Commit And Immerse

I’ve been reading a lot lately about brain studies. The Germans and the Dutch are really going to town on this, tracking eye movement on ads and recording brain activity while subjects listen to radio ads.

They aren’t choosing ads as their material to help marketers. They’re choosing ads because advertising is very effective at lighting up the cerebral cortex and amydala and brain stem. Everyone is affected by good ad copy in some way. If they used, say, Moby Dick for their tests, they’d have to make allowances for the unfortunate fact that many people doze off in the presence of a book.

I’m not sure if this makes me proud to be an adman or not… but it sure emphasizes the power of salesmanship. Negative or positive, everyone has a reaction to copy.


This is why it’s so important to learn the “background” secrets behind truly effective copy. As a marketer, you’re not just after a reaction… but a specific reaction. You want an order, or data for a lead, or something positive you can use in whatever wonderous capitalistic enterprise you’re engaged in.

And here’s one of the biggest of those background secrets: It’s all about salesmanship.

Not cleverness, not humor, not whiz-bang pyrotechnics, not ANY of the crap that most advertising indulges in.

Like it or not — and one of my toughest lessons to get across to students is exactly this — you must learn the art of selling something to another human being before you can be a successful marketer or copywriter.

It’s one of the more ellusive interactions to master. Almost anyone can describe their product well enough to get someone to say “Yeah, that sounds nice.” But you have to step up another level to get that same prospect to say “Wow. How can I get me one of those?”

And there is yet another step up to that magical moment when he becomes a customer. When he takes money that was his, and gives it to you. The climax of the sale.

This talent is ellusive, but not difficult to learn once you sit down and start paying attention to the secrets of world-class salesmanship. The first hurdle is to simply get over your fear that becoming a killer salesman will cause demons to start polishing up a chair for you in Hell. Just stop with the foolish fear — learning to sell will not open a Pandora’s Box of evil in your soul.

Instead, you will merely develop a whole new set of skills that allow you to operate in the world with more mastery and more effectiveness. People are sometimes suspicious of salesmanship because they believe it involves mysterious magic. It doesn’t.

In fact, if you truly have something wonderful that people need or want, then shame on you if you ignore your duty to effectively get your message across. Whether it’s a product, a service, or an idea that can save mankind… you still have to sell it before it will be successful.

Remember: The Marketing Graveyard is crammed to bursting with fabulous products and inventions and ideas that died because no one figured out how to sell them to other people.

And this brings me back to what I wanted to post about.

I recently returned from a very long trip where I spoke at two different seminars. Just before I left, however, I considered backing out from one or both of the engagements. I had excellent reasons to cancel, but when you’ve committed to something as a professional, sometimes even excellent reasons aren’t good enough.

Right up until the last minute — and this is VERY uncharacteristic of me ((I’ve never missed a deadline or canceled a speaking engagement in my twenty-year career) — I tried to find a way to somehow meet my obligations… withing having to get on a plane and travel anywhere.

It was a clever but futile effort.

So, a day before leaving, I shifted my mindset away from “how to get out of this”, to Total Committment.

As a professional, you’re either in, or you’re out… and dicking around in the muddy middle will just piss everyone off and result in murderously-bad results.

I didn’t cop an attitude, didn’t mope, didn’t bore anyone with my tales of woe. Instead, I committed to doing the best damn job I was capable of, and… very important… I immersed myself in the projects at hand.

By “immersed”, I mean I rolled up my sleeves and went to work with all the professional tools in my Bag of Tricks. This mental tactic was something I had to learn, early on… because the days of a “hired gun” freelancer are often filled with emergencies and crises and fire drills where everyone else is running around in a panic.

If you’re gonna do your job well, you must be the adult in the room. Calm, in control, mindful of what needs to be done and what CAN be done (given deadlines and other obstables, like financial or manpower shortages).

Then, with clarity and pupose… you DO whatever you can to make the project a success. No matter what.

