Archive Monthly Archives: March 2007

The End Of Civilization As We Know It

When my father was drafted during World War II and dumped in Belgium just in time for the Battle of the Bulge, my mother and his first two kids (I wasn’t a glimmer in his eye yet) waited days for even a hint of news about the war… and waited months for letters from Pop himself.

The news came in painfully slow trickles. First rumors, then snatches of broadcast bulletins on the radio, then a newspaper story that may or not have been accurate… and in none of this was even a prayer for specific news from or about Pop.

That kind of no-news existence is just hard to imagine now. Online, I can watch stories develop just by refreshing my Google homepage — really hot news is updated constantly, within minutes of dramatic fresh input.

Heck, I can see minutes-old footage of events on YouTube, and read real-time blogs from every corner of the English-speaking world.

The delivery, consumption, and digesting of news has done changed in radical ways.

We all knew the Web was gonna morph our reality into something new… but even a year or so ago, most prognosticators believed we had some inkling of what the brave new world might look like.

Forget about it, now. All bets are off, all predictions inoperable.

No one knows what’s in store.

Least of all the news organizations we call “mainstream media”.

The fate of newspapers is interesting to me… both because I grew up loving my daily dose of whatever local rag served the town I was living in… and because the culture of the news junkie was well-defined. (And I have been a news junkie since I was old enough to read.)

We knew what was going on in the world, and we read enough varied takes on events to form an independent opinion.

It’s one thing to embrace the world and enjoy adventures… but it’s another thing to seek to also “know” the world while you plow through the decades.

Like the guys selling horse-drawn buggies 100 years ago, refusing to realize the exploding market share the automobile was gobbling up… mainstream newspapers have been slow to give the Internet credibility for news disperal.

I think local papers will survive in some form (probably mostly online, though)… because communities need a central clearing house for local news.

But it’s gonna be a painful transition. Because newspapers are owned by techno-phobes who regard online existence as some unknowable alien universe… and they just cannot, for the life of them, figure out how to make it profitable.

Please. The shake-out will produce a good alternative to the daily tree-killing newspaper… but not until the old diehard newsmen wander away, and news-dispensing organizations learn how to incorporate what entrepreneurs already know about making money online. (Right now, most newspapers see their online versions as “newspapers without paper”… but the old model of selling classifieds and department store inserts for profit don’t work online. The guy selling his 1998 Honda Accord is now on eBay and Craigslist, and the department stores that are surviving have gotten hip to email blasts and list building. Oops.)

The local paper here in Reno actually has a pretty damn good Website — and I now go there first when I need accurate weather news (important when you live in the bosom of the Sierras in winter), and also whenever I see a fresh plume of smoke wafting up from the valley floor, or hear sirens close by. (Every once in a while, I’ll sip my nightly beer while watching traffic cams around the city — real-time views of mostly routine intersections, with the occasion reward of getting to watch a three-car pile-up as it happens. Voyeur heaven.)

However, no one knows exactly what the newspaper will look like in the very near future.

This matters to marketers, very much. As the affiliate world grows ever more incestuous, and competition for pay-per-click gets nasty (not to mention the gruesome, unpredictable and never-ending rule-changes by the Google Gods), the “old” ways of reaching prospects (by finding out where the eyeballs gather) will start to look attractive again.

Soon, too.

I know of several top marketers who aren’t using PPC at all anymore. They use banner ads on sites that attract the kind of prospect they desire, as well as Hartunian-style PR releases and the cultivation of “go to guy” status in online communities that thrive on — yes — breaking news.

So it’s probably time for savvy entrepreneurs to start paying closer attention to where people-with-money are going for decent-length visits and multiple page-views. (Not ADD surfers bouncing off sites like a pinball.) (You young-uns know what a pinball game is, right? They still have those, down at the arcade? Jeez, I haven’t played a game that wasn’t virtual in years…)


One of the strongest players in the “new” news game was also one of the first on the scene. I don’t think much of Drudge, the man (his radio show is incoherent, and his obsession with Walter Winchell is creepy)… but his newsy “bulletin board” site,, has ruled the roost for years.

With the same college-dorm quickie design format he pioneered in the late 90s. It looks awful. But it gets the hits.

As a news junkie, I visit Drudge everyday… mostly to get the right-wing spin on developing stories. I’m an independent who likes to watch the wingnut fights… I get my left-wing spin from, and then check the somewhat middle-of-the-road Wall Street Journal subscription site (one publication that seems to have discovered how to be profitable online), the MSN daily e-mag, and then a bunch of newspapers across the world.

But Drudge is always the first stop.

He doesn’t write ANYTHING for the site… except to rehash the headlines of certain stories he’s pitching. He has a staff who combs the world’s media centers for print and broadcast news, and offers up simple links to those sites.

That’s it. He’s a bulletin board.

And yet he has earned frontpage stories in the Washington Post and New York Times, and been called “the future of journalism”. Why? Because, as simple as his site is, he gets something like 15million visits a day. While the Post sells 5 million tree-killing newspapers a day, and pretty much has no clue how many people really read its Website.

So it’s more likely that mainstream media will begin to look more like Drudge, than the other way around.

Never visited the site?

This is why I’m writing about it: I don’t care if you visit it, or if you like it or hate it.

As a marketer, you’ve GOT to pay attention to the way it’s morphing the Zeitgeist of our culture.

You can get links to the top stories there… and when, for example, Hurricane Katrina hit, you could read what local Louisiana media outlets (both print and broadcast) were saying. And compare that with linked stories from the Los Angeles Times and the International Herald-Tribune.

If you went to the Washingtom Post site, all you’d get was their reporter’s version, and maybe another view from the AP wire service.

But Drudge covers “newsy” stories almost reluctantly. Like most of the talking-head cable TV shows, he really got a boost from the OJ Simpson trial, the Monica-all-the-time-Lewinski scandal, and the never-ending trials and tribulations of the current political fiascos.

The site is like 3 completely different people sitting across from you at the family dinner table –your serious-minded friend, earnestly talking about famine, war and economic theory… trying to outtalk the gossipy aunt who has never heard a secret she isn’t eager to share and elaborate on… both vying against the weird cousin who follows all UFO conspiracies as steadfastly as he does the latest box office battles of Hollywood studios.

