Monthly Archives: July 2006

Summer of Discontent

Good grief.

If you’ve been following politics lately — and that would require ignoring the larger stories (including the gnarly potential of skewed weather to turn our lives into a bad sci-fi film sometime over the next year or so) — then you must be aware of the heated battle currently going on in Washington for our souls.

I am no longer surprised by the aggressive stupidity, unabashed greed and sniveling cowardice of the scurvy mob pretending to run this country. Both parties and their leaders are deservedly getting historic low approval ratings from the populace. (This crop of politicos are making used car salesmen and lawyers look good.)

But I AM surprised — and very much depressed — by the “whatever” attitude of voters.

I’m a fool for doing so (because it eats at my gut), but I’ve been a lifelong reader of “letters to the editor” of local news rags. I’ve moved a lot in my life, living in both major metro areas and isolated little burgs… and the best way to judge the local zeitgeist is to see what the letter writers have to say about things.

It’s a slow process, because the most motivated people to write are harboring deep simmering rage against humanity and city hall. The wing-nuts will dominate the letters section on any given day. You have to be patient — sooner or later, they will trod on someone’s sense of fair play or justice, and then the less neurotic folks will chime in.

Over a few months, you can get a good read on the temperment of the locals.

The genius of the Founding Fathers comes to light when you get a full frontal taste of what some of your neighbors consider good public policy. Back when I was in college, we used to regularly offer people a copy of the Bill of Rights (freedom of speech, restrictions on search and seizure, etc) — minus any identifying titles, and ask them if they thought Americans should adopt these kinds of rules.

Almost without exception, very likeable and very nice people would insist that everything in the Bill of Rights sounded like a communist plot, and the country would collapse if such rules were instigated. Even other college students didn’t recognize their own Bill of Rights.

It was scary.

And it hasn’t changed.

I’ve been reading newspapers from several different cities over the past few months… Washington DC, San Francisco, New York, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, Miami… and I see a thread of common thought that sends fresh chills up my spine.

This surveillance thing the government (through the NSA) has been conducting on citizens? Tapping the phones of millions of people (and possibly a lot more than “just a few million)? The general reaction of the populace reminds of what we heard over and over again as hippies back in the late sixties/early seventies: If you’re not doing anything bad, then you have nothing to fear.

Surveil away, FBI man!

All this leaves me severely disgruntled.

I no longer wish that, one day, a wave of honest patriotism will sweep the joint, and droves of regular people will take a curious peek at the Bill of Rights. Just a peek.

It’s not gonna happen. The majority has been opiated into walking slumberland with bad TV and computer-generated isolation. (There has never been a time like now in our history where most people live where every single neighbor thinks and votes exactly like them. The creation of gated communities and gerrymandered subdivisions in the suburbs has turned us into a nation of tiny islands, where dissent is muffled and rare.)

And it’s true that the FBI would be bored shitless tapping most people’s phone lines.

But here’s the rub: The “red meat” that motivates the most active political movements are not restricted by any kind of common sense.

The majority — the bored, clueless masses whose worst crime against the state is occasionally speeding on the freeway — neither understands nor appreciates why some people just cannot conform and “go with the flow”. The laws that restrict the rebellious souls among us seldom affect the contented middle class.

And yet… protecting the rebellious and the non-conforming minorities was exactly WHY the Bill of Rights was created. It’s what makes this country work. It’s why we’re the place people wanna migrate to.

For cryin’ out loud, it’s the reason entrepreneurism thrives here.

I refer to my college-era self as a hippie, but really I was just a long-haired slacker. We were unmotivated by money, mostly because our long hair prevented us from securing a real job. Hard to imagine today, when you’re being served fast food by kids with mohawks and tatoos… but back then, you needed a crew cut to get a gig at Radio Shack.

The national mood was: Conform, or starve.

We found ways not to starve — communal living helped — and actually enjoyed living outside the mainstream. I didn’t watch television for ten years, and didn’t own a car for five. When I did own a car — a beautifully beat-up ’62 Impala, with bench seats you could camp out on — I learned to build in time each weekend, while on a date, for being pulled over by the cops. The grubby car, long hair, and insouciant attitude they expected (and got) was enough to warrant a warrantless search.

