Category Archives for life lessons

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

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.

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

Wanna Be An Affiliate?

Quick note here.

You know I don’t pitch stuff much on this blog — I use it primarily as an adjunct to my monthly newsletter, The Marketing Rebel Rant.

However, I also like to use this blog as a sort of bulletin board. A way to let people know about certain opportunities they might not otherwise hear about.

Here’s what’s up: I’ve just started an official affiliate program.

That means I have a system in place that allows other people to offer my stuff to their lists, for a very generous cut. (I used to only do joint ventures — one-off deals that were seldom repeated. With an affiliate system, you can offer a deal whenever it fits into your schedule, and you have a code that tracks all sales automatically.)

Many of the top marketers online are becoming affiliates with me. And I want it known that — after meeting certain reasonable qualifications — I’m opening this new affiliate program up to others, too.

The qualifications are simple: This is a program for professional marketers, who already have lists they believe would be receptive to the material I offer.

That means you must have a list… and that list must be “hot”. My materials don’t do well to Biz Op lists, for example. And this is not a good program for anyone who intends to fish for cold leads (using, for example, pay-per-click ads or Clickbank).

If you do have a list of customers and prospects who listen to you, and you feel my materials will appeal to them, then you’re a perfect candidate for becoming an affiliate.

I won’t go into the specifics of the deal here (which are extremely generous). If you’re interested, email my Affiliate Manager at, and he will tell you everything you need (or want) to know.

That’s all for now.

Stay frosty.

John Carlton

P.S. We’ve all been so obsessed with Web 2.0 lately, that most of us missed the introduction of “Urinal Cake 2.0”.

I swear to you this is true. The Associated Press put out a story last week about New Mexico’s efforts to stop drunk driving… by putting talking urinal cakes in men’s restrooms all over the state. (Ladies: This is one of those items unique to the men’s room, I’m afraid. You probably don’t want to know more.)

Dig this: Each of these high-tech little cakes has a 3-month battery… and automatically delivers a recorded anti-DWI message to each, uh, patron.

The story doesn’t say if this approach has been tested or not. I imagine there’s a “sweet spot” in a drunk’s evening where he just might appreciate hearing what a soggy urinal cake has to say. He might even take the advice to heart.

However, I’m also pretty sure that — just before that point of lucid-but-illegal inebriation — the drunk will be so delighted at discovering such a treasure, that most of these chatty cakes will be stolen the first night.

I’m dead sober right now, for example, and yet I can think of about two dozen ingenious ways to freak people out with a talking urinal cake… all outside of its normal habitat. (I can almost — almost — imagine it appearing in a direct mail campaign for… something. Not sure what.)

In fact, I may just take a road trip to Santa Fe to go get one. What a prize it would be, proudly perched on my office shelf next to all the other weird crap I’ve collected over the years. (Like my Homer Simpson dressed-as-Santa singing doll, and the big-schnozzled Tiki God tissue dispenser.)

But to finish my point… I’m also pretty sure that — just after having one too many — many other drunks will use the occasion of hearing a lecture coming up at them from the urinal to experience a mental breakdown. “Dude, I’m telling you the (hic) thing was TALKING to me! Must be UFO aliens, dude! We gotta get outa here, NOW. (Hic) Let’s take my car.”

If anyone’s reading this while cruising through New Mexico, don’t send me one of these technological marvels unless it’s brand spanking new, and you stole it fresh and dry out of the box it came in.

Key words there: “Fresh and dry.”

Okay, I’m done.

Goop and Madness

Tuesday, 4:44pm
Reno, NV
“It’s alive, alive!” (Doc Frankenstein, on the first stirrings of his monster)


Man, it’s like deja vu all over again.

There are a ton of marketers making a ton of money, both online and offline right now… selling pure, uncut crap.

Nothing new about this. Back when the first caveman discovered the art of salesmanship while convincing another caveman to buy his old cave for a slab of mastadon meat… the next transaction to happen was probably a scam.

Like maybe trying to sell a fake cave. Or a cave with a bear sleeping in it. “Oh, didn’t I mention that bear? Sorry. And no, you can’t have your slab of meat back.”

The thing is, our capitalistic system allows for rapid financial reward regardless of whether you’re selling quality goods… or crap.

