Successful Direct Mail Formulas

By Travis Lee

Over the next tips we’re going to explore proven sales letter formulas.  There are many formula’s out there, and we’ll cover the most popular one today, the problem,agitate, solve (PAS).  A very basic version of PAS can be seen at this link.  This is probably the most widely used formula by copywriters, and quite possibly the most reliable.    You’ve probably heard that people are more motivated by fear of lose, or removal of ‘pain,’ than they are motivated by gain and PAS is a great way to do this.

The PAS strategy got its roots in face-to-face selling, which goes a long way in explaining why this formula works so well.  Frankly, most of the strategies that work in face-to-face selling will work in copy.  We’ll cover the three parts separately.


You want to clearly define the prospect’s problem.  In some cases, your prospect will know or acknowledge the problem.  In others, you’ll need to introduce the problem to them.  However, you want to be careful in assuming they either know, or acknowledge that they even have a problem to begin with.  So much care must be taken in clearly defining the problem in a straight forward manner.

You’ll see the problem defined for the reader at this link (same as above).  This letter went to attendees of the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) Annual Conference and Expo.  They already acknowledge the problem of cutting through the direct mail clutter, so not much explanation was needed.

Later in the letter (not shown in examples) we use a few statistics provided by the DMA on direct mail open rates, response rates, etc. to further our cause that the problem exists.  In other scenarios, the problem may be more complex, requiring more copy, proof, statistics etc. to provide adequate substance for your claims.  I typically take more space in my other direct mail pieces while fully developing the problem, however we were limited in the amount of space we had.


Now it’s time to agitate the problem and get an emotional reaction and investment from the prospect.  You can use anger, fear, envy, embarrassment, guilt…  whatever deep, visceral emotion you can tug.  The harder the tug, the better.  Don’t hold back and lay it all out there for your prospect.  I start doing this on the second page of exhibit 3.  I talk of being bored and overwhelmed, which is a big problem facing direct marketers.  In other pieces I’ve used the fear and embarrassment of failure, the envy of seeing other succeed while they don’t, and the anger or resentment of not achieving what you believe you can and should.  All deep, emotional reactions.


After clearly defining the problem, and agitating it enough to get the prospects blood to boil, the next logical step is to now relieve the problem you’ve so artfully described.  And that’s exactly where you want them!  Here is a block of copy I’ve used in a few places to make the transition to my obvious solution to the problem:

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To Your Direct Mail Success,
Travis Lee

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