It’s the New York Times meets the Hollywood Reporter meets the National Enquirer.

And you know what? It’s friggin’ fascinating.

Here’s a sample of the headlines for stories Drudge had up a couple of days ago (while the Washington Post was thick with more serious news on more serious subjects):

“Probation For Man Who Had Sex With Dead Deer.”

“Private Rocket Lost Shortly After Launch.”

“Dating Site Courts Only The Good Looking.”

“McCain Warns Of Spreading Socialism.’

“Judge Pulls Gun In Florida Courtroom.”

“Dog Performs Heimlich Maneuver On Owner.”

“Wolfgang Puck Bans Foie Gras.”

“Mystery Rash Closes Ohio School.”

And yeah, I read ’em all.

Me, a busy, busy, busy professional (and hot prospect for many online marketers) with not much spare time to surf the Net.

And I will wait two minutes for the podunk Florida news site to download the video of the probation hearing of the guy who did the nasty with a dead deer.

We’ve all got to start exploring new ways to find our target audiences online, in situations where they aren’t zipping by in a panic.

Drudge doesn’t take much advertising (not sure why), and I’m not convinced his banner ads are efficient (because they change so frequently).

Still… the ancient desire of humans to want to hear more than rumors on breaking news (and gossip) will never fade.

Just tuck this fact away somewhere as you ponder future marketing moves (and while your email delivery rates continue to slide)…

Dead deer, indeed.

Stay frosty…

John Carlton

The Care And Feeding Of Your Future, Without The Soap Opera Drama And Trauma

Back when I started out in advertising… and even in the first year or so of my freelance career… I had to concentrate to remember exactly what “direct response” meant in the term “direct response advertising”.

Because a lot of the clients and agencies I worked with were oblivious. They understood the concept of advertising — you tried to persuade people to buy your cool new product.

How tough is that to be clear on?

But their heads got all fuzzy and fogged-up when the tactics of direct response came into play.

Ad so many people got it wrong, that… I finally realized… the whole concept is VERY tough to understand.

So I had to keep finding new ways to remind everyone what we were trying to accomplish with the ad copy I was writing.

The foundation of direct response is the “response” part. In most of the ads you see on television and in big magazines, there is no “call to action”. There may be a toll-free phone number thrown up, or a Website URL. But there is no specific reason given to call or link up.

That’s passive advertising. “Here’s my product. Cool, huh? Thanks for listening. Maybe, down the road, if you feel like it, you may sorta want to possibly consider… uh… maybe buying it. Or something. No pressure, dude. Just think about it.”

That’s how 99% of the ads out there approach selling. For rookie marketers, it’s just part of the learning curve — you think you understand advertising because you’ve seen so MUCH of it in your life. It’s about entertainment, right?

As your learning curve progresses — if you’re able to survive the initial financial disasters of bad ads — you realize that, to actually make a profit, you gotta start pushing for sales.

The guys making the Big Bucks back then were wizards at persuading people to buy.

However — and very interestingly — they were MORONS when it came to understanding the advanced meaning of “direct response”.

Allow me to illustrate what I’m talking about: Joe Karbo was one of the modern-day entrepreneur direct marketing heroes. (He wrote the book “The Lazy Man’s Way To Riches”… which was my FIRST purchase as a direct response customer. Me, and a whole bunch of other people.)

He wrote a killer ad (with the book’s title as the headline) that ran in every major newspaper in the country. Long copy, teaser bullets up the yin-yang, a powerful offer that rattled people’s cages and forced them to respond.

He earned millions, because he understood the first part of “direct response” — ask for action. Get the order. Be bold, be persuasive, be a salesman.

But here’s the kicker: Every time someone sent in the order coupon for the book… he cashed their check, mailed their book… and then threw away the customer’s name and address.


I know he did this, because he admitted it. It was a joke he told on himself. For all the wealth that ad brought him… he never again mailed a pitch to those customers.

No back end.

No list to nurture and work.

Later on, Joe finally did get hip to this more advanced layer of direct response. He started building up his list, and occasionally wrote to them to ask for another sale on another product.

For most marketers, the REAL money is in the back end. The first sale is great… but it costs something to get it. Online, you gotta figure in your PPC costs, affiliate splits, even your time spent writing banner ads, auto-responders, setting up PR article placement and everything else you use to lure people into your world.

The second sale, however, is almost all gravy. The customer (or lead) is already on your list, and you have the opportunity to develop a relationship, to deepen the bond between you, and to offer more complex (and higher priced) products and services. And he’ll be more inclined to consider what you offer… because he trusts you, and because the initial purchase he made was a pleasant experience and fulfilled his expectations.

Thinking ahead, there should be a third sale in the future, and a fourth, and on and on.

Your list is your future. All savvy direct marketers understand this. Many of the mega-wealthy ones are, in fact, quite willing to lose money on the first sale just to build up their house list for future sales.

Because that’s where all the real money is.

Sadly, I still see many marketers — rookies especially, but also experienced veterans who should know better — ignoring their lists. They focus almost exclusively on the first sale, try to make a killing up front, and generally treat their lists like unwanted guests.

Dumb, dumb, dumb.

First rule of making a fortune: Respect your list. Nurture it. Make it happy, be generous with free stuff, treat it like the love of your life.

And… be wary of thinking you’re the only guy they’re dealing with.

I like to compare business to love and romance. The analogies are just too good to pass up.

So treat your list not like a casual friend, or even like a mistress. Instead… treat it like the most important person in your life — the source of your happiness, your wealth, your inspiration, and your future.

In other words… treat your list like you’re married to it.

And… expect to be treated BACK like the flawed dog you are.

I learned early on that all really was fair in love and war. Any naive notions I had about the nature of romance were cruelly and efficiently stomped to death in my early twenties. I learned that even best friends would conspire to steal your date… and that there were ALWAYS other offers being considered, even by seemingly innocent and happy mates.

For the record: I do believe “true love” exists, and you can live a happy life minus all the drama and trauma of the soap opera so many people suffer through in romance.

But you can’t do it with your eyes closed. People tend to be unknowable, over the long haul, no matter how much they promise fidelity or how much you “feel” they’re on your side.

