Editorial director Dominic Mills kicks off a new series in which
Campaign staff see how a product or service lives up to the promise of
the marketing. This time round he is intrigued by, and responds to, an
invitation from a namesake to find out more about his family history and
some rich relatives.
We are all susceptible to vanity - journalists perhaps more so than
others. And so last week, with a quickening of the pulse, I picked up an
envelope emblazoned with the message, ’A remarkable new book is about to
be published - and you, J. Mills, are in it!’, from Diane B. Mills.
Never mind that I am not J. Mills (that’s my brother, actually), I was
hooked. The letter inside, on parchment-style paper, was an invitation
to buy the Burke’s Peerage World Book of Mills. Signed by Diane B.
Mills, the letter talked about the ’extensive work done throughout the
world on a project relating to the distinguished Mills name’ and hinted
at all kinds of joyous stuff that would follow. Also inside were two
photos, one of the genealogist, Harold Brooks-Baker, and one of a family
enjoying a bit of Burke-ing.
These goodies included a ’unique’ coat of arms, a world directory of
fellow Mills and ’a specially compiled Historic Wills Index that will
lead to the estate records of Mills of means ...’. As a come-on, it’s a
masterful piece of the direct mailer’s art, easily worth pounds 29.95
plus a free Family Chart, etc.
But who was this Diane B. Mills? I rang a customer service number in
Marlborough. No, helpful Geraldine said after 20 rings, they’d never
heard of her. If I was responding to a letter, they had a number in
Ohio. This turned out to be the Numa Corporation (three rings), which
licenses Burke’s and, initially at least, they’d never heard of Diane
either. Customer operator Deanna (two rings) explained that Diane had
’endorsed’ the letter even though she couldn’t give me a number or
address. But she had a number in England, somewhere near ’Maarlboro’.
And so the circle remained unclosed, frustratingly.
How does it rate as a piece of direct mail? Surprisingly well - it’s
personal, to the point, with a clear call to action, even if the premise
is fundamentally cheesy. Would I buy one? Well, I’ve asked my
THE SELLER Harold Brookes-Baker, Burke’s Peerage
Burke’s Peerage produced its first book in 1826 and has published
several on genealogy and royal families. Harold Brookes-Baker,
publishing director, has been with Burke’s Peerage since 1984. He
responds to Dominic Mills’s piece.
Diane B. Mills is a real person who is a family director for Numa.
She lives in the US and is related to many people with the same surname
in the UK.
Since the letter was addressed to J. Mills rather than D. Mills, we can
only presume that on the electoral roll Mr Mills is known as J. Mills,
or maybe Mr Mills uses his second name, Dominic, instead of his first
name - could it be Jerome? Or we could put it down to our computer not
noticing it was a D rather than a J. Because Burke’s Peerage is trying
to reach the maximum number of people in the shortest time there are
bound to be human errors.
Mr Mills and others should not miss the point that in order to reach
possible relations, who are often very ancient, they must move
An ordinary book takes two years to prepare - too long for our purposes,
since the index is full of names and addresses of people who may be
long-lost relations of the recipient. I personally would pay dearly for
the pleasure of finding any lost relation.
’Fundamentally cheesy’ the World Book is not meant to be. How else is
the man in the street going to realise that Burke’s Peerage does not
only deal with English aristocrats but with normal people like you and
For years, the world has accused us of being too snotty, but we have now
found a way of delivering the same precise, scholastic information, but
in doing so have exchanged one unkind epithet for another. You can
please some of the people some of the time, but Burke’s Peerage does not
seem to please anybody at any time.