My “straight” friends found this difficult to believe. And actually refused to believe it, in fact. I knew African Americans back in Los Angeles when I was a rookie writer there who talked about being pulled over for a DWB — “driving while black”. Most white folks insisted on believing they were kidding, or exaggerating.

They weren’t.

And yet, for most Americans, the concept of being harrassed, searched, and bullied by authority merely because The Man doesn’t like the way you look… remains an absurd notion.

If we weren’t doing anything wrong, why should we fear a quick, friendly rousting by the constables?

Look — maybe you’re the type who is so vanilla that you wouldn’t mind the government putting a camera in your bedroom. You have nothing to be afraid of, because you’re “normal” and content to conform to whatever social norm Dr Phil says you should conform to.

So look at it from a business point of view: The large corporate powers love conformity. In their perfect world, every soft drink machine dispenses only Coke and Pepsi products, every store is a Wal-Mart or Target, and every radio station;s playlist is dictated by headquarters.

Pirates and ne’er-do-wells and rebels who make waves are not welcome or tolerated.

Tyranny begins when a frightened populace cedes freedoms in exchange for security. The Founding Fathers knew this, and did their best to cork that bottle tight. With the Bill of Rights.

This NSA surveillance program is bullshit, and a naked power grab by a government who can’t balance a budget.

This nonsense goes hand-in-hand with efforts to rein in the Web and put it under corporate control — so it’s “safer” and doesn’t frighten the grandmas and horses.

I am disgruntled, disillusioned and just irritably hot this summer. I don’t want to live out a bad sci-fi movie where The Man controls everything and the world disintegrates into nightmare.

Sometimes you have to stand up and risk getting pulled over for not conforming.

Sometimes, real democracy requires waking up, and finally telling the Bozo’s “No — you cannot get away with this bullshit any more.”

Sometimes, the need for action comes at very inconvenient times, and harshes your mellow.

This summer — whether you’re a conservative, liberal or independent — if you’re not riled up, you’re not paying attention.

Okay, I’m done.

Thanks for letting me rant.

Try to stay frosty.

John Carlton
www.marketingrebel.com

P.S. Need help finding a copy of the Bill of Rights? Try www.constitution.org.

Behind The Curve

I see Google is messing with our minds again.

The details are unimportant, in the grand scheme of things. (They’re on a vendetta against “little web sites” that use lots and lots of key words in Adword campaigns… meaning, if you’re an entrepreneur using Google to direct loads of cheap traffic to your name squeeze — so you can build up a big damn list to hit with offers — you’ve just had the rug pulled out from under you. Terms you used to buy for a nickel are now ten bucks, minimum.)

You can get the blow-by-blow from people with better “geek” credentials than I have. I know my friends Perry Marshall and John Reese, for example, are already on the case.

What’s more interesting to me is the back story. Throughout my career, I’ve seen businesses go through what I call the “Slow Suicide Cycle” — they start out with all the best intentions, make good money, get too big to be a “small operation” anymore… and start hiring outsiders to manage things.

Next step: A corporate command chart, and lots of people in suits with MBAs and law degrees swarming the halls.

These “suits” know how to play the corporate game. They live and breath “The Art of War” and consider even the most vicious Macheavellian move fair play.

Like cockroaches taking over your kitchen, they will soon climb to the top of the corporate ladder, edging out everyone with an drop of entrepreneurial or salesman’s blood in their veins.

I’ve seen it happen to the best clients in the world. One day they’re operating like a greased machine… and the next day, everything stops while the new suits in charge conspire to remold the biz into something they’re more comfortable with.

These new ideas are often utterly screwy and destined to fail. Fearful of risk, they murder sales in the process.

The boys behind Google were idealists at first. Serve the greater good and all that.

No more. Locked in a death-battle with their competition, they opened the gates to the MBAs and bean-counters. (And Yahoos recent stock slide — courtesy of their clueless bean counters and too-fearful suits — only serves as a warning to Google not to relax in their head-long rush to total corporate invulnerability.)

It will only get worse for the “little guy”.

