To PS? Or not to PS?

Crazy, what people get tied up in knots over….

To quote Professor Siegfried Vögele, author of the influential Handbook of Direct Mail, “Over 90 percent of readers read the ‘PS’ before the letter. It is the first paragraph, not the last.”[1]

This discovery means your PS can be one of the hardest-working elements in your appeal letter. It’s a high-visibility place where you can make a great first impression … or, of course, not.

Copywriting superstar, Mal Warwick, warns, “[Don’t] use the postscript to restate and reinforce the ask. The overwhelming majority of fundraising letters make that mistake. Simply pleading with the reader to ‘act now’ or ‘send your gift today’ is a waste of this valuable real estate. That’s boring. Use the P.S. instead to disclose some benefit or intriguing fact…. Make the P.S. irresistibly interesting.”[2][3]

Professor Vögele (1931-2014) employed cameras in his pioneering research. He watched how people normally interact with direct mail.

He observed them conduct what he called an “initial run-through … a self-orientation.” In these first few seconds readers were asking, “‘What is this then?’, ‘What does it mean?’, ‘What do they want from me?’, ‘Do I need it?’, ‘Should I read it?’ etc.”

He also noted, “Only the person who has dictated or written the letter himself begins right at the top and reads slowly down to the signature, line by line. He [is] checking and looking for any possible errors.”

The recipient, on the other hand, leaps instantly to the end. “[When] a…letter has a signature, the eyes rush down to this signature first of all and only then…is [the recipient] subconsciously ready to read the letter right from the top.”

You see

Direct mail is a physical interaction with the recipient’s eyes and touch. And because it is physical, automatically the emotions are engaged.

The brain begins its hunt. It seeks novelty, anything different … for hard-wired biological reasons which compel the brain to sort a fresh world as fast as possible into two categories: “new” (potentially dangerous) or safe.

And it’s a free-range brain: it leaps from place to place.

To the salutation first: “Who wrote this?”

To the signature next (and nothing in between except maybe that tiny opening sentence you’ve crafted): “Who signed this?”

[1] p202, Siegfried Vögele, Handbook of Direct Mail (1992, Prentice Hall)

[2] p92, Mal Warwick, How to Write Successful Fundraising Appeals (2013, Jossey-Bass)

[3] I agree 98% with Mal’s advice, of course. I also know I’ve succeeded in direct mail where the PS does little more than repeat the essential offer. Don’t overthink this, is my basic advice.

1 Comment

  1. George Crankovic February 23, 2017 at 1:52 pm #

    “Don’t repeat the offer in the P.S.” I can’t say for sure, but I bet Mal Warwick got this idea from commercial direct response. In that arena, you save a special nugget for the P.S. that will grab readers, and then use that extra benefit in addition to the offer. With the P.S. being as important as it is, it’d be interesting to test these two ways to do it and let donors tell us what works.


Leave a Reply to George Crankovic Click here to cancel reply.