Direct Mail Legend Malcolm Decker Is Dead at 87

Renowned direct mail copywriter and company founder Malcolm B. Decker, who topped a campaign that reigned for 30 years at the Wall Street Journal, died on February 16 at his home in Greenwich, CT. He was 87.

After working for McCann Erickson and Walt Disney Productions, he opened Malcolm Decker & Associates in 1972. A 1975 direct mail package Decker created for the National Trust of Historic Preservation that offered benefactors limited edition porcelain boxes with gold hinges raised twice the goal of the organization and was chronicled in Richard Hodgson’s book, The Greatest Direct Mail Sales Letters of All Time.

But Decker’s crowning achievement came late in his career, in 2003, when he bested the “Two Young Men” subscription piece the Journal had used since the mid-70s. The paper had commissioned numerous direct mail packages over the years, but none beat the return on the original until Decker modified it with color graphics and a longer letter.

He was a U.S. Navy veteran who attended Dartmouth College on the G.I. Bill, and was an avid outdoorsman who, in his 70s, reached the 17,000-foot level before failing to summit Mt. Kiliminjaro.

Decker favored a straight-talk approach to direct mail copy. “Develop a clear profile of your prospect as the available research offers and then match that profile up with someone you know,” Decker wrote. “Put him or her in a chair across from you, and write to that person, conversationally!”

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