No one gets through a full life without a little heartache and a few brutal reality checks.

Same with your list.

Every single name on your list is being wooed and seduced and sweetly lied to by other marketers… every day, in most cases.

Your customers may indeed love you and cherish the relationship… but the second a better offer (however they define “better”) arrives, they will be sorely tempted to cheat on you.

This is not cause for despair and hair-pulling, though.

It’s just the way things are. You get hip to reality, and then you deal with it.

I’m a fan of affiliate marketing. It’s a way to maximize the leverage you have on the potential of any list you have. When you’re out of your own products… or when you suspect your list is just tired of you, you, you all the time… doing an affiliate offer allows you to bring in fresh blood and products that complement what you have.

Just be aware of what you’re doing.

I see too many marketers take their lists for granted. One bad example is to be a whore about offering affiliate products. To your list, you quickly become the relative who just signed up to distribute Amway products, while pushing for donations to weird charities and subscribing to new magazines. Oh, and would you also like to buy some Girl Scout cookies from my niece?

Pretty soon, they’ll pull the blinds shut and won’t answer the door when you come a’knocking.

Just as bad, though, is the marketer who assumes your list will be faithful forever, because you’re such a nice guy. You’re generous with free stuff, you don’t ask too much of them, you nurture your mutual appreciation… and you don’t overwhelm them with attention and email.

Yet, you don’t blink when an affiliate deal comes along that innocently requires you to allow the collection of names and emails — for free — by the guy with the deal.

Be careful. This is like leaving a very handsome and confident friend alone with your date at the big party. The vague codes of “honor” we operate by dictate he should remain a gentleman, and your date should not cooperate with naughty behavior.

But get real. Allowing any other marketer to plunder your list for names with a free offer can end up with you wandering the party asking everyone where your date and your friend went off to.

If the other marketer is truly wily, guess what? They’re already on a plane to Acapulco, and you’re just a distant memory.

What’s that great political slogan? “Trust, but verify.”

I don’t care how much you trust your fellow marketer… it’s up to YOU to keep control of your list. Free offers are great, and good affiliate programs make use of them.

But you still need to know who from your list has signed on, and what’s happening to them once in the evil clutches of the other marketer. Seed your list prolifically (by putting in names and emails you can track) and pepper all affiliate deals with these seeds… so you know exactly what happens to trusting folks from your list who’ve signed on to the affiliate deal.

It’s also fair to have all paths to the affiliate deal go through your own channels. You collect the sign-ups, distribute the free offerings, and guide buyers into the deal.

Sometimes, of course, it’s just easier to relax and not be paranoid, and let the other marketer pillage your list. Happens all the time. Perhaps your list was even created using free offers that shanghaied names from another marketer.

Just be alert to what’s happening.

Your list is your future. It will tend to be promiscuous and unfaithful, and you just have to learn to deal with it.

Life is messy. When you’re facing up to the realities, however, it’s still fun and full of good healthy adventure.

It’s only when you put on the blindfold and expect everyone else to take care of you that the trouble starts.

Gullible marketers get digested.

Stay frosty…

John Carlton

P.S. My coaching programs are off to shockingly-good starts. The forums are rocking, and the whole project has pumped fresh motivation and actionable advice into a lot of people’s lives (including mine).

Still time to join up — go to and see what the fuss is all about. Next virtual meeting is coming up this week for the “Radio Rant”.

Getting Perspective

I have a lot of glaring faults, and very few advantages in life… but the one advantage that has helped me the most in my career has been my memory.

I’m no savant. I often forget why I came into a room… the names of even close friends often disappear from my mind like smoke in front of a fan… and if I hadn’t mastered the art of making lists, I’d be one lost and startled puppy during the workday.

No — it’s my long-term memory that has served me so well. It’s not like I could tell you what I ate for lunch forty years ago on this date (that kind of specific memory recovery apparently happens to some people as they age, though). But I CAN tell you what it felt like to be, for example, a teenager in the early spring of 1968. Not just the sixties, mind you — 1968 specifically, with all the events and Zeitgeist of that particular year.

And not in an annoying “Boomer rosy glasses” kind of way, either. It wasn’t paradise back then. Things weren’t “better”… just different.

What I recall (besides certain specific adventures and discoveries and humiliations) is the nature of being young. I’ve always been able to bond quickly with people of all ages, from all sorts of different backgrounds… mostly because there’s almost always something in their life experience that I can genuinely identify with.

Because I remember how it felt.

I vividly recall being a small kid, a rebellious teen, an arrogant college bon vivant, a clueless young adult, and on up the ladder. Through a series of lucky and unlucky accidents, I experienced — early, so the lessons burned themselves into my brain — true love and angst-ridden heartbreak, death-cheating misadventures, and an insider’s view of every social revolution that rained down on the western American landscape last century.

This avalanche of experience is not unusual for someone my age.

What IS unusual… is that I remember it all. It’s rare for me to meet a contemporary who has any good stories from those years, even though their eyes light up whenever I remind them of the particular “feel” of those times.

Many people consider looking back to be an unworthy skill. What’s done is done, and all that. Don’t live in the past.

Not for a writer. I’m not ready to pen my autobiography yet, but I think about it. Not because I experienced any kind of high drama that would make Hollywood swoon… but because living a full life means knowing how others have lived theirs.

And I want to be part of that link between the future and the past.

I’m a sucker for biographies. Unless you devour at least a few biographies, you will never know what it was like to live in a different time. Each era is fascinating, from ancient civilizations through the fall of Rome and the Dark Ages, right up until this afternoon in certain parts of the world. You lose something important by ignoring what life was like for a medieval peasant, or a Ming Dynasty monk, or a 17th century Dutch explorer.

And yes… this kind of knowledge actually helps you with marketing and advertising.

Because, at its most basic, marketing crosses paths with behavioral psychology (why people do what they do), anthropology (the study of man’s quest for civilization), and the evolving history of good old street-level “get through the day” survival skills.

Dan Kennedy and I have discussed the nature of the modern entrepreneur. We like the ambition and attitude of the younger guys out there tearing it up online… but, as older marketers with proud scars from a lifetime of economic adventure, we also marvel that many of them have yet to experience a true recession. It’s easy to imagine that many of them would get blown away by a real disaster like so many puppies caught in a hurricane.

