Copywriting and Ed McLean

Dear Reader: If the list upon which I found your name is any indication, this is not the first – nor will it be the last – subscription letter you receive. Quite frankly, your education and income set you apart from the general population and make you a highly-rated prospect for everything from magazines to mutual funds.

Those words are from the famous Newsweek control written 45 years ago by copywriter Ed McLean and mailed to more than 100 million consumers for nearly two decades. In our 25th anniversary special edition last fall, we forgot to include Ed in our list of columnists, an oversight that is now fixed. I talked to Ed’s wife, Ylavaune, last week, who told me that Ed has been in poor health in recent years. She had written a letter to DM News, reminding us of his many contributions to the industry.

“Ed came to direct marketing in 1959, and without any writing experience won the confidence of Arthur ‘Red’ Dembner, the circulation director of Newsweek,” Mrs. McLean writes. Soon after he was hired, Ed wrote his classic subscription letter. “What was different about it for the time was that it acknowledged a touchy subject to the reader, that their information was indeed being tracked on lists, a particularly unattractive topic in that era, and long before consumers became accustomed to the process. Addressing the issue head-on was a daring tact, but the risk paid off.”

Ed went on to write more than 9,000 mailings, direct response print ads, radio spots and inserts, and his ad copy sold more than a billion dollars of products and services over a career that spanned four decades. Along the way, he wrote several books, founded the Direct Marketing Writers Guild and went on a worldwide seminar tour to teach what he had learned and developed to younger marketers. Sounds like another candidate for the Direct Marketing Association’s Hall of Fame.

“I know that even through these trying days somewhere inside him he still holds a strong regard and fondness for the industry and all of his peers. It’s important to many that his legacy and those of other innovators in direct marketing remain strong and continue to be recognized in the future,” Mrs. McLean writes. “In an industry that places great importance on the most effective techniques of today and focuses so strongly on the future, it’s easy to lose sight of the important strides and contributions the ‘gurus’ and ‘legends’ made to help bring the industry to where it is now.”

Very true words, indeed.

Tad Clarke is editor in chief of DM News. His editorial appears Mondays on and in our e-mail newsletter. You can subscribe to our e-mail newsletters by visiting

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