“You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave…” (Eagles, “Hotel California”)
Today, let’s explore a little-discussed part of running a biz…
… using a couple of enlightening (and very brief) anecdotes from my recent (and continuing) “Adventures With Hotels”.
Let’s call this lesson: The Faded Lady and the Trump.
With all due apologies to Disney’s classic dog-romance movie, of course.
See if you can spot how the following short story applies to YOUR business…
Each of the last two weekends found me in different cities, staying in hotels I booked online, sight-unseen.
In Sin City, it was the splendiferous Trump International Hotel Las Vegas.
In San Francisco, the once-famous, now-infamous Cathedral Hill Hotel.
Now, the Trump joint was built with luxury in mind. Shiny, tall, imposing building with huge well-apportioned rooms and super-modern equipment like elevators and art.
As a “product”, the building was great. (Though it seems idiotic not to have any gambling on the premises, as a wanna-be “player” in the Las Vegas scene. I heard that Trump got skunked on getting his gambling license, but that’s not the spin the staff offered. “We just didn’t want gambling here,” is what they said, unconvincingly.)
Great price for the rooms, too. (Most likely because of the lack of casino amenities and dearth of unit sales, which turned it from condo to hotel.)
I have complaints about the joint… but not because of the room, the rate, or the basic delivery of stuff like air conditioning, clean water, nice beds, etc. (In fact, their pillow-top beds are amazing to sleep in. Like being cuddled by angels.)
Now, back in SF, it was a completely different situation.
We hosted a gathering of writers, affiliates, and other mucky-mucks at the Cathedral Hill Hotel because we wanted to treat everyone to an evening with the world-renown “Beer Chef“, who puts on fabulous dinners there once a month. (You can read more about Bruce Paton’s unique meals at www.beer-chef.com. )
You want the “Beer Chef”, you deal with Cathedral Hill. (And yes, we very much wanted his magic. He creates these shockingly-tasty gourmet meals there, with each course matched by a local micro-brew beer instead of boring old wine. It’ll knock your socks off, even if you aren’t well-versed in pilsners, ales and lagers.)
We also started the day off with an afternoon-long brainstorm session in the hotel’s main meeting room. (I’m sure you caught some of the updates on Twitter from the luminaries and stars in attendance.)
… none of us had ever stayed at the hotel.
And while it has a storied past (well-chronicled in San Francisco lore), it has, alas, fallen on hard times.
Culminating in being bought out a short time ago and scheduled for the wrecking ball.
We made the most of it. The stories and jokes we all shared about our rooms and experiences in the hotel are howlingly funny…
… but still, as a “product”, there’s no getting around the fact that the building was in serious disrepair.
Sort of like a once-beautiful lady who has fallen on hard times, and ended up sacked-out in a filthy alley, soused with cheap booze and a reputation heading south at light speed.
The price was actually a red flag: You cannot stay in the city, in a decent room, for anywhere near the rate Cathedral Hill was asking.
Kind of like seeing an ad for a luxury Caribbean Cruise in the paper for five bucks. It sort of sets off your early-warning alarm. (Five bucks and your kidney, maybe.)
So… while no one got robbed, or found a dead hooker in their room… Continue reading
“There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.” (Ansel Adams)
I grew up in a photo-loving family.
Pop still has his trusty Kodak folding camera — a true antique now — and I cannot yet bring myself to dig through that box in the garage with all my old cameras (cuz I know it’s time to start assigning them new fates somewhere else).
I swear to you I still have a box of Polaroid film in the butter drawer of the fridge. Might even be the last batch they ever made (and R.I.P. Polaroid, dear departed friend).
Mom was the photo archivist of the family, and even as other families gravitated toward 16mm film, I retained a purist’s preference for the snapshot over the home movie.
(Side note: I remember meeting someone 20 years ago who mentioned that they were on video from the moment of their birth, and it was unsettling.