The dot-com bust of 2000 was really just a burp in the system, and even the 9/11 downturn was mild compared with past economic upheaval.

Since the late eighties, in fact, the American economy has gone apeshit. A sober look at the climb of the of Dow Industrial Average can ignite a fear of heights.

Nevertheless, there are MANY younger entrepreneurs I know who I would bet on in any crisis. They may not have lived through the full spectrum of business horrors, and may be utterely dependent on the Web for survival… but they all share a curiosity about life and their fellow man that will help them thrive no matter what happens down the road.

And that curiosity leads them to seek knowledge and advice from the rich resource of books and the stories of veterans. Including biographies of people long gone.

I’m not looking forward to writing my own biography in order to enjoy any notoriety or fame it might bring — in fact, if I’m gonna be totally honest, I have to wait until many of my friends are dead before I can share some of the juicier chapters. I wouldn’t dare reveal the truth while it could possibly hurt their careers right now. I’m not that guy.

So it will have to wait a bit longer before being published.

No, there’s another reason why I want to write it. I have a pretty typical American past — which means almost no verifiable past at all. My father’s lineage ends with his father — I have no idea who my paternal great grandparents were. No photos, not even names. And my mother’s history ends with her parents, too. My grandfather ran away from home at 13, met my grandmother when she got off the boat as a fresh immigrant from France, and that was that. There’s a couple of old tintype photos floating around the family, but no identifying notes on who’s who.

One of these ancient photos, though, is of a young man who vaguely looks like me. It startled me when I first saw it. From his clothes and certain other clues, I’m guessing the shot was snapped just before World War One. This relative, whoever he is, would have been long dead before I was born.

And I wonder what his life was like. And I imagine what a genuine thrill it would be to find his diaries or — even better — a real autobiography he’d written. It wouldn’t matter whether he’d lived a grand life, or a mundane existence without drama.

I just wonder what it felt like to be him. Living then.

And so, I want to write my autobiography — and tell the brutal truth, as I experienced it — not for me, or my friends. But for that kid down the line, who might not have a clue what it was like now.

I’ve always had friends of vastly different ages. I often find myself having a thoroughly engrossing conversation with two people who are, respectively, fifteen years older and fifteen years younger than me. When they’re open to each other’s views, it’s a wonder to behold (and a conversation worth having).

And what’s fascinating is that — while we all retain a certain arrogant attitude about our own experiences — at the heart of it, we’re all stunningly similar.

Marketers who understand this are way ahead of the game. You don’t have to struggle to wonder “what the kids want” in new products, and you don’t regard people older than you as grouchy alien beings with unknowable needs.

What I’m telling you is that a good salesman plucked from the Middle Ages — once he got over the shock of the new technology of modern life — would still be able to sell stuff to YOU, today.

Dull marketers share the very wrong notion that there is nothing to be learned from the past. They will forever struggle, because they lack perspective… and future changes (which are happening faster and faster) will throw them, because they don’t have an overview of life that allows for quick adaptation.

I really enjoy modern life. But I liked it just as much before personal computers came along, too. I’m rolling with the punches… armed with the knowledge (earned from reading biographies) that things will ALWAYS change.

And there will always be a way to adapt and thrive.

One of the things I remember about being young is that — as a teenager — more stuff will happen to you in a day, than will happen to an adult in a month.

When you’re still full of piss and vinegar, that’s fun. I liked living through radically-new adventures each week, never knowing where I’d wake up Sunday morning.

But I also like being settled in middle age, and getting into productive routines as a veteran writer and marketer. I can finally take longer views of things, and plan ahead. What a concept.

Still, though, when necessary during a consultation, I can quickly bring up the feeling of living day-to-day at an age where the world is still mostly a mystery. There are good parts to this feeling, and bad parts. It’s complex, like all humans are.

But you can learn to understand where the other guy — or the other prospect — is at in their life… by applying the lessons you’ve learned in yours, and the lessons you’ve gathered from studying people in general.

Your market is one long passing parade, and it can look like a disorganized mob scene if you don’t understand the fundamentals of how people live their lives.

With perspective, it all comes into focus. People are people. Their needs, dreams and fears haven’t changed much since the dawn of time.

My recommendation: Work a few biographies into your reading schedule, and soon. And strive to feel what it was like back then.

What you learn — about yourself, and about your fellow man — will help you become a better communicator and (if pay attention) a killer salesman.

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

Is It Time For You To Get Serious?

I have now lived long enough, survived enough adventures, and observed enough other clueless people get a clue… that I can safely say everyone has a handful of moments in their life that shape who you are and how successful you will be.

Most of these life-changing moments involve some sort of crisis or problem. Finding true love is great… but it’s now you handle heartbreak, for example, that really defines you.

Nearly every super-successful entrepreneur I’ve met started out dead-broke, too. People raised with a silver spoon in their mouth seldom develop that fire-in-the-gut motivation necessary to achieve great things.

However, just being broke or desperate isn’t enough to trigger a life-changing moment.

Heck, some folks seem content to slog through their entire existence hand-to-mouth. Their idea of “thinking outside the box” is to dream about winning the lottery.

I doubt very many of these magical thinkers read this blog, though. So I think it’s safe to assume that you will understand what I’m about to share regarding “life changing moments”.

Here is what I’m talking about: There are certain decisions required of the person who yearns for more. The moment you realize that no one is gonna give you anything… and that wishing and hoping for success in life, love or business is futile… you are ripe for taking control of the “movie” of your life.

If you truly lust after wealth and opportunity and a menu of lifestyle choices beyond what you’re experiencing now… you’re gonna have to make some decisions.

Because the really good stuff will never just magically fall into your lap.

I had two major decisions to make when I finally busted out of my slacker lifestyle. First, I had to take that initial critical step — to decide that, on this day, I would quit my job with The Man, and pursue a new career as a freelance copywriter. That was a nerve-wracking moment… but necessary.

You can’t start any journey without opening the door and stepping outside. And even a simple action like opening a door requires a conscious decision.

