Archive Monthly Archives: December 2004

Red flags, dodging bullets, and staying focused

Howdy. It’s Tuesday night, a few days away from Amateur Drunk Night (New Year’s Eve)… and I’m thinking about mortality and the brief little ride we’re all given on earth. I’m very pleased with life right now… and, as I’m finding out more and more as I age, it’s not because of anything I’ve done. It’s because of something that hasn’t happened — specifically, I just got a clean bill of health from the doc. Some minor problems with the machinery got my attention last month, and all sorts of red flags went up… but once more I’ve dodged the bullet.
Those of you who have been reading my newsletters for a while know that I led a fairly wild life until I settled down and got serious about writing and bidness. I’ve been in at least three car wrecks where I should have died, and too many of my buddies over the years have died in situations where, by a matter of seconds or inches, they might have skated. Testosterone does funny things to your head, and young men just have to work through the urge to risk and dare and push limits. The lucky ones survive some truly stupid and insane behavior.
And I gotta admit — when you crawl from a ticking wreck, alive and standing despite the blood and torn clothes and smashed glasses, the first thing you want to do is laugh. Because you made it, yet again. And life tastes great when you’ve just brushed up against The Big Black Hole, and walked away grinning.
Young men taunt death, because they lack an intimate understanding of mortality. I now hold life very dear — there’s so much more I need to do before my ticket gets punched — and I find physical risk less attractive than I used to.
The risks I now face each year are much more mundane — cholesterol, blood pressure, psa counts, a suspicious-looking mole. But they’re just as serious as drag racing.
That’s the new hand I’ve been dealt, and I’m playing it hard.
I’m still here. You aren’t rid of me yet, by God.
Side note: As we enter the New Year, in this brave new world of terrorism and genocidal tidal waves and teetering economies, it’s good for your peace of mind to get some perspective. It’s one thing that comes with age, you know — perspective, solely from having logged so many years on the planet.
Well, I’m now over fifty, and those fifty years have been pretty damned interesting. I’ve seen wars begin and end, technologies arrive and collapse, recessions and cultural conflicts and political ideologies come and go.
Why is this relevant? Well, there are a lot of “experts” out there who haven’t been through entire economic cycles yet… or entire pendulum swings in the culture… or the birth and maturation of a technology. Old geezers can come in real handy when you’re panicked over events. Cuz, often, we’ve seen it before. No need to freak out. There are ways to handle almost all of this, and we’ve tried most of ’em.
But you don’t have to rely on geezers. (They can be disagreeable bastards at time.) History isn’t hidden. In fact, it’s laid out in living color for you. As unsettled and scary and unpredictable as the world seems right now… we’ve gone through worse before, and come out fine. There are no guarantees, of course… but if current events (like tsunamis killing tens of thousands and knocking the earth off its axis) have you a little rattled, try reading some history for a reality check. I’m reading about the Crusades right now, back when “getting medieval on your ass” really meant getting medieval.
What you will discover is that it has ever been thus. The world has never been totally at peace, and humans have never gotten along with each other for very long. We didn’t develop our system of law as suggestions for behavior — no, we have laws to punish those who would rock the boat too wildly. When lawlessness rules, as in the Middle Ages, you welcome order and authority. When authority gets too full of itself and starts dragging people to the gallows for minor stuff, you yearn for revolution. There is no safe place where everything is perfect, and never has been. Our culture… and our business world of markets, especially… is in a continual state of flux.
Shit happens, and it happens all the time. Do not let events shake your concentration. Yes, the world may end some day. That doesn’t mean you should abandon your next project. Maybe you don’t want to drop a ton of mail right as the next war starts, and maybe you want to explore a few more “Plan B’s” that include alternate ways to keep bringing results and money and customers when your Standard Operating Procedure gets fried… but don’t give up just because civilization seems ready to implode.
It always seems ready to implode. When I was eight, I was taught to hide under my desk because the Ruskies were gonna drop nuclear bombs on us. I’ve held my breath, along with everyone else, as leaders were assassinated, Black Fridays gutted the stock market, wars went sour, disease raged out of control, and on and on.
Hold on tight. Selling the house and running off to hide in the mountains isn’t your best option yet. There may come a time when it is your best option… but for now, go ahead and plan out your next marketing campaign. If you’ve got a good product — especially an information product — the world needs you.
Stay frosty,
John Carlton

On Giving

Sunday, 10:58pm
Reno, NV
Who’s on first?” (Abbott & Costello.)


