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The Naked Truth About Publisher’s Clearing House

January 16, 2012

Few companies have entered the popular culture the way Publishers Clearing House has.

National Lampoon parodied its mailing pieces. TV comics made fun of its line, “You may have already won.” Then there were the videos of the sweepstakes winners. Some new millionaires screamed. One woman ran away when presented with her benediction, as writer Diane Cyr put it.

Along the way, PCH revolutionized the magazine subscription business with its stampsheet mailings. Then it was hit with an “avalanche of negative publicity and lawsuits,” mostly over its direct mail copy.

All this—and more—is described in a book by Darrell Lester: “The Naked Truth About Publishers Clearing House.” Lester, a former senior vice president at PCH, covers the entire history of the firm, from its kitchen-table startup days to its troubles in the 1990s.

“I spent 30 years at this company and have more insider knowledge of the internal workings, decision making process, history, and personnel at PCH than any other person alive,” Lester said in a publicity statement. “I even reveal many comic tales of the playful management team as well as fun-filled antics of the Prize Patrol, including the provocative incident of one very shocked, towel-clad prizewinner that I feature on the cover of the book.”

PCH has survived by adapting. As for Lester’s book, you can read it as a cautionary tale, or simply as a colorful story. I prefer the latter.

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