My second major decision came about after I’d experienced a little initial success in that new career. I realized I could only go so far… and no further… completely on my own.

I needed some personal mentoring.

So I made the decision to seek out people who knew what I didn’t know yet… and learn from them.

Finding those people was difficult, because there weren’t any seminars on marketing at the time, and no one had declared themselves a “guru” yet. It was like searching for a needle in a haystack (and not even being clear on where the haystack was in the first place.)

However, finding mentors was not an actual “problem”. It was just a task.

The BIG moment… was making that decision to go after additional education.

You never forget moments like that. One second before your mind “clicks”, you are the same old person you’ve been for years. Then, a second AFTER that decision, you are someone new.

It’s like breathing deep after a lifetime of clenched, shallow breathing. Or like turning on a light after stumbling around in the dark for years.

The adventure starts the moment you DECIDE.

Mentoring was critical to my success. Ninety percent of the money I’ve earned in my career would NOT have come my way without mentoring. I would have had a nice little life as a low-level professional… but I would have never tasted the joys of over-the-top achievement.

This is true of every single colleague I know who has broken the code on huge success. They worked hard, yes… but they also eagerly sought out teachers who could shortcut the process for them.

Every… single… successful… person… I… know.

Mentoring is THAT important.

If you are hovering around your own “life changing” moment of decision… wondering where you should turn to start your own big damn adventure… then I want to be absolutely positive I’ve done all I can to alert you to the opportunity I’ve created here.

You may have seen a private email from my office about this, or read about it in the Rant newsletter, or heard about it from a friend.

There’s no harm in reminding you, though.

I now have a two-tiered coaching program available. One level is mega-exclusive, with attendance limited to just 8 people. But the second level is open to everyone.

The details are laid out at The exclusive program may be close to full by now (we’ve been accepting applications for several days).

However, the second level is very much ready for you to join.

If you’re ready to get serious about taking your life off “hold”, and starting the adventure that will define who you are and what you accomplish for the rest of your days… then you MUST check this opportunity out.

It’s okay not to “want” a better life. You may be content already. Or, like most folks, you may be too terrified of change, and have such a weak heart that new opportunities really would challenge your health. There are all kinds of very excellent reasons why you don’t want anything new to happen in your life.

Only you know if that itch deep inside is serious or not.

Personally, I can tell you that taking the path of honest adventure is a blast that never stops invigorating your life.

No matter how much you believe things suck now, the facts are these: We live in a world of plenty, in an economy crammed with opportunity, with the resources for success literally at your fingertips.

The world is a vast feast… and yet most people are starving for a clue.

A whole new, different, and more exciting life awaits your decision to pursue it.

And if you believe you can learn from me, the opportunity is here. I have no idea how long I’ll keep these coaching programs open. But they’re available right now… if you’re ready to make a decision.

I cherish those moments of change I’ve experienced. Once I realized I had to take what I wanted — because no one was going to offer me anything out of the blue — the choice to MAKE a decision was easy.

We only get one go-round in life. You’ll never get yesterday back to replay… and tomorrow is a blank reel of film, waiting for you to write the script.

And damn, but it’s FUN when you finally get moving forward.

Stay frosty…

John Carlton

Secret Powers

There are marketing lessons everywhere you look.

In the (hopefully) final chapter of my unpleasant encounter with the cable company, I was reminded that a “tier” system is almost always in place when you’re dealing with businesses that have a product or service you want.

This mostly-hidden world of power is what fuels conspiracy theories and gets best-selling thrillers published.

And it explains something critical about customer management that entrepreneurs often miss.

Here’s a quick synopsis of the story: My big damn state-of-the-art plasma TV viewing enjoyment went sideways a few weeks ago, courtesy of the cable company. I could still get most of the HD stuff I craved, but I couldn’t buy movies on the system.

So they sent out first one “tech”… then another… and then another. After, of course, I had to log multiple hours on the phone suffering under the virtual lash of a robot, and then the very troubling incompetency of someone in Bombay trying to shoot signals to my box from across two continents and one ocean.

I noticed something interesting as the parade of “cable guys” got more regular — each new tech cheerfully trashed the tech who’d visited before him, and denounced whatever actions they’d taken as wrong, wrong, wrong. They should have replaced the wires, they shouldn’t have used that type of connector, they forgot to cap the transducers, they didn’t say “Simon Says”, they didn’t do ANYTHING even remotely right.

Which left me thinking: “Then why were these idiots even on the job, if they don’t know what they’re doing?”

The plot, however, centered around the inconvenient fact that each new tech was just as impotent to FIX the problem as the one before them.

Three cable guys, miles of fresh wiring under my house, new holes drilled, new equipment installed, lots of chatter on the walkie-talkies. All while I received patient explanations about how it was all gonna be better now.

Except it never got better.

In fact, the problem got WORSE after each tech visit. By the time the last tech loaded up his truck and sped off, in fact, I was left with a sputtering test pattern on the TV.

This is where having a little “juice” in the community opens up all sorts of new opportunities.

Now, I’m pretty much a recluse. I’m happy to sit in my dark home office with the black-out curtains pulled tight… the only light the pale glow from my computer monitor, my only contact with humanity via the phone and email.

However, my significant other is a social butterfly, volunteering oodles of time for worthy local causes, and sitting on the boards of some very powerful committees in town. Her job also makes her a frequent visitor to the city council, where she rubs elbows with the movers and shakers of this small, vibrant Western town we live in.

In other words… she’s wired into the local power structure.

Now, you don’t want to ask for too many favors, ever. It’s just rude… and each time you hook a lapel of someone in power to fix your petty problems, you dilute the juice you have.

It’s probably close to how you’d deal with the mob. You wanna think twice about owing certain people favors, if you know what I mean.

Anyway, after the third failure to get our problem fixed through normal channels… we bit the bullet and contacted someone we knew had influence over the cable lords. I can’t share any details, for obvious reasons… but let’s just say the average person in town doesn’t even know this hidden path to getting stuff done even exists.

Result: We got a call late that night from a cable “specialist” — essentially a “SWAT team” kind of guy, who operates after-hours, and who has special powers (including secret phone numbers to bypass the bullshit) to get things done, quickly and without fuss.