Have you read Gary Bencivenga’s latest “bullet” newsletter? It’s at — and the story told there is so uplifting that Gary Halbert reproduced it in his newsletter (

I’m a sap for good inspirational stories. It’s one of the hazards of being in touch with your emotional side, which is absolutely necessary if you want to write world-class copy — hell, I sometimes tear up watching sappy television commercials. Often, it’s the snarly, cynical guys who have the biggest soft spots.

Bencivenga’s story reminded me of something in my own past I’d long forgotten about.

This was in the early seventies, in my college town. A friend asked me to help him coach a kids baseball team — there were no parents available.

This was before the movie “The Bad News Bears” was made, and I believe it’s something that has happened multiple times (and is still happening) all across the country: One team in the league is created to house all the kids the other teams don’t want. The lousy players, the outcasts, the orphans of society.

And then, a coach is lured in, also from the outside. And then the team is taken for granted as a perpetual loser, but everyone can feel good about having “given the little bastards a chance“.

In this case, our team was a true menagerie of mutts. We had a couple of kids who didn’t speak English… several obese kids who couldn’t run to save their lives… a few emotional basket cases who would burst into tears for no reason (this was before the age of heavy medication)… and the only girl in the league.

Make no mistake — as coaches, we were mutts, too.

The other coaches were upstanding parents, still sporting their crewcuts from their glory days as star jocks. They took baseball very seriously.

And there we were, my friend Bob and I — two long-haired hippies in torn jeans and “Up The Establishment” tee shirts. We did, however, share a love of baseball. We’d both played organized hardball through our teens, and knew a bit about the game.

The first practice was a disaster.

Kids showed up with decrepit gloves that fell apart with the first catch, there was rampant crying and hurt feelings, and my feeble Spanish wasn’t cutting it with the ESL kids. And no one was paying the coaches much attention.

It was chaos. Being a nice guy did not have much effect.

So, in frustration, I just decided to screw the nice guy attitude…

… and told the team to take a lap as punishment.

They looked at me in disbelief, and I had to chase them toward the far fences. They got back, huffing and gasping, and I made it clear that we were gonna do laps every time they got out of hand. And I stuck to it, too.

Was I being cruel?

Nope. I was treating them as ballplayers. And, to my astonishment, they loved it. I don’t think too many adults in their lives had set down boundaries before. These kids were, for the most part, treated as losers, and acted like it.

Out of nothing more than frustration, I had accidentally given them a taste of respect — by demanding that they stop acting like losers.

Even when, once the league started, we lost every single game in the first half of the season except the last one. At first, we got blown out…

… and then we started getting closer, even scaring some teams. The fat kids stopped wheezing when they ran, and it turned out the girl had a wicked bat at the plate. And once the emotional kids realized we were going to just ignore their crying jags, they stopped doing them. Mostly. There would be a few tears and sniffles every game, but no one tannted them or paid them extra attention.

It just became no big deal.

And I’m not making this up: The last game of the first half was against the arrogant first-place team… and we beat them by a run.

Our joy was compounded by the humiliation of the jocks in the other dugout.

It got better, too. In the second half of the season, we won most of our games. It wasn’t enough to win the league, as Hollywood would have done it, but the real victory was the change in the kids.

I never once saw any of their parents in the stands for a game, and I wasn’t about to adopt any of them. I had a lot going on in my life, and this was a one-time volunteer thing, a couple of evenings each week. Come summer, I was going to be gone.

To give you an idea of how different a time that was — and how indifferent Bob and I were to social conventions — here is how we celebrated the final game: We brought an ice chest into the dugout. Soda pop for the kids, and beer for the two coaches. And long, heart-felt hugs and slaps on the butt after the last out.

And no tears.

I never saw any of those kids again. I have no idea what became of any of them.

But I remember their faces. I wasn’t such a sap back then, and I wasn’t proud of my effect on them, or even really aware of it. It was a job to be done, once I agreed to do it. A challenge, to get this motley crew of losers in some sort of shape. And, if we could, to beat the sneers off the faces of the other teams.

As a coincidence, I worked as a crisis-intervention counselor for institutionalized teenagers as my next job. It was the only gig my fancy degree in psychology could get me during the Carter recession.

And, just to put things in perspective, I learned fast that the majority of kids who get dealt a bad hand in life don’t get happy endings.

You can try as hard as you can to change some things, and wind up only with a broken heart and dashed illusions. The burn-out rate of adults working with state-owned kids is near to one hundred percent.

Still, you take the little flashes of magic when you can.

Those kids on the baseball team got to experience a few weeks of discipline and the attention of two adults who — no matter how scroungy and off-beat we looked — refused to let them wallow in victimhood. Who knows what curves life threw them after that. Maybe we had no lasting impact whatsoever.