Now, it’s rare to meet anyone under the age of 30 who isn’t cataloged on film through their entire childhood. I can’t even imagine watching myself being born. I have a hard time watching old seminar footage of me from ten years ago, for cryin’ out loud.
Anyone out there hauling around a library of self-referenced film with them? What’s it like?)
I believe I fell in love with photography the moment I saw my first photograph… and realized it was actually a moment in time captured forever.
And I formed some very intense ideas about what makes a “good” photograph as a third-grader thumbing through the still-amazing stack of Nazi photos Pop brought home from his stint as a rifleman during WWII.
(There’s no way to tell for sure, but those two dozen shots seem to be a German officer’s front-line cache of “Here’s what I did during the War” snapshots. Fascinating subject material that forced us to imagine what the story actually was behind those uniformed men… especially the one with the open bullet wound in the dorsal lat.)
As I grew up, I would become captivated by very few photos in the piles coming back from the drugstore of family and friends and pets and outings.
I never questioned why I found those few snapshots so iconic.
Later, one of my first jobs in advertising was overseeing the photography for a computer supply catalog every quarter.
That job meant gathering all the equipment (cables, monitors, furniture, floppies, etc) and spending a week or so with a professional photographer in Palo Alto trying to make plastic crap look good.
(I won’t bore you with the hassle that pre-digital photography presented — the need to refrigerate film, manually load it, and nurture it like a fragile duck egg until it could be color-separated and made “camera-ready”, which means ready for the printer to fuss with during the offset process of applying wave after wave of ink until the correct color was achieved.)
(Okay, sorry, I think I just bored you there.)
Anyway… I learned a lot about the technical aspects of photography (like using mashed potatoes as a substitute for ice cream, cuz the real treat wouldn’t survive under the required hot lights for a good shot).
Pro photographers in the ad field earned big bucks. They knew the voodoo.
But you know what?Continue reading
I just fielded a GREAT question in the Marketing Rebel Radio Rant coaching club Forum… and I liked my answer so much, I decided to share it here with everyone else. (It’s an excellent “taste” of the quality of info/advice/insight you get in that club, too.)
One of the “forum rats”, as we affectionately refer to each other, posted the question that is on the mind of most business owners’ when they first encounter the concept of “learning” to write their own copy.
Essentially, that question is this: “Really, why should I bother to learn the skills of writing copy at all?
When you look around at the mega-wealthy, they OWN things and manage from the top.
Like a crime boss. They want someone hit, they send out Guido.
Hard to imagine Donald Trump chewing a pencil, coming up with a dozen new headlines.
So… why bother to learn copy, if your dreams are big? Wouldn’t that time be better spent playing Monopoly-style biz boss, amassing property and holdings and moving and shaking?
And just hire the best writers to do your copywriting work?”
And here is my answer:
You ask a very good question. It’s so good, in fact, that it mimics exactly how I’ve been postioning my copywriting course lately in seminars.
My general message is this: Sure, you can (and probably will, in some cases) end up hiring writers to do the bulk of the writing for you as you grow your biz.
However, just as a crime boss hires hit men to do the dirty work… chances are, the boss still knows HOW to do the hit himself… and probably spent mucho time in his “rise to power” days actually doing just that. (Very Shakespearean, these modern crime lords.)
Same with biz.
ALL the top multi-millionaire marketers I know — from Jay Abraham to Dan Kennedy, from Eben Pagan to Frank Kern, from Rich Schefren to Mike Filsaime — know how to write killer copy.
And, for the most part, they still handle the important jobs themselves. Even though they may hire out the less-than-critical projects. (Eben — who will gross tens of millions this year — recently spent weeks sequestered, alone, in his home office pounding out copy for his recent launch. Wrote every word himself.)
The reason for this is fundamental: If you don’t know how to write good copy, how will you be able to JUDGE whether whoever you hire has done a good job?