He was a “fixer”. Like the Robert DeNiro character in “Brazil”, or the Harvey Kitel character in “Pulp Fiction”.

In a moment of clarity, I even recognized that it’s a job I’ve been doing for most of my career.

I, too, know secret paths to getting certain marketing chores done… and I have a “power Rolodex” of people who cannot normally be reached, but who will pick up the phone when I call.


Anyway, to cut to the quick: This last guy comes by, way after normal working hours… and, contrary to the “two to three hour window” all the other techs required for a visit, this Fixer showed up within MINUTES of calling us on the phone and alerting us that he was coming by.

He had, with him, a brand new cutting-edge high-tech cable box (which few people even know exist yet)… an astonishing knowledge of how to immediately and quickly identify physical problems with wires and connections… and a refreshing honesty.

Turns out that ALL the prior techs had done bad, bad things. Not out of spite… but out of not understanding the NATURE of the problem.

It wasn’t the wiring, or the signal, or ANY of the things identified as the culprit by everyone else we’d talked to.

Nope. The Fixer, with a phone call to a secret location, instantly discovered that our account had never been set up properly. And the digital signal to my box simply was being ignored by the main frames.

In other words… my TV was a phantom to the cable company. I’d fallen off their radar.

A very simple fix, once identified.

Of course, my question is: “Why the hell didn’t somebody check that FIRST?”

Answer: There are two levels of service with the cable company. The first level — all the robots, all the techs, all the “Steve’s” in India — did not have “authorization” to talk with the “privileged info” gate-keepers in the main office. So they were like emergency room doctors who only knew how to treat broken bones, and nothing else.

Everything they did — all the wiring, all the crawling around under the house, all the digital shoot-outs with the signal — were the actions of people who were DENIED the info that would have solved the problem immediately. They just tried, over and over again, the things they knew how to do.

Butting their heads repeatedly against a wall, but refusing to admit there might be another level to the problem.

And if we hadn’t had the juice to get connected with this hidden layer of power… I’d be talking to the dish people right now. There would have been no other choice.

Here’s the marketing lesson: Big companies often — and stupidly — set up protocol that angers customers. Like Enron, the internal culture actually despises the people who send them money for services or products.

To be fair — when you have to deal with lots of people, a huge percentage of the complainers are going to be assholes and idiots.

Quickly, however, if you don’t watch it, you start to treat EVERYONE pre-emptively as either an nutcase or a grouch.

And it spreads to your co-workers. THEY’RE all freaks and morons, too. (It’s just dumb to allow your employees to trash each other. It makes your entire organization appear unhinged and out-of-control.)

However… there is ALWAYS an alternative door, which is always hidden from most folks.

Through this door, you will get first-class service, you will get satisfaction, and you will be treated to all the perks of power.

All in hush-hush terms, of course.

This special treatment is why people struggle for power, and kill to keep it. Once you’ve flown on private jets, skipped the lines everyone else suffers in, and get a taste of the good life… it’s hard to go back to being a regular schlub.

As far as the conspiracy nuts go — you gotta just get over any anger at the way the system works. These hidden power structures exist in capitalism, communism, all religions, all governments, and even in every simple village or community… and the situation will never change.

All rebellions discover this the hard way. The guys who led the charge, shouting “equality for all”, end up not sharing the perks of power. It’s human nature.

This is why the US system of government is still a wonder — we’re not “better” than other governments… we just have checks-and-balances of power that clean up the mess every new administration makes. We can’t stop the power-grabs. But — keep your fingers crossed — eventually the would-be bad-guys get outed and punished.

Until the next group arrives, thinking they know better than everyone else how you should live your life. We have learned, in this country, to trust that the system will hold.

We don’t eliminate the problems. We just have fixes in place that seem to work.

So most people go through life semi-conscious of another world operating just out of their awareness… where thngs get done with a curt phone call, and where there are no secrets or closed doors.

And they know they will, without some intervention of Fate, never enjoy what this hidden world offers.

We expect this two-tiered power structure with government, and even with nightclubs and hotels and — yes — the cable company.

But entrepreneurs sometimes forget that their own business often has a secret level that is protected and kept hidden from most customers.

It can be as simple as personal access to you… or as complex as a whole new set of products or services that you don’t offer to just anyone, but require some sort of initiation or qualification process.

The micro (your little slice of the world) mimics the macro (the way systems work on large levels).

Top marketers and experts realize this… and set up “inner sanctums” and special levels of membership allowing for, essentially, special treatment.

I have known about, marvelled at, and studied this whole “hidden world” thing for decades. It was one of the first realizations I had after becoming a freelancer — if I “played the game” the way other freelancers did, I would just be one more guy in the long line hoping impotently for atttention.

So I quickly figured out ways to find the hidden doors… and bust them open.

I was not always successful… but I learned something from every siege. And I was successful enough to become the freelancer who got called FIRST for several LA agencies… and later the guy who earned the friendship (and mentoring) of the movers and shakers in this biz.

I’m not telling you to bust down doors like Robin Hood, in some idealistic fit of rage over the inequities of the system. You can do that, if it floats your boat… but please don’t say you weren’t warned of the futility of your crusade. (I used to be an idealist myself… until I realized how much you can actually get done when you become a realist.)

No. I’ve taken the time to tell this story to remind you that there is ALWAYS another way around any problem. It’s a shame the world isn’t black and white, and it complicates things enormously… but “no” is almost never the final answer to any question.

If you know how to look for the hidden doors.

In your own business, realizing you have different levels of service should open your eyes to an opportunity. There are people in every market who don’t get pissed when they learn of “insider” paths to getting info or getting things done. Instead… they just want to know how to JOIN that privileged group.

I don’t care if you’re selling furniture in a store, or info from a Website… if you have a privileged level of service, you can systemitize it to allow for access by people who wouldn’t otherwise get that access.

The basic question is: How much is it worth? Not to the average person, who may not appreciate the advantages of “insider” privileges… but to the guy who is not bothered by questions of “cost” when it comes to moving ahead quickly and without fuss.

In the public sphere, any blatant use of the hidden power paths brings on the outrage. The truth of our political system, of course, is that money talks and lobbyists get the ear of the guy you thought was representing you (because you voted for him).