After a few seasons in the front-line trenches of the advertising world, you’ll be able to rely on your own experiences for your sense of calm and control. Until then, you’ll just have to trust the veterans who are giving you advice.

And trust me on this: Anyone can develop these “adult” tactics.

You just have to learn to commit… and immerse.

You commit by jettisoning all thought of escape, and girding your loins for the coming effort. You’ll need your wits, lots of energy, and whatever resources you require to complete the job. For me, that means paying attention to my need for sleep (I have often taken a nap in the middle of a crisis, to prepare for writing what needed to written) (which freaks out the uninitiated, who can’t believe I’m grabbing 20 z’s while disaster is sniffing at the door)… eating well to keep my physical functions at peak operating levels (high protein, low carb — especially sugar)… and, if I have to cheat, I cheat with coffee and ginseng and ginko herbs.

Then, I shoo everyone away, so I have the solitude and quiet needed to think clearly. (I know other writers who can work in noisy environments, which is insane but fine if it works for you. However, you MUST establish a space where you will not be disturbed — this is critical, because those still panicking will not leave you alone for a minute.)

As an established pro — with a long tail of experience — I know I can solve almost any problem to some degree of effectiveness, unless I am actively interferred with. It took me a while to learn how to get nasty with that particular breed of client who subconsciously tries to create failure by interferring… if you’ve ever freelanced, you probably have already encountered this insane beast. The magic word, when dealing with him, is “no”.

Once committed, I will make the project succeed no matter what. What I come up with may not always be the perfect solution… but, given the obstacles in my way, I will, by God, come up with something.

This is the attitude of the professional. No big secret.

But the TRICK of the pro… is immersion. When I get involved in any project, I go DEEP. I cram my mind full of research and every stupid little anecdote I can find before I write a word of copy.

When I’m speaking at a seminar, I attempt to learn as much about the audience, the other speakers, and the venue as possible, so I know what I’m up against. I’ve been producing and speaking at seminars for decades now… but I started out as a clueless rookie, utterly naive about what it would take to be successful in the seminar game.

I had dumb ideas about what “should” happen, I was in denial about what actually happened, and it took a very long time to balance the two out. I mastered the details only through immersing myself in every aspect of the physical and metaphysical aspects of each event.

Now, let me vent a bit about why I’m such a mad dog about immersion: At each of these seminars, understandably, people did their best to isolate me and have a private chat. Sometimes, this is fine, and expected. Other times, it’s just impossible to accomodate everyone, and I have to set boundaries.

Often… like when I’m on stage all day long and need to conserve my mental energy… I ask attendees to pretend I’m invisible during breaks. I need to recharge, and can’t do it while listening to the complex details of someone’s situation. I need to turn off the mental machinery and Zen-out for twenty minutes.

Most people understand this. Because it’s understandable, once explained.

But other people don’t understand. They are weak on interpersonal skills, and have trouble reconciling their urge to have a private audience with my need to not do that.

The truth is, I’m open to talking to anyone, under the right circumstances. I’m a pro, so the easiest path is to buy an hour of my time. Still, at many events, I will do Hot Seats for people — sometimes privately, sometimes on stage, for free.

But please don’t try to “cheap shot” your way into my good graces. At both events, people came up to me wanting special favors… but had not bothered to immerse themselves in what it might take to succeed with their plan. They flew blind, almost refusing to use any real salesmanship.

That’s right — if you want something from someone, you must sell them on that scenario.

I’m not singling anyone out here, and please don’t take this personally if you were one of the perpetrators. This is all VERY common… and until you’ve experienced the energy-drain of being on-stage, it’s hard to sympathize.

But really — how much empathy does it take to realize that offering to buy me a drink, when I’m already engaged with friends somewhere, isn’t gonna lure me away so you can bend my ear for an hour about your business problems?

