Writing Letters and Getting Free Stuff

It is a pretty standard assignment that everyone has to complete around the elementary school age. For me, it happened in the fifth grade. My teacher, Ms. Heimbigner, took a couple days to teach us how to write business letters. At the culmination of the lesson, she gave each of us in the class the task of taking what we taught and actually writing a letter to the business of our choice. Because I had a friend in the class who was obsessed with Coca-Cola and that was the company he was writing to, I decided to write to Pepsi. I wrote my letter and dropped it in the mailbox, not knowing at the time that it was the start of a little obsession.
Roughly two weeks later I got home from school and on our kitchen table in front of where I always sat was a large, bulging manila envelope. The envelope was adorned with the Pepsi logo and it was addressed to “Mr. Brent R” (pretty cool to be called “Mr.” when you are only eleven years old). I opened the envelope and discovered a Pepsi t-shirt, a couple Pepsi pens, and a neatly typed out letter on Pepsi stationary that thanked me for writing and that answered the lame questions I had asked in the letter that I sent. It felt cool that one of the world’s largest and most successful companies had taken time to write me back and send me free stuff.
The quick response and the freebies from Pepsi appealed to me. To understand this, you really just have to know my personality and how I can be a sucker for the stupidest things. Before that time of receiving the letter from Pepsi and still to this day, I have always participated in gimmicky type promotions/sweepstakes. Before I reached out to Pepsi I searched garbage cans for soda caps, collected popsicle sticks for a summer, spent my change on baseball card packs in hopes of getting a special card that would send me to the All-Star game, begged everyone I knew for their McDonalds’ Monopoly pieces, saved Hershey candy wrappers, and participated in many more contests that never really paid off for me. Although I did not get anything massive from Pepsi like I would have if I won one of these major sweepstakes, I did get something. And something is better than nothing, especially when the time and effort is minimal. A new little hobby for me was born.
Taking the tools that Ms. Heimbigner taught me, I started writing to more companies. My format was always the same. I would introduce myself/explain who I was, kiss ass on how much I loved the company, ask a couple questions to seem like I was interested, and then make a shameless request for a t-shirt or other type of memento. The formula pretty much never failed. Most companies have policies requiring them to write back to customers, so as you can guess I started to receive a lot of mail. I would go from one industry to the next. One week it might be pizza delivery places, the next it would be ice cream places, the next it would be bottled water companies. I am not kidding. T-shirts, water bottles, key chains, pens, stickers, stationary, coupons, and more rolled in on a constant basis. My parents shook their heads and told me I was being dishonest but I don’t think they really cared.
As I said, this was a hobby for me…not a fad. By the time I got to college, I was still writing to companies. However, my taste had changed a little bit. Instead of pizza and ice cream, I was writing to Las Vegas hotels, professional sports teams, and TV networks.  I actually think by this time I started to receive mail even quicker and at a better rate than back in the earlier days. With e-mail and other technology, the good old-fashioned letter delivered by the U.S. Postal Service became less common. Thus, when a company received a letter in the mail that actually looked like someone took time and effort to craft, they felt a need to respond to that person. Being the nerdy stats guy that I am, I kept a spreadsheet on my computer that listed every company I wrote to with the date I sent the letter and the date that I heard back from them. Not only did the spreadsheet keep me from sending a letter to the same company twice, it gave me feedback on who was really into customer service.
Looking back at the spreadsheet that I still have (started it my freshman year of college) combined with all the letters I wrote before, I have probably received close to 300 pieces of mail from various companies across the United States. If I wanted, I could dress myself in a wardrobe provided solely by corporate America.
I have since retired this silly practice. Call it karma, but once I got hired at my current job, I began to be on the other side of the equation. I constantly receive in my mailbox numerous requests for t-shirts, posters, schedule cards, balls, signed memorabilia, etc. Many times, the people who send these requests don’t even try to hide the fact that it is a form letter that they have sent to every other athletic department in the NCAA.  Just like many of the companies I wrote to, we always respond. Good thing I have a lot of interns.
So although I no longer write to companies, I still participate in every promotion/contest that I can (will blog about this one of these days). Just this past Friday I won a local radio station promo that rewarded me with a $20 gift certificate to a restaurant in town. I don’t know what it is about me, I just crave the interaction and the potential for free stuff from established entities. 
If you ever have some extra time on your hands or if you can’t sleep at night, try reaching out to your favorite restaurant or NFL team. If you put some effort into it, they will more than likely recognize you for it. Nothing is better than getting something in the mail. Give it a shot. Don’t Blink.