“Nothing is impossible for a man who refuses to listen to reason.” (Gary Halbert)
I learned a lot from Gary Halbert, but the lesson that most affected my life had nothing to do with copywriting.
Rather, it was about living well.
I began my freelance copywriting career back in the “dark ages” of the mid-eighties, when direct response advertising had gone out of fashion and there were just a handful of us “true believers” in the game, devouring the ancient (and often out-of-print) books on advertising while doing the hard work of becoming masters at old school salesmanship…
… so we could relentlessly obliterate our clueless competition in every market we went after.
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I was fortunate to live in Los Angeles at the time… because multiple large agencies had just opened up branches there and were starved for competent copywriters. I quickly became the guy the creative directors snuck in the back door to do the work their house staff couldn’t pull off (because none of them studied the craft).
Then the large mailers back east caught wind of my work, and I found myself moving in the “A List” crowd of now-legendary copywriters like Gary Bencivenga and Jim Rutz (who I ghost-wrote for).
However, the corporate world bored me to tears.
It was primarily financial and health newsletters with the large mailers, and insurance and equipment sales with the agencies. Yawn.
That’s when I met Gary, at Jay Abraham’s house. He was the most arrogant, vain and outrageous person I’d ever met in the business world…
… and I liked him immediately.
I began doing odd writing jobs for him, and the day arrived when he asked if I was ready to become his main full-time writer.
The lesson I learned was hidden inside of the ensuing dilemma.
I was a rising star in the corporate world, and the fees (with royalties) were quickly entering “small fortune” territory.
If I went off with Gary, I’d be turning my back on a million-dollar career.
But what Gary offered was a chance to be true to my own mojo. With him, we’d be working mostly with entrepreneurs, and each new gig would be wildly different than the one before. And we’d be ushered into the back-rooms of powerful businesses, to observe and influence how entire markets operated.
I realized how little I was motivated by money. And how alive I felt in the entrepreneurial world, where rules were constantly broken and reinvented, and we could field-test our wildest ideas (the ideas that made the corporate beasts squirm).
Without Gary’s unique vision of how fun and exhilarating advertising could be, I might have stayed in that corporate world.
But we have such a short ride here on earth.
Sometimes, the riskier path is the one you need to take. And damn the torpedoes.
What I learned from Gary over the ensuing decades was both financially and intellectually fulfilling, to the point of being ridiculous. I got to watch the growth of direct response in the nineties from a ring-side seat, and I became a pioneer in online marketing when it became viable in the early aughts. Gary and I produced some of the very first marketing seminars, we invented the Hot Seat method of “speed consulting” with new clients, and we influenced the way nearly all successful copywriting is now used all over the world.
The lesson I learned is simple:
Find out what rocks your boat, and go for it with everything you have.
Gary was the first living example I’d ever met of someone who went for the gusto, every time.
And after 30 years of sharing what I’ve learned, I’m still not done tapping into the deep well of tactics, insight and savvy gathered from the raw wonder of working with the man.
The only way you can measure the worth of your life is later in the game, looking back. With Gary, there were as many misadventures as good ones, and what saved our butts time and again was our brutal sense of humor.
No one here gets out alive, and you gotta play the hand you’re dealt.
There is no room for regret or wishful thinking when you’re deep into life.
Sometimes, the riskier path is the only sensible one to take.
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