Drayton Bird – one of the few living legends of direct marketing turns 75

  • Direct marketing guru Drayton Bird

Drayton Bird – the author of best-selling Commonsense Direct & Digital Marketing book – was born in 1936. He turns 75 on Monday 22 of August 2011. Michael Leander shares a few insights about the grand ol’ man of direct marketing

Direct marketing guru Drayton BirdA few hours before writing this I was thinking about Drayton Bird and how he is the indirect cause of a lot of the business and marketing challenges I have faced over the past 20 odd years.  You see, it was his book Commonsense Direct Marketing that got me hooked on direct marketing so many years ago.  I have turned any marketing problem into a direct marketing problem ever since.

Although I s*** at writing in English, allow me to share some of my thoughts about our industry’s most admirable person alive.

The best ambassador for direct marketing there ever was
Let me say this right away; Drayton Bird is the best ambassador for direct marketing there ever was. The reason for that is simply that he has been living direct marketing for more than 50 years. That’s fifty friggin years! You can learn a bit more about what he did in those years over at Wikipedia.  He has been teaching thousands of people. He has presented his knowledge, wisdom and ideas in over 50 countries (including Wales & Scotland according to himself), he has written not one, but three books and thousands of articles related to direct marketing and copywriting.

Drayton Bird has done it all or at least very nearly all. Founded his own successful direct marketing agency and then sold that to direct marketing agency Ogilvy & Mather. There he worked closely with Sir David Ogilvy whom – perhaps – is the best known legend of direct marketing.  The fact that David Ogilvy put him in charge of training Ogilvy & Mather employees around the world says a lot about Drayton’s talent, knowledge and abilities.

Commonsense Direct and Digital Marketing book by Drayton BirdBut one thing that I find particularly remarkable about Drayton Bird is how he has stayed loyal to direct marketing. Over the past 50+ years he must have experienced a lot of fads. But he has never been one to jump on the bandwagon and call f.ex. branding his new religion – like countless others did.
Even when direct marketing was considered a somewhat dodgy discipline, he continued to hone his skills and help clients produce massive results believing firmly in this the most measurable of all marketing disciplines.

When digital (marketing) entered the scene Drayton understood immediately that digital (or interactive) is just another communications channel. Now, years later, many others are beginning to understand how nothing has changed but the channels we use to communicate our direct messages.(although 95% of digital marketers still seem to believe that what they call new digital marketing techniques in fact are tools that has been used in direct marketing for 25, 35, 55 years)

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Never stop learning and use direct marketing to solve real business issues
As a snotty junior marketer, as a young director and as a business person going through many trial and tribulations, direct marketing has always been front and center for me. Direct marketing has helped the businesses I have been associated with acquire customers effectively, retain customers effectively and win-back customers nicely. And direct marketing has helped my current activities reach a certain level using little or no budget.

I cannot help thinking how my professional life would have turned out had it not been for his book “Commonsense Direct Marketing”. And I am sure quite a few things would turn out differently had I not been asked by Drayton Bird to present (teach) at his EADIM (European Academy of Direct & Interactive Marketing).

By the way, EADIM is now in its fourth year – go here to check it out

The fact of the matter is that had it not been for Drayton Bird, I would never have found any interest in CRM, in direct mail, in database marketing, in profiling, in testing or – for that matter – permission email marketing. And I know for a fact that many others were inspired by him, his speeches and his writings to venture into a career in direct marketing. For that I we all owe him thanks.

Never stop learning – never stop reading
One of Drayton Bird’s mantras is to never stop learning. Never stop educating yourself. And never stop reading.  Many of the worlds greatest marketers will tell you the same; they became great at what they did because they were in a constant state of a somewhat structured (or unstructured) learning process. Always looking for new knowledge.

When meeting Drayton he seems to always have a book nearby. I can recall one time in Riga, Latvia where – while waiting for someone – Drayton was sitting there in the lobby in his winter coat and – yep – reading a book.

His curiosity and his hunger for knowledge is insatiable. And that – I believe – is one important reason how he has managed to get on top and stay on top all these years. Even after David Ogilvy said “Drayton knows more about direct marketing than anyone else in the world”, Drayton Bird continued learning. And today at 75 years of age I’ll bet you that he’s got a book or two in his pocket.

If you see him at EADIM this year, you will perhaps wonder why he with his massive experience and knowledge still sits in on nearly every presentation. I know I was wondering about that when EADIM took place for the first time in Brussels in 2009. But now I know. He is still sucking up all the knowledge he can. Mucho kudos to him for having that attitude.

World class direct marketing copy-writing 
Those close to me know how much I admire Drayton Bird as a copy-writer. Although not a copywriter myself, I still believe I am able to judge what makes great, good and mediocre copy-writing.  And Drayton’s is world class.

Reading Drayton’s newsletters is always a treat for me. I have never deleted a single one of his emails. And some day I will collect them all in a pdf  and print for my own perusal. His emails are full of little nuggets, bits and pieces of relevant that are relevant not only to direct marketers, but to anyone interested in general issues of business.

If one learns nothing new by reading his material, it is a great study of his awesome command of the English language. Sure he makes the odd mistake of using words that simpletons like myself don’t understand. But as someone whom never stopped learning himself, I assume he wants his foreign readers to learn. One complicated word at a time.

Drayton Bird has written direct marketing or response copy for clients in countless industries.  And he is still at it. In fact if you would like to increase your results, consider asking Drayton to deliver some highly effective copy to you. I am sure he will give you a good offer if you have an interesting problem to solve and ask him nicely.

Now that Drayton Bird can celebrate 75 summers, I hope that he will continue to share his knowledge about direct marketing and copy-writing with the world. I hope that he will focus his energy on teaching direct marketing and less on stirring up a debate about politics. Saying that is of course utterly selfish as I have no interest in politics.

Drayton is 75 years today. Happy birthday, Drayton. We wish you a great day today and for the many days to come.

“There is more similarity in the marketing challenge of selling a precious painting by Degas and a frosted mug of root beer than you ever thought possible.” 


By | 2017-12-08T20:12:19+00:00 August 21st, 2011|

About the Author:

Michael Leander
The founder and CEO of Markedu is a world-renowned, award-winning speaker who has shared his know-how on digital marketing, loyalty marketing, CRM and data-driven marketing with thousands of professionals in 48 countries around the world.

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