NOTIONS: Mailbox of plenty could yield empty pockets

Bruce Hetrick is on vacation this week. In his absence, this column, which appeared on Aug.19, 2002, is being reprinted.

Dear Reader:

In our nation’s capital, at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and North Capitol Street, the Smithsonian Institution has converted a former post office into the National Postal Museum. Carved into the white granite wall is an inscription called “The Letter.” Written by former Harvard University President Charles W. Eliot and edited by former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, it reads:

Messenger of sympathy and love Servant of parted friends Consoler of the lonely Bond of the scattered family Enlarger of the common life Carrier of news and knowledge Instrument of trade and industry Promoter of mutual acquaintance Of peace and of goodwill among men and nations

A quarter-century ago, I shared Eliot’s love of the mail. As a college student passing from dorm room to cafeteria three times daily, I’d peer into my mailbox, hoping to find something inside. Each morning, I’d pick up my Louisville Courier-Journal, then a notable newspaper with insightful reporting and strong photographs. Once a week, my Time magazine would arrive. I’d set aside my lofty texts and read it cover to cover.

But mostly, I craved letters from home, notes from friends and love lines from that special someone.

I don’t remember the obituary, but one sad day, letter writing was shot dead-the victim of technology, impatience and an epidemic inability to write.

Since then, the mailbox has lost its appeal, because it’s constantly jammed with appeals.

Usually, I round-file my mail daily. But recently, I got to review all the massmailed requests accumulated during a two-week vacation. Recession-rattled businesses may be whacking budgets and axing workers, but judging by the pitches in the daily post, you’d think we were rolling in Texas tea.

The Harvard Business Review wants me to subscribe-12 issues, $118. Media Relations Report says I should read that, too-one year, $297.

The Indiana Grantmakers Alliance invites me to media training for just $85 (never mind that the trainers are my competitors).

The Arts Council of Indianapolis wants me to sponsor its “Start with Art” luncheon for up to $5,000, while the City Market wants $500 to underwrite an evening of music.

Also on the charity front, Special Olympics wants $200 for its annual fund; Arts Alliance Indiana wants a $250 corporate contribution; the Arthritis Foundation wants me to sponsor a golf outing for up to $800 and BehaviorCorp wants me to pay $95 to see “America’s mayor,” Rudy Giuliani. Black Expo wants to sell me Circle City Classic tickets-I may have six for $40 each, plus $3 for processing. The NCAA Hall of Champions also is pushing tickets. My family can visit for just $16.50. United Way wants me to re-join its Leadership Alumni Triad for $30. The Public Relations Society of America wants to sell me an extra copy of an award I won-$75, plus $7 for handling. PRSA also says I should attend its annual conference in San Francisco-$795 for registration, $350 for pre-conference events, $800 for a hotel room, $25 processing fee (meals and airfare not included). What’s more, PRSA invites me to a financial communications seminar for $450-plus New York hotel, food and airfare. Finally, I may join a PRSA teleconference on Hispanic marketing for just $125.

For New Year’s, Renaissance Weekend wants me to join presidents, princes and kings in Charleston, S.C. Admission and hotel for the family would run $5,250 (meals and airfare not included).

A poster company wants me to comply with federal regulations by putting its laminated beauties in my corporate kitchen. I can have it all-labor laws, Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations and emergency evacuation maps-for just $119.85.

The Democrats want me to give Marion County sheriff candidate Frank Anderson $1,000. The Republicans want me to give congressional candidate Brose McVey $1,000. The Chamber of Commerce wants $1,000 for its political action committee.

The Stanley K. Lacey Leadership Series says I should attend its leadership training series (eight sessions, $800) or send someone to Opportunity Indianapolis ($295).

Finally, the National Trust for Historic Preservation sent a letter to “Ms. Inc. Hetrick” saying “she” had been elected to membership and should send $15 for the privilege.

Individually, most of these solicitations have merit. But collectively, especially given the current economy, they’re overwhelming. And none has the emotional appeal of a personal letter.

If I said yes to these two weeks’ worth of requests, I’d be out nearly $20,000. Annualized, that’s more than half-a-million bucks.

On the other hand, if I recycle all this mass-mailed paper, I could preserve a few branches of Colorado pine for the next big forest fire.

What would you do? If you remember how, write me a letter. If not, send an email.

Sincerely, Bruce Hetrick

Hetrick is president and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to

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