What Could Possibly Go Wrong?


Just kinda checking in here, let people know I haven’t been kidnapped or anything.

It’s been a super-busy past couple of months, and the hecticity (is that a word?) is scheduled to continue for another month at least.

And right now, I’m getting my head straight for the big damn Copywriting Sweatshop this weekend. (I haven’t pestered anyone about this exclusive event because it filled up right away.)

For anyone who’s curious, this will be somewhere around my gazilliointh seminar (counting all the ones I’ve hosted, co-produced, spoken at, and attended as a special guest)… and over the years I have learned 2 basic lessons about mounting the stage:

1. Get your physical system in shape. Hosting even a short seminar is like running a marathon, in terms of taxing your body — and if you’re not prepared, you’ll experience mental and physical fatigue equal to being in a car wreck. (It was typical, in the early days when we piled up seminars one after the other, for the entire staff to suffer cold-like system-shutdown symptoms beginning about five minutes after each event ended. It was our bodies way of saying “That’s it, we’re taking a break.”)

2. Have a couple of “Plan B” options in your back pocket.

I always know I’m dealing with rookies — in any kind of venture or project — when I hear them say “We got it covered — what could possibly go wrong?”


I’ve always nurtured an attitude of optimistic pessimism. I happily expect things to go horribly wrong… and thus I’m never shocked or unprepared to dive into alternative plans.

So when the electricity goes out… or the hotel double-schedules a wedding in the meeting room we’re using… or an attendee has a schizophrenic episode that requires intervention… or the camera guy shows up drunk or missing… and yes, all of these things have happened… I do not suffer even an instant of paralysis.

Just take a deep breath… knowing you’re gonna have one hell of a funny story to tell later… and start fixing things.

Also… if everything accidentally does go off without a hitch, you are more appreciative… because smooth sailing wasn’t expected.

Nothing tempts the gods of mayhem more than someone who takes it for granted that all will go well.

Right now, every detail of this upcoming sweatshop has been handled by my loyal assistant, Diane, who has weathered several of these events with me. She’s a human dynamo, and the hotel staff is terrified of her, as they should be. She knows their jobs better than they do, in most cases… and she is well versed in disaster avoidance and problem resolution.

Still, as an irony-drenched joke, we often say to each other: What could possibly go wrong?

I hear this quite a bit from clients, by the way… only, they’re serious. And I always stop the consultation right there and lay down the law. Get real, dude. No matter how much money, time, energy and staff resources you’ve poured into this project… a LOT can — and will — go wrong.

It’s not a cause to panic, in most cases, if you’re prepared for detours.

Usually, anyway.

I had to laugh, grimly, at this recent AP story in the paper: The University of Central Florida just had opening day at their brand-spankin’ new 43,000-seat football stadium. Cost: A nickel over $55million.

The big story: Piles of people collapsing from heat exhaustion.

Because, in that entire $55million cutting-edge facility, there is not a single public water fountain.

In Florida.

Stunned officials, clearly surprised by the sudden attention of news crews, actually said: “Well, you’re supposed to buy water at any of the several beverage stands when you’re at a game.”

A PR moment for the history books.

I’ll bet they really thought they had everything covered. Top architects, all the ticket machines humming, all the beverage stands well-stocked.

They just completely frigging forgot to account for human behavior. And while, at some near point in the future, the idea of water as a non-free commodity will be accepted by all (H2O is the new “oil”, you know)… it was just really, really dumb to think you could be a pioneer in this area without suffering the wrath of the beer-chugging, severely dehydrated public.

What could go wrong?


It doesn’t have to harsh your mellow, though. Just be prepared. Consider worst-case scenarios, and refuse to be paralyzed by challenges.

Another example of why choosing experienced veterans as your “go to guys” makes sense. (I’ll bet the “top” architect of that stadium was a rookie, right out of some fancy school.)

Stay frosty…

John Carlton

P.S. Quick rundown of upcoming events: I’ll be one of the experts with Eben Pagan’s upcoming “Print Persuasion” master-class teleseminar series — my spot is Thursday, 9/27. (My pal Frank Kern’s in the mix for that series, too.)

I’m then flying to Atlanta to speak at Armand Morin’s crazy-good Big Seminar the weekend of 10/5. (You got my email on that, right? I’m sharing the stage with Jay Abraham and other notables, and it’s gonna be another killer seminar.)

The following week, I’ll be one the slack-jawed attendees at Eben’s Altitude event in Los Angeles (hope you snagged a seat, if you caught wind of how great that event will be). And I think I’m scheduled to speak at another event in mid-October, also in LA — more on that when I get the details settled.

Busy, busy, busy.

I’ll be blogging when I can. If there is any subject you’d like me to write about, let me know in the comments section here, will ya?

In the meantime… enjoy your autumn. My favorite season, by far…

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  • Greg Thompson says:

    Hi John,

    I don’t know if this is something for you to write about as a subject in the blog, but its something I’ve been wondering for awhile now…

    After reading your ever-popular “one legged golfer” piece, I seemed to remember you saying it originally appeared in Golf Digest magazine and, when it did, it was the first kind of ad like that anyone in that market had ever seen before.

    Then I remember reading about how later, others followed with their army of “me too” type ads, as normally happens after any success.

    This, combined with the fact that everyone always praises the golf market as one of the “dream niches” to be in because of its incredibly high passion index… is why I subscribed to Golf Digest and a couple other golf mags out there.

    “Oh boy” I thought… “this is gonna get me a free pass into some great direct marketing space ads and sales letters.”

    But now, I’m kinda pissed, because each month I get nothing but a magazine filled with dumb institutional ads and I STILL have yet to get a single “Angry Midwest Farmer Accidently Discovers New Putting Technique”-style direct mail pieces. Not one. Not a single golf-related direct mail piece.

    So my question is… what the heck is going on here??? Isn’t anyone mailing these lists? I’m a friggin HOTLINE name, for chrissakes! I’m sitting over here with a big fat red X on my chest saying “I’ve got $$ to buy your crap” and not one offer has crossed my desk during the 7 months I’ve been a subscriber to any of these things.

    Has it just gotten too expensive for the marketers? Have all the great “fly by the seat of your pants” Halbert-style marketers gone the way of the Do-Do Bird? Or is this just a really great opportunity in disguise?


  • Louis says:


    You mention veteran marketers quite often and I appreciate the wisdom that you and they share through blogs.

    I’d like to see your thoughts on how you know when you’ve joined the ranks of veteran copywriters. It’s not just about controls and seminars, is it?


  • Matt Gallant says:

    Hey John,

    I agree whole heartedly with you.

    I think those that think “What Could Possibly Go Wrong?”
    Haven’t been in business long enough to know any better.

    Personally, in the last year I’ve seen more non-linear business s@%t
    come my way that I could EVER have imagined on my worst day.

    After SURVIVING the onslaught of mutiple level breakdowns,
    there’s a new found level of humbleness that I LACKED.
    I think this is called: WISDOM.

    The bottom line is: EXPECT and PREPARE for the worst…
    And hope and pray for the best.

    Please keep the wisdom flowing,

    P.S. I sent you an email a couple of months ago – NEVER got a reply.
    Can you check on this?

  • […] Here is an example from a recent post on the steps for presenting Seminars… […]

  • Evaine says:

    Good post. You make some great points that most people do not fully understand.

    “So when the electricity goes out… or the hotel double-schedules a wedding in the meeting room we’re using… or an attendee has a schizophrenic episode that requires intervention… or the camera guy shows up drunk or missing… and yes, all of these things have happened… I do not suffer even an instant of paralysis.”

    I like how you explained that. Very helpful. Thanks.

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