Beware. And prepare.

What’s more… if your entire empire has come crumbling down because your Adwords campaigns have been eviserated… then shame on you.

First, you should have long ago diversified your marketing efforts (including going off-line). I’m not sure if the Tactic7 teleseminars are still posted, but if they are, go there now and fill in the gaps. Fast. Your house is burning down, and those downloads have the “flame repellant” info you desperately need. (www.tactic7.com)

Second, consider how you GOT into this dire position. If you purchased the concept of your business model from someone, then what you’re doing is, essentially, “licensing” someone else’s brain. Good for you for making so much money in the meantime… but now that the game has been suspended (maybe temporarily, maybe forever), you need to take stock.

The guru’s you learned your tricks from will have to figure out how to fix this latest Google mess… test it, perfect it… make their own fresh fortune with the new tactics… and THEN they’ll share it with you again. It might cost you. But you can bet they’re on it.

For me, entrepreneurism has never been about finding new ways to be dependent on someone else, though. Being an entrepreneur, rather, is the opposite — it’s all about being independent.

When you’re dependent, you’re behind the curve. You’re waiting for someone else to six the problem and find a new path, so you can follow.

When you’re independent, you’re the first one out of a burning building. And the first to land on your feet, ready to conquer new territory. Dependent on no one. Agile, and ready to move without waiting for instructions.

That’s why I’ve been teaching copywriting all these years with a vengance. In my long career, I’ve seen devastating inflation, repetitive recessions, several wars, stock market crashes and the complete collapse of established American institutions (like the Savings and Loan industry, and most of the airline industry).

Your Bag of Tricks begins with the basics: Killer salesmanship, savvy marketing chops, and the ability to craft a sales pitch that brings in money.

Everything else comes after. New technology — including Google — only works when you have those 3 basics down cold first.

No matter what else happens during this latest Web shakedown… as the dust clears, those marketers who come out in good shape will do so using salesmanship, marketing know-how, and copy.

Especially copy.

I’m not gonna pitch my material here. Most of you already have it… and if you don’t yet… well, do what you like. Those of us with bottom-heavy Bags of Tricks are actually licking our chops over the opportunities spilling out of this latest Web chaos.

If, to date, you’ve been under an illusion that you’re an entrepreneur… when, in reality, you’ve just been “leasing” someone else’s brain storms… it’s time to get hip.

It’s fun making money with a technology tactic.

But it’s more fun actually becoming a real entrepreneur. This is what I do. If you’ve been putting off giving my stuff a “look see”, then perhaps it’s time: www.marketingrebel.com

Stay frosty.

John Carlton
www.marketingrebel.com

Eve of Destruction

I was born around the time of the Korean War… had just settled into sixth grade when Kennedy was shot (and learned to “Duck and Cover” to suvive the coming nuclear holocaust the year before)… entered high school just as Vietnam became my generation’s crucible… and yada yada yada.

Been there, felt the fear, lived with anxiety.

If today’s news has you in a tizzy, take at least some comfort in the knowledge that the modern world has ever been thus — crazy, unpredictable, and lethal.

Maybe we’ve really done it this time — broken the fragile threads holding civilization together, and begun the unravelling that will end with chaos and darkness.

Or maybe not. I can’t begin to count the number of times, just in my lifetime, where any logical examination of the worldwide situation led to total angst and depression.

Fortunately, humans aren’t all that logical.

Sometimes, denial comes to our rescue.

As a citizen of the globe, I sincerely hope we can get this mangled train back on the tracks. I clearly remember when things were just as bad, or even worse. Cuba had nukes in our backyard once. Russia had enough munitions aimed at us to obliterate the continent twelve times over… and we would have toasted them even more severely.

The gnarliness of today’s rage and devastation has a long, unbroken history.

As a marketer — and yes, it seems silly to talk about business in the same breath as discussing annilihation — I just have to pass on some advice: Life goes on.

Hope may buckle and hide… but everyone still has deep desires and needs.

I’m not saying you should talk about current events in your sales pitch… but you should at least acknowledge that the rationale behind your prospect’s life philosophy may have gone through some recent alterations.