But you’re not in politics. You’re in business. You CAN’T open up the private access to you, personally, to just anyone… because there isn’t enough of you to go around.

This is why so many marketers set up hyper-expensive, and very harshly limited, routes to the “hidden” parts of their business. These platinum levels, or customized mentoring programs, or brainstorm clubs are not MEANT to be for “everyone”.

There will always be a level above the one “most” people know about.

It may be as simple as being considered a friend, and having a secret phone number… or it can be organized, and require qualification and a fat check.

I can tell you from a lifetime as a guy who was born on the “outside”, and who dedicated myself to sneaking backstage, that there are levels of success that will always be denied to non-insiders.

I am not recommending that you “sell out” for a spot on the inside. You can enjoy lots of success without even acknowledging this hidden world of power. Screw ’em.

However, as your own boss in a very competitive marketplace, it’s an advantage just to understand that levels exist.

And sometimes, you may want to sample life behind those hidden doors.

Something to think about.

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

PS: I want to thank all the people who left comments in my other post about the cable story. As with all monopolies, the truth about dealing with them is both horrific and hilarious (after you get a little perspective).

It’s no way to run a business, that’s for sure.

But someone suggested hitting buttons (or “0”) on the phone to get to a live person. That used to work. Current robot systems, however, don’t use buttons anymore — it’s all voice. Nothing you say or threaten or beg for will get you anything other than “I’m sorry. Please say yes… or no.”

We DID find a way around the robot, though.

The next time we called, we just asked for the “order more services” options. That got us to a sales person, a real human, immediately. And through them — cuz we got their name and ID right away — we were routed to the middle level of “fixers”.

Who were incompetent, of course. But it did get us past the robot.

We would have NEVER gained access to the secret level of fixer, though, without insider connections.

It’s not fair.

But I lost my idealistic desire to force the universe to be “fair” a long time ago. I’m not jaded, either. I just know how things work now.

My Email Adventure, Part 2

Ah, the plot thickens.

Here’s something I didn’t make clear in my prior post: If you have my private email address — the one I’ve been using for years with Insiders, friends and colleagues — then please continue to use it to contact me.

You know who you are.

Otherwise, you can reach a member of my staff through We have a real person handling every legitimate email coming through. (Right now, of course, she’s a tad overwhelmed, but the dust is settling.)

We’re just having a few growing pains here, and I apologize — again — for any frustration or confusion on your part. When the confirmation process is complete, email delivery back and forth with my office will be a wondrous thing to behold.

And we can move ahead full speed with the business of making everybody rich and happy.

So please click the “one step” confirmation link in the email you recently received from, so your email is given VIP treatment.

And if you’re on my list, but didn’t receive an email from, then please check your bulk/junk folders to see if your filters snagged it.

And if you’re not on my list at all… and want to be (cuz you’re a smart guy)… the fastest way to join the action is to hop over to, and enter your info in the box giving away the cool mini-tutorial “How To Write A Damn Good Ad… in 9 minutes”. You’ll receive the free tutorial, AND get a one-click automatic invitation to be on my VIP list.

Jeez, this is fun, isn’t it?

The bottom line is, I’ve got some pretty exciting stuff to share with you right now… and if you want to be among the very first to discover what it’s all about, you gotta be on my list.

And if you are at all frustrated about any of this, please have a little Zen patience. All problems are being handled… and by real humans, too. It’s already working out.

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

My New Email Adventure

I sent out an email to everyone on my list today, from my brand spankin’ new address of

This confused a few folks, and it was my fault — I neglected to tell anybody I even HAD a new email address.

This new address was necessary because my former email address — — had been compromised. Wasn’t my fault. I was (like so many other unsuspecting marketers) innocently sending out email from that address through a bad/nasty/evil server that allowed spam to flow through it. Without telling me.

And, though I was innocent, my email was nevertheless tainted just being in the same neighborhood as the spammers.


I hate spam, I have never sent out spam, and I resent this entire situation.

Fortunately, there’s an easy fix.

So, here’s what you need to know:

1. If you want to receive email from me — and be sure it doesn’t get snagged by filters or hustled off to your junk folder — you must do the simple “one step” confirmation process explained in that email you just got (from the address).

2. This one-step confirmation means you’re “double opted in”, and that’s like a VIP name badge. Email to you will flow through a completely spam-free server, and delivery is now something you can bet on.

That’s really all there is to it.

But it’s still a pain to have to ask you to do it. And, as I said, some people are confused by use of a new email address by me. Others, I’m sure, just plain resent being asked to do even a simple “one click and you’re done” confirmation.

I totally understand.

But email delivery SUCKS right now, for almost everyone. And it’s the spammers fault. They should be hung.

Still, since I’ve upgraded to this new VIP service, you may as well come along with me, and confirm your email. It’s not like I’m bothering you with email, you know. I only email when I have something to say, or something important to share.

And you can, of course, opt OUT any time you like.

For now, though, please read that email from… and click on the link. That’s all you have to do.

If you have an email address through Yahoo, AOL, MSN or Hotmail, be sure to check your junk or bulk folders. (For some reason, the filters of the “big guys” seem to enjoy gobbling up my email.)

Because I sent a few emails out through that damaged server — again, not my fault, since there was NO WAY I could have known spammers had taken over that server — many of the large email providers have been slow to grant me “good guy” status again.

So… and allow me to apologize beforehand for this complication… if your main email address is through Yahoo, AOL or MSN… and you KNOW you should be recieving email from me, and you aren’t… then you may have to get another email address from a different company.

Big pain, I know. I’m a small business, though, and we get treated very unfairly by the large Web companies.

This will be a subject worth discussing, and soon, too… because many other small businesses don’t even KNOW their email isn’t being delivered.

They just know their response rates went down.

There are ways around the coming avalanche of email delivery troubles, no matter how small your operation is.

But for right now, the important thing is to make sure you’re getting email from me. That requires the confirmation click… and, if you didn’t get that email from, you should first check your junk or bulk folder.

In the meantime, I’ll be using this blog as a “bulletin board” for any important announcements.

Hey — I hope YOUR day is going well.

Mine sure has sucked, so far.

