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Lester Wunderman, the pioneer of direct marketing

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Alan Levy

Alan Levy

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Lester: From Wunderkind to Wunderman worldwide.


Advertising Hall of Famer Lester Wunderman drops in on host Alan Levy to discuss his storied career, the current state of the ad industry and his book, Being Direct: Making Advertising Pay. In 1947, the Bronx, New York-born Lester, who turns 90 in June, broke into advertising as a copywriter at Madison Avenue firm Maxwell Sackheim & Co. There he built the firm's mail-order accounts into a broader, more profitable business line, which would come to be known as "direct marketing." Two decades later, President Richard Nixon enlisted Lester's help in using direct-marketing to educate Americans on the U.S. Postal Service's new zip-code system. In 1958, Lester and two colleagues founded the Big Apple firm Wunderman, Ricotta & Kline. While under his own shingle, Lester created the toll-free 1-800 number, the Columbia Record Club, the magazine-subscription card, the American Express customer-rewards program and other seminal campaigns and techniques that are still going strong in the 21st century. Named an Advertising Legend and Leader in 1998 by Adweek magazine, Lester is currently Chairman Emeritus of Wunderman, a response-driven marketing firm that's part of the Young & Rubicam Brands and the WPP family of agencies.

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