People need a reason to buy. If they come up with a good reason to put it off, they will. The sturm und drang of the world situation will cause some to hide under the covers as much as possible.

However — illogical, deep-in-denial creatures that we are — we may just as easily decide, what the hell, let’s buy that big-ticket item we’ve been putting off so long.

Or, in between nightmares of Huns at the gate, your prospect may have dreams of change… and finally be in the right space to risk going after his long-suppressed desire to start a biz, or learn to sing, or get a job in a foriegn land.

Recent studies show that Americans are more isolated than ever. A generation ago, the average Joe had several people he confided in about stuff. Today — he’s lucky to have ONE person close to him.

Online, you may have become part of his support structure… even for a short time. You are someone he wants to communicate with, because you share his passions.

If so, get back into the conversation that caught his attention in the first place.

No matter what you’re selling, or what services you offer… it’s up to you to help your prospects understand that you’re part of his “grid”. Someone worth listening to, someone to trust, someone who will share good info and offer genuine insight.

We’re all feeling a little more alone than usual today. The news sucks. Half the world has gone bonkers… and is actively seeking the ability to burn the other half of the world to the ground.

You’re supposed to feel nervous. It’s a nervous time for everybody.

Just don’t give up. It has also been my experience that — when things really heat up — heroes with cooler heads often step forward and take control. The turmoil will not resolve itself overnight… but somewhere in the collective unconscious, the right people are feeling the urge to flex their “let’s cut the crap and solve things” muscles.

That’s how we’ve survived many a disaster so far.

In the meantime… stay frosty.

John Carlton
www.marketingrebel.com

The Relief Of Failure

A lot of the stuff I write about is filled with personal stories. Coming from a large extended family of killer story-tellers, I learned long ago to avoid being boring at all costs — as a kid at dinner, if the first words out of my mouth didn’t get everyone’s attention, I’d be instantly interrupted and never get my story out at all.

That’s good training. Brutal and humiliating… but good.

It’s also no guarantee I won’t occasionally bore the living hell out of you. To me, every story I tell is fascinating and crammed with lessons… or I wouldn’t bother telling it.

Still, sometimes it’s hard to listen to a guy go on about things that happened last century. Our culture has zero respect for history, and the youth-orientation of our media and markets reinforces the nonsensical notion that “new is good”.

I gotta tell you: It ain’t always good.

So, here I am, once again, about to regale you with tales from my own case files. Just remember: I have a point.

This one’s about failure.

I remember, probably way too clearly, my first “big” failure. I’ve failed at things all my life — you can’t learn to walk without falling down — but this time, I’d gone out of my way to try to accomplish something… and failed.

That was new.

It was senior year of high school. My best pal, Art, and I were going out with girls from another high school… and learned that they were having this big senior talent show. Sounded like wicked good fun… so Art and I decided to organize one ourselves.

Let me tell you — it’s not like the old movies, where the neighborhood kids decide “hey gang — let’s put on a show!”, and everything falls into place.

Long story short (you’re welcome): After a month of not knowing the first thing about putting on a talent show… and dealing with almost daily nightmares from sobbing talentless wannabe’s and cruel “it’s all about me” ego cases… the show was a few days away from “opening”, and an imminent disaster.

I was a wreck. Rumors were flying, and one of my teachers took me aside and suggested we call it off. I hadn’t considered that possibility. Art and I made a quick decision to do just that, returned the money for advance ticket sales… and each heaved a big sigh of relief.

That was the operative emotion: Relief.

Later in life, I got kicked upstairs in a job, and spent a summer working 80-hour weeks trying to keep a corporate train wreck from happening. I was overwhelmed, exhausted and dreaming of running away.

Then, happy day, the marketing veep took me aside and fired me. He apologized, because he knew I’d been single-handedly keeping disaster at bay… but because the project was a little late, bonuses for the other executives were forfeited. Someone’s head had to roll.

My response: Relief.

Not too long after that, my psycho girlfriend dumped me. I suggest every young man go through the crucible of having a psycho girlfriend — it’s great training for understanding human nature. And I guarantee you — you will never forget those particular lessons. Never.