And, while charm can go a long way in many situations, it won’t work very well in trying to weasel free stuff from me. Please don’t beg, and don’t make lame offers of “I’ll do ANYTHING in exchange”.

The plain truth is: You may never get what you want from me. I turn down 9 of every 10 jobs offered me (no matter how much money is on the table)… I guard my privacy and time like a bulldog… and I very much am not a cheap date.

I also don’t play games. When I say “no”, I mean it. When I say “maybe”, I am suggesting that you immerse yourself in finding out what might sell me on whatever you have. I am NOT saying “yes”. And there may not be a way to get what you want. By saying “maybe”, I’m inviting you to get your salesmanship game on.

Let’s see what you’ve got.

However, it won’t take much immersion to realize that the obvious stuff won’t work.

It’s the same with your prospective marketing audience. If you’re selling bowling equipment, and you have a list of bowlers, you must approach your sales pitch as if every single one of them has said “maybe” to your offer. (Even when they say “no”, which is another lesson, for another time.)

They will NOT buy just because they are bowlers and you have a bowling product. And they will especially not buy just because you really, really, REALLY want them to.

If you’re gonna be successful, you must immerse yourself in the needs and quirks of your prospect. You cannot bully someone into buying, and you cannot make them buy by threatening suicide if they don’t. People will buy for selfish reasons. This is the way it has always been, and how it always will be.

Committing to something is the first step.

But committment alone won’t get the job done. You gotta immerse yourself, completely.

And please… if you see me at a seminar, do not feel slighted if I evade your attempts for a private chat. I’m sure that, under other circumstances, we could be friends or even partners… but as it stands, I’m already booked pretty solid, and I don’t have the energy or time to meet the needs of everyone I meet.

I’m not an evasive jerk. I just play one at seminars, for survival reasons. (If you want to get a better idea of how I interact with people who do get my ear, just read over the testimonials on my site. I’ve been making people pretty damned happy for many years now…)

Okay, I’m done. This was a very important insight to the pro’s mind, and I hope you appreciate the glimpse. If you have hopes of becoming a pro, file this under “advanced lessons”.

Stay frosty.

John Carlton

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  • “Total immersion.”

    I’m glad to hear you say that. Too many gurus out there talking about just swiping and slapping it together. Claiming their brilance is because they know which shoe box has the best swipe file.

    It’s just really good to hear you share how extensive your research goes into a project. Similar to what I’ve heard of Ogilvy.



  • Nick Wright says:

    I’ve been the perpetrator you’re refering to. I’m young and eager to learn, improve and form relationships with thought leaders in marketing.

    I’ve tried to steal some time alone with speakers at seminars in the past. Sometimes I’ve succeeded, sometimes I’ve failed.

    But when I failed, I learned why I failed. I went home, imagined being in the shoes of the speakers I approached… imagined how they felt physically and emotionally after speaking to a hungry crowd… imagined how hard it would be for me to go, go, go – even during breaks between speeches…

    …and hardest of all, I imagined what they saw when they saw me approach them… they saw another leach. Another person with a sob story. Another kid with his own agenda.

    I don’t try to steal time anymore. Rather, I try to immerse myself in the interests of the speakers’ before I ever approach them.

    Then, I put on my sales hat and go get ’em.

  • I could tell you were immersed in San Diego. And no – since I also speak – I usually try to wait until the timing feels right (if ever) to approach a speaker.
    Shoot, what I have to talk about takes too long anyway!

  • bruce parks says:

    That was great. Thanks for the insights. I’m hoping to be able to work with you next year.

    Bruce Parks

  • Gil says:

    an old fart just getting started n sellling and pursuadng by the written word and graphics. You did an excellent job of expressing your feelings from your point if view. Assuming the ‘persona’ are readers who want to really learn the w’s & h, you might include a reference or link to things like your rec of a good book outlining the steps on selling that must be followed to sell in print., Or if no book meets your requirement write one and sell it to your readers as proof that it works.

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