have been impressed by the sender’s cleverness is getting me to read his letter. But I would have read it with a negative point of view. (As in, “This guy must think I’m easy.”) By stuffing the box with bags of coffee and including a Post-it note that told me how best to use them, I was left with a very warm and open feeling to the sender.
And that’s how I read his letter – with openness and expectation.
Here, again, I was pleasantly surprised. Most “You don’t know me” letters ask me either to solve a particular business problem or to act as someone’s personal mentor. (What do these people think? That I’m twiddling my thumbs every morning looking for something to do? And for someone else? And for free?)
But this letter was not a solicitation for help, but rather an instructive epistle on how to enjoy better coffee every morning. There was a touch of flattery in the beginning and a touch of “Maybe you can help me later” at the end. But most of the letter was good advice on how to get myself a better cup of coffee every morning.
I liked the letter so much I set it aside to write this message. Then, later, while talking to a friend’s friend who runs a big-time baseball training camp and was looking for a copywriter, I decided to recommend the guy – even though I had seen none of his work.
Well, that’s not true, is it? His box of coffee with the accompanying handwritten letter was an example of his work. And it was very good work, at that.[Ed. Note. Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]