Or maybe we did. When I reflect on the people who were forces of change in my life, it’s clear that major turning points often come as small moments. A casual comment, a fleeting extra lesson, a simple nudge of acceptance.

As adults, as business owners and marketers, we tend to believe we have to be tough as nails all the time. There’s even more pressure to be a rock when you lead others.

And it’s easy to forget just how fragile we are, as humans. We can be brought to our knees by microscopic bugs, rendered destitute by events we never see, decked by the uncontrollable forces of nature, fortune and destiny. And you’re vulnerable no matter how rich, or strong, or important you are.

But it works the other way, too. The power of a short phone call, an unexpected letter, or a visit “just for the hell of it” with someone who’s down can change history.

I’ve advised every writer I’ve worked with to strive to “be that one thing your prospect reads today that gets his blood moving”.

And that’s not bad advice for your personal life, either. Be that one person who is willing to share a moment — no matter how brief — with someone who needs your attention. Unlike business transactions, there may not be instant results.

You may never know what your actions accomplish. And, in truth, you shouldn’t care. You don’t reach out to others because there are rewards. You reach out because you can.

Have a great holiday.

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

Do Yourself A Favor

I just got back from four days in Santa Cruz, about an hour south of San Francisco on the coast. Gorgeous unobstructed view from this hidden little hamlet where we rented a forties-era cottage. We were a hundred feet up on a cliff overlooking the Pacific. The first night, I saw dolphins jumping through the reflection of the moon on the waves.

I used to live in a small beach town, and getting back to the ocean is like visiting a long-lost friend. While the dog played and my Significant Other stuffed her pockets with perfect sea shells, I just stood and watched the surf. The sound of the ocean, to me, is like an ancient voice that’s been droning on about important stuff since the dawn of time.

Four days without a newspaper or television. Very quickly, you can get back your concentration, and start tasting and hearing and feeling things again that the culture has numbed down.
It clears the head.

When I got back to the office, nothing much had changed with the world. The media was hyperventilating over some new bullshit non-crisis, and politicos were spinning like dervishes over the same nonsense they’d been whining/yelling/insinuating about the week before. War and rumors of war were everywhere. And the economy was either back-sliding or going great guns… depending on who was talking.

The din is stunning, when you leave and come back to it.

Now, as a marketer, you gotta go deep into the world of your prospect. I’m amazed that so many rookie marketers try to game the system, by skipping over the inconvenient research details and rushing to send out ads that don’t have a chance of convincing anyone to buy. You gotta read what your audience reads, and think like they think — even if you disagree.

Every niche market has it’s own mini-culture, with its own lingo and it’s own history and it’s own code of honor. Ignore these important details at your peril. Connect your “insider” knowledge with broader knowledge of what’s going on, and you’ll be weighing your profits in buckets. You must become part sociologist, part psychologist, and all-around voodoo salesman to find — and then needle mercilessly — the passionate sweet spot of your prospect. That’s why the best marketers read newspapers and magazines and watch popluar culture television shows. They are hip to what’s happening, and can intelligently talk about it.

You can’t market in a vacuum.

But here’s the kicker: You also can’t market when your brain has been turned to mush by too much popular culture.

Thus: You gotta dis-engage, regularly, and get outa Dodge. Let your grey matter recharge and soften up a bit. Go somewhere you can’t get to a newspaper or magazine easily, and let the dog decide where you’re gonna hike this morning.

The day before I left on my little mini-vacation, I struggled to get through a normal hour’s worth of work in four hours. I was toast. The evening I got back — even after a six-hour marathon drive home — I did four hours worth of work in ninety minutes. And enjoyed it.

A notorious “lifestyle” coach revealed the secret to me long ago — every month, get out of town. Even if you only have two days, do it. You are not doing your bottom line — or your life — any favors by dulling your system with too much work, too little sleep, and a lack of adventure and fun.

And that’s my holiday advice to you. Come January, and you’re looking ahead with a refreshed sense of lust and topped-off tanks of piss and vinegar, you’ll thank me.

Side Note: As many people (a small mob, in fact) have taken the time to observe, I have not been allowing comments on this blog. It’s a time thing — I’m just attempting to lay down a little honest content and info here, and I’m not really looking to start any conversations. So I blocked the comment option.

However… as an experiment… I am allowing comments on this entry. We’ll see what happens. So have at it. I will look over everything that’s said, but I’m making no promises…

Taking Advantage of the PUMP…

Just now finished a two-hour marathon teleseminar, hosted by Michel Fortin (The Copy Doctor). A thousand lines, booked solid, ears slammed against the phone listening to me rant. A riot, contained by technology.

