Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Dear Marketers ... [16 Feb. 2013]

Dear Marketers (Tele- and Otherwise):

I'm pretty confident you won't be reading this, but I do want to get the word out, at least out there, on record, if only in the figurative ether.

If you call and ask, "May I speak to Richard?", there's a good chance I'm going to say, "Probably not." I answer the phone with "Rich Erlich" or "Rich Erlich here" and then add, "How may I help you?" If you then ask for "Richard," it's a pretty strong hint that you weren't listening to me but looking over your script or dreaming of escape from your cube prison — or were using an autodialer and were lucky enough to start talking before I got tired of listening to dead air and hung up.

If you send me a letter starting "Dear Richard," there's a good chance I'll get no further but crumple it up and throw it in the recycling bin.

I don't go by "Richard"; I go by "Rich." If you know me well enough to call me by my first name, you know that. With a very small number of exceptions, the only people who call me "Richard" don't know me and want something from me. 

My last name is "Erlich." That's two syllables: "err" + "lick," and I'm happy with either pronunciation of "(to) err." It happens that the name is Yiddish, not German, so it's spelled correctly and pronounced "er-lick" not "ehrlich"/"air-lick," but either way is fine — and I won't complain about a Bavarian "air-lish" or Anglicized "er-lich," and I'll even be very gentle in correcting "Uhlrich."

But come on: two syllables! Take a stab at it.

And in a print-out letter, my last name is right there in memory, ready for the Merge program on your computer to pick up with "Dear Mr. Erlich" or "Dear Richard Erlich" or "Hey, Erlich-Schmuck: we want your money," which would also be okay with me. And on the phone, I've given my name, so try, "Well, hi there, Mr. Erlich — I did hear that right?" And then you can go after whatever it is you want from me (pretty much always money and/or time).

I'm a small "d" as well as a capital "D" democrat, and a an orthodox small "r" republican. I believe in equality, and I go so far as to decline to call former officials by their former titles and tell people it's no longer correct to call me "professor." (Indeed, I called my students "Mr." or "Ms." or "Mrs." until we voted to go to "a first-name basis" and they could call me "Rich.") I do, though, call former officials and current officials "Sir" or "Ma'am" or, in running into Madeleine Albright in a restaurant in Prague, "Madame" (well, there I may've mumbled "Secretary" after the "Madame"). 

Equality is good, but if you're trying to get something from me — in that context we're not exactly equals for one thing and for another there is much to be said for a bit of courtesy and respect among equals, and some formality between strangers.
Times change, customs change, and I won't push this point strongly. But I am also not going to talk to strangers on the phone who don't listen to what I'm saying but still want to come off as first-name friendly. I won't read junk mail addressing me as "Richard," however dear I am to their Merge functions.  Hey, be as informal as you like. Follow them-there surveys and focus groups and run the demographics on how many people really like the first-name approach. I'm hanging up on the false-friendly call, recycling your letter unread.

Very sincerely yours,

Rich Erlich

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