If you've always wondered what really goes on up the road at Publishers Clearing House (PCH) in Port Washington, a new book by PCH 30-year veteran Darrell Lester is an amusing, interesting, and personal story about the author's 30-year experience as a vice-president there.
I worked at PCH as a Senior Copywriter for two years. I thought I knew a lot about PCH. But I had no idea about much of the information in Lester's book.
Lester tells a fascinating tale of a workplace culture that demanded long hours and hard work, but was full of fun as well, with practical jokes abounding, like the time a retiring executive hid his alarm watch in the ceiling of a conference room, set to go off during a critical meeting held after he left the company.
There are colorful characters, like the Ferrari-driving company president, who would bring his car right into the warehouse, and tinker with the engine while smoking a stogie and wearing a pinstripe suit.
And then there's the incredible tales of sex and skinny dipping. I won't give that one away, see pages 55, 166, and 167 for yourself!
For sweepstakes devotees, Lester's book answers — for once and for all — that perennial question: does PCH really give away those prizes? They do, and the book is loaded with stories about the winners.
Like the time the time the PCH Prize Patrol delivered the winning check by dogsled in Alaska (page 155). Or the prize check that was delivered to a winner at 36,000 feet in the air, on a flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles (page 160). Or the time a PCH $1 million prize check saved the winner's house from foreclosure.
Many people have wondered if you really have to order something to win a PCH prize. Lester reveals that 76% of big prize winners didn't order a thing (page 117.)
He also tells us how PCH got free publicity from Ed McMahon — while their competitor paid the bills for it (page 15-16). Why PCH mails to dead people — the strange, but true answer is on page 150.
And he points out some very strange customer behavior, of especial interest to marketers. PCH found that their customers would buy cookbooks with calorie-packed chocolate recipes — and then, a few weeks later, the same customers would order diet cookbooks.
Lester also highlights a little-known side of PCH: It has given about $780 million to charities from its founding in the early 1960s through 2011. About half of the company profits now go to charity.
For marketing professionals, there are some real gold nuggets in this book. PCH established, that for their marketplace, complex direct mail packages brought in more orders. Every time they tried to simplify their packages, the order rate dropped (page 75).
Ever since PCH heard that stamp sheets were working very well for Doubleday Book Clubs in the 1960s, and tested them, they've been a winner. PCH has done dozens of tests to try to eliminate these expensive print jobs, but stamp sheets have always won (pages 74-75).
PCH, which is legendary for testing everything, even tested the testing process! They found that if they mailed two exactly identical control packages at the same time, they got different results for each. That meant rollouts of a successful test could vary so much, some of them could actually be unprofitable. This is one of the two most important items for marketing professionals in Lester's book (pages 75-76).
The Naked Truth About Publishers Clearinghouse
By Darrell Lester
Pennywyse Press, Tuscon AZ, 2012
212 pages, paper