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

Pissing Off Customers

I’m still under the gun here, on deadline… but I had a thought I’d like to share here.

Just a quick post.

Last night, after working diligently all day, I took a break and settled into the couch with my honey (and my dogs) to watch a pay-per-view movie. You know — kick back and dumb down. One of modern life’s little pleasures.

But no… the cable TV service did a “HAL” on me, and refused to cooperate. I got an indecipherable error message when I tried to give them money for a movie.

So, I called the only number listed for the cable company. I’ll spare you most of the details, because I’m sure you’ve experienced similar intellectual insults… but I was put through twenty minutes of automated Hell, forced to jump through hoops and recite information and answer truly stupid questions… by a sweet-voiced ROBOT.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t hear your selection. Could you please repeat your answer? Here are your choices again…”

Now, I’m a level-headed guy, most of the time. All I wanted was my friggin’ movie. The popcorn was getting cold, the dogs had wandered off, and I quickly began to resent this… ROBOT… that assumed I was one of the stupidest humans on the planet.

She (it was woman’s voice) very politely informed me that, in “her” experience, the solution was one of the following twelve choices… and she, in her wisdom and patience, was going to stay with me while we worked together to solve this pecadillo.

First choice: “Is your television set turned on? Say yes… or no, please.”

You know, companies that use robot answering systems experimented with software a few years ago that recognized when people started using “bad” words… and you would get a dial tone the instant you swore, kicked off for having a potty mouth.

The cable company must not have implemented that software, however, cuz by the third choice in the robot menu, I was calling her every evil name I could think of. (I even used the dreaded “C” word. Shame on me. It was anthropomorphism gone ape-shit.)

A half hour later, I’d rebooted the entire system twice, recited every piece of privileged info I have four times, and performed technological stunts that defied logic.

And STILL got the damn error code.

Next step: The robot connected me with “Steve”… in Bombay. “Steve”, who had clearly never set foot on American soil, apologized profusely for everything, and asked me for ALL the info I’d given the robot multiple times just minutes before.

Then… he asked me if the TV was on. So we could reboot the system.

At that point, my mind cleared a bit. I had the sense to ask what the friggin’ error code meant… and “Steve” seemed reluctant to tell me.

Weak signal, he finally mumbled.

So… rebooting was essentially useless, wasn’t it?

Well… yes.

Then why had I been subjected to all this futile rigamarole?

Oh, very sorry about everything, sir. You’ll probably have to ask to have a technician come over to look at your system. And no, I can’t arrange that for you.

I did NOT call “Steve” any names. He’s just doing his job, right?

Before hanging up, in fact, he asked me if I wanted to review my account… because there were exciting NEW options available from my wonderful cable company to make me happy, happy, happy.

Stunned at the stupidity of asking me for more money while clearly not delivering on what I’d already paid for, I hung up on “Steve”. Let him suck some dial tone.

No movie, no appointment set up to fix things, and a ruined evening (which could have been salvaged had the robot told me that the error code meant no solution would be forthcoming… in the time I spent on the phone jumping through her hoops, I could have drove over to Blockbuster and rented the flick, come back and enjoyed my popcorn).

And the entire nasty experience was topped with a chirpy request for more money, please, thank you very much.

This is what happens when the friggin’ government confuses the free market with monopolies. There’s only one cable company in town. I’ll have to get a dish if I want the service I’ve paid for.

Mind you, the fiber-optic cable laid in the street was financed with my tax money. Paid for by me, but owned by the cable monster.

It’s enough to turn a guy into a frothing socialist.

Okay, I’m done complaining.

Here’s the marketing lesson: I’ve run my biz as a two-person shop for years. This means that, occasionally, things slipped through cracks, and customers rightly got frustrated and angry.

But here’s the kicker: Whenever that happened, we promptly took CARE of the problem as soon as it came to our attention. We never outsourced customer management… because the first rule of Operation MoneySuck is to pay attention to where the money’s coming from.


The cable companies — and every other monopoly joint in the culture — TALK a good game of customer relations… but it’s ALL talk.

I can easily imagine the meeting where they planned out the flowchart their robot would use with complaining customers. They must have been laughing their asses off, coming up with new tortures to inflict (like asking if your TV was “on”).

It’s plausible, and you know I’m right. That meeting really could have been a laugh-parade of evil-minded employees… because none of them CARED about the customer. They would collect their paycheck regardless.

They were, in fact, as removed from Operation MoneySuck as a person could be.

As an entrepreneur or small business owner, you cannot allow this mindset of “screw ’em, we already got their money” to infect your operations.

I’ve consulted with small biz who wanted to buy an automated answering system… and the reason was always the same: It was a HASSLE dealing with unhappy customers personally.

Well, too bad, I told them.

I don’t believe the customer is “always right”, because there ARE plenty of insane assholes out there.

But until you can VERIFY that any complainer IS insane or an asshole… you must assume he’s a good guy who got screwed in your system.

And what he wants is nothing elaborate. I have been close to every customer we’ve had for five years now, and I hear Diane dealing with them in the next office every day.

No matter how mad they are to start with… it’s EASY to end their frustration, which is usually the source of the anger. We’ll either fix the problem asap, or refund them, or do whatever else is required to be fair.

It’s not brain surgery.

The LAST thing you want to do with an angry customer… is to pitch them for more money. That’s just stupid… and makes me think your entire organization is stupid.

For me, that means going to a dish. The cable company will care not a whit that I’ve left, because they believe their monopoly is solid. But multiply me by a thousand, or ten thousand, and you’ve got a problem. Even worse, how could the cable company know that I’m not wired into the city council… where their tidy little monopoly is vulnerable?

Treating customers well is the first casualty of growing too big, and getting to comfy. (For a more grisly example, check out the way the Walter Reed Hospital story played out — thinking they were immune, the idiots running the joint refused to fix problems when it would have been easy… and one day they woke up being the face of a national scandal.)

Human problems require human solutions. The company that realizes this will thrive, with or without a monopoly. Slogans and robots do not replace human connections.

HAL — the misunderstood computer in the movie “2001” — eventually got his ass handed to him, and audiences cheered.

Because it’s no fun swearing at a robot that cannot be insulted.

Stay frosty.

John Carlton