Letters are a bit of an old fashioned thing. No, this isn’t a blog nostalgia-ing about sending things through the post. Nor is this a blog about my recent spam of letters, both physical and virtual, which have been raining down on unsuspecting literary agents in New York. While writing query letters has consumed some of my time lately, that’s not what this is about.
No, this is a story about being too stubborn to not ask.
I write letters. That fact has been established by the title. I’ve been writing letters since I was a teenager. For those keeping tally that’s at least ten years ago. People on the receiving end are all executives or senior leaders in companies which you no doubt have heard of.
My first letter was to Chrysler, back when they were an American publicly traded company and bankruptcy was a thing only crappy companies did. I was an aspiring automotive engineer in grade 9 with dreams of someday designing computer systems for automobiles (way to go on that, Dan). During class, when I was supposed to be listening and learning, I had designed two cars that I really believed were super. The first was a redesign for the Dodge Charger. Chargers were a huge favourite of mine; particularly the 1969 Hemi. You have to realize that at this point in time there was no Dodge Charger, none was even on the horizon. I was a bit surprised when they announced they were relaunching the Charger in 2005. Their design did not resemble mine in anyway, which is probably a good thing. My second car on submission to them was a completely new sports car called the “Clipper”. Being the weather geek that I am, I took my inspiration from the name for weather systems that often whip across the prairies. Powerful and speedy, I figured it was perfect for a sports car. This car, too, never saw the light of day. What I did get, however, was a very nice letter from then CEO. Still being young enough for it to be considered “cute” he actually responded.
He didn’t know the effect it had on me.
My letter to Chrysler was shortly followed with one, written in tandem with my good friend Nick, to the CEO of Porsche. I figured since the Chrysler CEO had written me, perhaps the Porsche CEO would too. Our letter was all business. We wanted Porsche to move a factory to our city of Cambridge, Ontairo. We created a list detailing why the city was a great choice for the company, the German heritage of our area and Toyota’s success. Sadly, nothing came of that letter. In fact, with the exception of a few auto-replies or tersely short “thank yous” from customer service reps, my letters went without response. Yet, I continued to write. Among those who received my crazy letters were:
- Porsche again(a complaint about treatment at the auto show)
- Christophorus Magazine (official Porsche magazine)
- Sea Ray yachts
- Neptunus Yachts (a letter that resulted in a guided plant tour)
- Brunswick Corporation (parent company for Sea Ray and Hatteras Yachts)
- Prime Minister of Canada
- Bungie Corporation (see below)
- Audi Canada (again, including a local dealership)
- Daniel Ratcliff and Emma Watson
- Ford Motor Company
- Tesla Motors
The list grows, it seems, by the year. I’m sure there are lots I’ve omitted as well. Many of these entries are recent by the way. In fact, I wrote to Elon Musk of Tesla a mere ten days ago (response pending). There are many bold highlights to the letters I’ve written. My letter to Bungie, for example, was less a letter and more a 2kg tin of Tim Horton’s coffee. I had sent it for the Canadian members of their staff, also known as the “Cananimators”. I had email by then and, to my surprise, I received one of the best responses, via email, to date; they told me the tin was promptly confiscated by the Canucks and under close lock and key. I wrote to Audi and the local dealership in hopes of getting a white Q7 to surprise my wife with for our anniversary – our first if I recall. So bold as to ask for it outright as a gift, or at the very least a week loaner. Letters to the Harry Potter stars were for autographs for my sister (which never came). Recent letters to Ford were for some money they have in a Bank of Canada account unclaimed – I figured they wanted their quarter of a million back. My letter to Tesla and it’s contents will remain secret, for now.
So, by this point you have one of two thoughts; “dude, you’re crazy” or “wow, this is kinda awesome”. A word that comes to mind in both cases is probably “why?”
I’ll be honest here; every single letter was written with the intent, whether subliminal or outright, to gain something. In the case of my car designs it was fame and fortune as a car designer (ah young ignorance). My letter to Bungie was in hopes of a coveted studio tour and free copies of their Halo game. Letters to celebrities were for obvious gains. Knowing that, it still begs the question “why?” Why even bother if they’re not going to respond? Why write just to ask for something? Why waste their time like that? I would submit that there are some great life lessons in my letter writing, simple mottos that drive my stubborn pursuit of the silly and unrealistic dreams.
Be respectfully bold
Just go for it really. Many people who are in places of senior management like boldness. Letters written respectfully, properly and with few words gain more attention than you might think. Most of all, however, boldness gets noticed. Sure, nine times out of ten it results in nothing. However, any result in your favour is a plus. We aren’t rewarded for the risks we don’t take.
The worst they can say is no (or nothing)
There’s an expression that you often hear; “nothing gained, nothing lost”. This view is the lens through which I look at a lot of things, particularly when reaching out or chasing crazy ideas. What’s the worst response you can get when you ask? (Hint: it’s no) If and when you get a no, has it cost you anything? Not really, no. In fact, you’re the same after writing (or asking) as you were before – nothing gained, nothing lost. But, in the rare moments when that 1 in 10 does respond to the positive, maybe even one in one hundred, you’re officially better off after than you were before. Suddenly you’ve gained everything with nothing lost. The worst they can say is no, the best they can say is yes.
You (or they) don’t know until you ask
What if someone has a spare car they don’t know where to send? A chunk of money they need to write off? Some great stuff to give away? Their company is sitting on a potential breakthrough technology? Truth is, we simply can’t know. While 98% of the time the answer to every scenario is no, moments exist where it could be yes. There could be, no I maintain there are, troves of things out there ready for those who have the boldness to make their needs known. For those who’re willing to simply ask.
Now, where did I put my letter signing pen? I have companies/people to write to.
The phrase “nothing ventured, nothing gained” also applies. I often say “the worst they can say is no.” Way to go Dan!