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Avoid common direct-mail mistakes, and your message may make it past thewastepaper basket.

"Avoid mistakes before seeking brilliance." This may sound a bit on the safeside, but when it comes to creating an effective direct-mail piece, it's also asure way to avoid creative catastrophes. To avoid mistakes:

1. Don't be cutesy. Pun-laden copy combined with a garish design, wildcolors and hard-to-read type hides your message and is a recipe for thecircular file.

2. Don't rely on an "artiste." Designers should never lead the creationof a direct-sales message. Images entice, impress, demonstrate, dramatize,amuse and suggest, but they don't sell. Words sell. And words come from thewriter.

3. Don't spend two weeks on the brochure and two hours on the letter.Although brochures may be sexy, the letter is what will clinch the sale. Makesure that letter isn't a four-paragraph snoozer.

4. Don't create a "Burma Shave" brochure. Burma Shave once ran anoutdoor ad campaign that presented a rhyming message with each line on adifferent sign posted along the highway. As people drove past the series ofbillboards, the message was slowly revealed, saving the product name for last.A clever idea, but it's not right for a direct-mail piece. If you havesomething to say, say it clearly on the cover.

5. Don't play hide-and-seek with the order form, guarantee andtestimonials. You don't want the order form hidden on the last panel, theguarantee to appear only once in the middle of some text and the testimonialsto act merely as filler for a flawed design. Each is part of the skeleton ofyour direct-mail message--without that skeleton, the body of your mailer andmessage collapse. Whenever possible, make your order form a separate piece thatfalls right into your prospect's lap. Highlight your guarantee on every piece.And group your testimonials together so they make a strong impression.