If you are clueless, you’ll be at the mercy of your freelancers. You won’t understand what’s needed, you won’t know if the copy submitted is any good, you won’t be able to set real deadlines… you’re just a babe in the woods, vulnerable and potential lunch for every predator who catches your scent. (And even good, ethical writers will take advantage of you, because it’s so easy. Never forget that the writer/client relationship is inherently hostile — each person wants the best deal for themselves, and wants to do as little work/pay as little money for the process as possible. It’s the nature of the world.)
Just like a crime boss who has no idea how hits happen. The freelance killers he hires (if they know he’s clueless) will jack him around, take forever, botch the job, etc. It’s the stuff that built the Sopranos lore. Remember: Tony did his own hits, when he wanted it done right. (Like offing his cousin.)
There is NO other skill in biz more important than writing copy.
Show me a CEO who doesn’t understand advertising (which is built around the copy), and I’ll show you a screw-up about to tank the stock. He may get the recognition, but he’s utterly dependent on whoever he has doing the actual marketing… and his entire existence rests on the competence/incompetence of that hired dude behind the scenes.
Shudders all around. Sleepless nights. Ulcers and early death.
But hey — he didn’t “waste” any valuable time learning how to write copy.
Same with politics. The guys who rock as politicians write most or all of their own speeches. The hacks hire it out, oblivious of how embarrassing and exposed they become when their ghost writers put the wrong words in their mouths. (Plus, they get that “deer in the headlights” look whenever they face the press without a script.)
You ever see an actor on his own in an interview? Fielding tough, unexpected questions, they reveal that they are not even close to being as witty, or charming, or smart as the characters they play.
The power of writing has never been proven more important than the way network and cable television has nearly shut down entirely due to the current writer’s strike. Leno, Letterman, Stewart, Colbert, et al, are funny dudes… but they rely on writers to provide the bulk of their show’s wit. (Slight twist here: All those guys COULD write their own stuff, if they had the time, though. They are all seething bastards when it comes to judging the quality of their hired writers, because they know what they want. Thus, they produce high-end shows that rock. But pay attention: During free-form interviews, they are on their own, and they’re “writing” their own witty, funny stuff AS THEY TALK. This, too, is writing copy, even though there’s no typing involved. When you understand HOW to write what you need, you eventually get good enough to write it in your head as you talk. You become a living, breathing copy-producing monster.)
No copy, no action. It really is that simple.
Operation MoneySuck demands that you spend your precious (and very limited) time honing your most important chops. And yes, amassing the outside fortifications of larger and more efficient businesses is important… but they will crumble without the foundational support of killer copy. (All the largest mailers in the world — Rodale, Phillips, Agora — were started by people who understood and wrote copy. Some have stumbled along the way, whenever non-writers gained control and lost sight of basic salesmanship. Great lesson there.)
Copy is salesmanship-in-print. Selling is what you do. The largest and most efficient business is just an empty shell if it cannot sell what it produces.
Learn the craft.
P.S. One last point: The idea that you can just hire the “best” writers to do your copy has a big hole in it.
Because, the “A List” of top writers is only around two-dozen names long. And they are all pretty much booked through eternity. No amount of moolah can get them to write for you, until you start offering partner-sized equity in your biz.
The “B List” of writers are also booked solid, most of the time. If you intend to pay for your most important copy, you may as well hook up an umbilical cord from the writer to your bank account… because you’re gonna pay a LOT (even if you can’t find an “A List” writer to do your job).
Worse — there’s a mob of untested, unproven, and weak-skilled freelancers out there masquerading as grizzled professionals… charging huge bucks to write lame-ass copy.
So you can’t tell from their fees how good they are.
You can shell out gold for peanuts… unless you know how to judge good copy.
The only way to do that: Learn the craft.
Don’t make me come down there…
Well, happy new year to y’all.
Are we having fun yet?
I was kinda hoping my first blog post of this brand-spankin’ new year would be a positive one, full of good tidings and all that.
But I waited too long. One week into aught-seven, and the fur is flying already.
So my first post is on… Continue reading