God, it was fun. The main theme was “salesmanship” (or, I suppose, “salespersonship” if you wanna be PC)… but as usual I spent a lot of time on PASSION. I never plan it that way, but my talks and lectures always seem to swing back around to passion — the passion you feel for your product, the passionate sweet spot inside your prospect, the passionate “marketing group hug” that happens with you hook the right market up with the right pitch.

I try to spread a lot of content around when I’m teaching — actual specifics and details and tactics people can write down, and use later on to help their own writing and marketing. I’m never stingy — my “job” as guru is safe, no matter how many secrets I let loose… because my real value as a teacher is my experience. Not the facts I can recite… but the real stories I can tell, illustrating real experience that can have an immediate impact on someone else’s life.

But you know what? The biggest response I get, when teaching, is when I talk about passion. We are all motivated by different things (from a rather small menu of human emotions, it’s true, but most of us have a slightly askew version of each basic motivation)… but we all share the same “fuel” for living life to the fullest: Inspiration. That blissed-out feeling you get in your gut when you immerse yourself in your passion.

It’s magic.

Tonight, I found myself ranting — again — about the lack of excitement in most people’s lives. Like the accountant, whose wife and kids and golfing buddies don’t want to hear about his job. What he does is “boring” to most people. Drop-off-into-a-coma boring.

However, I’ve also been at the same hotel as a convention for accountants… and when they get together to have a beer and chat, they get as impassioned and animated and crazy as teenagers at a Clay Aiken concert. Becasue they SHARE a passion for what they do, for what’s important to them. The rest of the world yawns at them… but by God, among other accountants, they are dashing heroes, saving clients from financial disaster and rescuing fair maidens from the IRS dragon.

That’s your opening, as a marketer. You have a chance, when you zero in on a niche market, to BE that moment of excitement in their life. To share their passion, and let ’em into a new world of others just like them, through your product.

Even the staid old accountant still wants to be the uber-accountant among his peers. He wants to know the hidden secrets, discover what other accountants never discover, and master the things that will bring him money, honor and respect in his field.

Recognition and money. Two of the most powerful appeals there are.

Well, two hours is a long time to talk, and I’m exhausted… yet still wired. I just got to indulge in something I truly love — talking about passionate marketing. I am such a sap. But from the look of the pile of email I’ve just received, the call was a terrific success.

Hey — one side note. I’m not going to do a lot of pitching on this blog, unless it’s relevant. I’m doing some serious end-of-the-year housecleaning here, and having a new geek spiff up my websites… especially, where my main stuff is. Part of that spiffing up is going to include a stiff price hike… so, if you’ve been dithering about, wanting what I offer but not acting for whatever reason… now’s the time to get busy. Come January, and the price of accessing this part of the Insider’s marketing world is going to get more expensive.

Just a friendly nudge…

The View From Action Central

So… I’m on the phone the other day with madman genius Gary Halbert, and we’re shucking and jiving, laughing so hard we’re winded, and then so deadly serious we whisper like spies… talking about life, talking about business, talking about things so far behind the scenes they would cause rookie marketers to swoon with shock. When I finally hang up — and start scribbling notes, cuz we covered some very intriguing ground about making money on the Web — I realize the afternoon is completely blown.

Now, I don’t work very many hours a day — it’s one of the big bonuses of working at home, and knowing the shortcuts after a long career at the top of the game. But those hours I do pull are often filled with amazing adventure for a businessman.

Earlier, I also had long phone chats with Web guru John Reese, David Deutsch (a top writer with 3 current controls for Boardroom), and a couple of other “players” whose names you wouldn’t recognize (but who are movers and shakers nevertheless). I also traded email contact with Bill Glazer (Dan Kennedy’s partner), Michel Fortin (the “Success Doctor”), Gary Bencivenga (probably the most feared pro copywriter alive), and a dozen other mavens, honchos and evil geniuses of the direct response world.

Why am I sharing this? Simple. I suddenly realized that my humble little office here has become a sort of “Action Central”, one of the few connecting pieces in the marketing game where the hottest and most cutting-edge info often flows through first. This is not because I’m special. I’ve just been around a very long time, and I’ve earned the trust and respect of people. I am privy to the hidden marketing world most folks don’t even know exists.

And that’s the reason I’ve started this big damn blog. Every month, I have stuff left over that I wanted to include in my Rant newsletter, but ran out of room. By the time I start writing the next Rant, I’ve got another fresh pile of cool secrets that often bumps whatever I was gonna talk about… and that means the backlog of ideas, stories, and insight just gets bigger.