Again: A pang or two of heartache, but mostly relief.

Why am I dredging up these memories of relief and failure?

To illustrate a trap: By the time I was ready to get serious about my freelance career, I had to face up to an inconvenient fact — I had been rewarding myself for failure.

And it had to stop.

As a professional freelance copywriter, I suspected that failing wouldn’t be good for my reputation. I saw other writers fail consistently — missing deadlines, turning in inferior work, creating obstacles to getting the job done.

So, I made a simple vow: Failure was no longer an option.

I studied my former responses. That relief was really just an “emotional pardon”… I had still failed. I just allowed myself not to get too worked up about it.

I let myself off the hook.

As a pro, I decided that wasn’t gonna cut it. There’s an old Zen concept about “trying” to do anything. You can’t “try” to eat a sandwich, for example — you either are chewing and swallowing, or you’re not. It’s the same with everything else. You can’t “try” to quit smoking — you’re either a smoker, fooling yourself… or you’re a non-smoker now. No middle ground.

So I wasn’t going to “try” to succeed. I just would. Every failure became nothing more than another step toward getting the job done right. If I was facing a difficult writing project, I padded the deadline with extra time — time to fail, fix the failure, and get closer to success… while still making the deadline.

My past failures had been excused by everyone around me. Quitting was understandable. It was clear that few others would have succeeded where I had muddled. Life is tough. Sometimes you screw up.

Well, bullshit.

Almost all the failure in my life has been from my own initial failure to pursue all possible actions until I found the right answer. The talent show presented problems — so what? There were experienced teachers I could have consulted with, and drama students who had some idea of how to work the back-stage of an event.

Instead, I ran into problems… and just effectively sat down and cried in my root beer. It was a weak plea for help.

The only “help” that arrived from this passive wishing was the advice to quit.

Lesson: Never expect the universe to hand you the answers on a silver platter. You gotta knock, ask and seek, dude.

As for getting fired… well, while I never contemplated suicide, I certainly was busy killing myself with overwork. Why was I shouldering all the responsibility, and ignoring the gathering storm clouds from upper management about heads rolling?

Getting out of that bad situation was the right course of action. Looking back, there was nothing more I could have done to make that dysfunctional situation work.

Instead of waiting for the axe like a good little soldier… I should have resigned. Today, I would, in a heartbeat. I had all the responsibility and zero control over the situation. It was, essentially, a set-up.

However, as a freelancer, I DO have control over even dysfunctional clients. I AM the bottom line… so if things need changing, I’m the guy to introduce those changes and get them working. It’s a cop-out to blame the client, and leave my post as the “go to” guy on any project.

I love that kind of responsibility.

And I haven’t “failed” in twenty years. Sometimes an ad will bomb… but only because we (collectively, the client and I, the writer) had to get through that bomb on the path to success.

If I was offered a project I suspected had no chance in hell of success… I passed on it. I let the client know my thoughts, warned them as best I could… and moved on.

Not to avoid failure. I’m not afraid of failure anymore. I’ve just put it in context — any single failure is just a blip on the path to real success.

Huge difference.

It’s all about acquiring the confidence of knowing how the game is played. In this case — advertising and marketing. The professional attitude (to quote Larry The Cable Guy) is “Get ‘er done.” It’s really that simple — when you take a job, you take on that clietn’s problem to solve.

As for the psycho g.f. — well, like many young men, I was simply an emotional coward. I wanted out of the relationship long before she pulled the plug. What kept me from bolting? I actually DID call it off a few times… but always crawled back when she called. I didn’t possess the ability to follow through.

Failure isn’t bad. Most people live it, and seem to survive.

But simple survival is a long way from enjoying life to the fullest.

I know of NO ONE who is passive, and in control of their life.

You are not a pinball, waiting helplessly for a flipper to whack you in a new direction. You have complete access to the controls of your life. You can write the entire script for your own movie.

You da man.

But only if you step up. And stop letting relief be your operative emotion. Success requires moments of discomfort and risk.

Oddly enough, once you get a taste for it, discomfort and risk make for a very tasty meal.

Stay frosty.

John Carlton
www.marketingrebel.com


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