That’s why there’s never really been a truly “free” market. The moment someone with any power got scammed, laws were written and scofflaws were tossed into newly constructed hoosegows.

(Did you know, by the way, that the early European settlers in New England didn’t have anything resembling a jail for over a century? One colony tried digging a pit, but the prisoner escaped. We’ve come a long way, now with more folks per capita behind bars than any other civilized nation on the planet. Just something to chew on…)

Anyway, when you’ve been around business as long as I have — and I’ve been around a loooooong damn time — then you start to notice certain things that keep happening.

Like, for example… the cyclical return of the predatory multi-level marketing monster.

I’m not gonna name the current MLM goop out there, cuz it’s irrelevant. If it wasn’t this particular recipe of selected tangy herbs and zombie-ized crap, they would have found something else.

I’ve lived through three or four of these cycles. Lots and lots of money is made by some folks, and the buzz on the goop gets so hot that eventually stories appear in all the major magazines. (The same stories, pretty much, too. “Is this stuff for real?” the writers ask, all agog at the money and perplexed about the claims. God forbid they do any actual research on the goop…)

During the last go-round — in the late ’80s — the company behind that particular goop even bought a huge skyscraper in Los Angeles, and was drawing up plans for world domination just before the roof caved in on them. (MLM health-goop crashes happen just like the Dot-Com bust seven years ago — suddenly, taking whole groups of people down in financial chaos… and later, when the dust settles, it all seemed so obviously dumb…)

So allow me to set you straight here, in case you’re a little unclear on the concept: When it comes to maximum health, there are just 3 factors.

1. Good genes.

2. Good living.

3. And good information.

I hate to bust your bubble… but there ain’t no magic concoction out there that will cure your ills and make you live forever. At best, you may be coaxed away from your bad lifestyle, and introduced to the fundamental nutrients you’ve been avoiding, which may help a lot. (Amazingly, leading an unhealthy lifestyle actually contributes to ill health!)

At worst, you will be engaging in the power of suggestion and placebo… which also can work wonders for someone who strongly believes in magic.

In the end, however, if what you desire is good health and long life, you need to get hip to your body’s schematic. For every uncle you had who lived to 101 guzzling whiskey and chain smoking, you’ve got to factor in the four other tea-totaller relatives who dropped dead at 40 from heart attacks. That’s infomation.

Good living can be defined however you like… but in the end, it has to translate to being a better animal.

Exercise, eating well, indulging in a full life… we all slack off on the things we intuitively know can make us happier and healthier. So stop it.

Pot-bellied grouches die early. Smart, fit, upbeat people have a better shot at becoming Rip Van Winkle.

Finally, if you need a little magic to make sense of the world, then by all means go for it.

Whatever floats your boat.

But please — don’t fall for the scams.

Right now, the money flowing into that huge multi-level marketing monster roaming the country is just shocking.

So listen carefully: This type of magic elixir comes around like clockwork every generation.

And here’s how it works:

The goop is irrelevant. It could be (and sometimes has been) pureed compost heap. (The term “snake oil” comes from the common mid-18th century potions made from fermented rattlesnake heads and alcohol. Yummy.)

The ingredients do not matter.

What does matter… is the pitch

…and the choice of marketing organization.

The easiest way to generate a lot of money, fast, is to use the multi-level organization. I swear to you that many of these guys set the organization up first… and THEN go looking for some goop to plausibly fill the minor role of “product”. (They stay with herbs and “natural” ingredients to avoid the wrath of the FDA.)

MLM success is based not on actually selling the product…

…. but on convincing others to sell it for you. So you sit at the top of your own private pyramid, doing nothing but cashing checks, while your minions scurry about below either hawking the goop… or creating their own little pyramids of sub-sellers.

And you get a piece of all the action filtering up through your seat on the pyramid.

Most level-headed people, upon hearing of how the MLM scheme plays out, pause.

The organization seems to defy a basic law of the marketplace — if the goop is really as good as the pitch says it is… then why is the emphasis not on selling it, but rather on getting other people to sell it for you?

To go into the logical curli-ques of the MLM pitch would take many pages.

Because, after the organizational set-up, the next most important part of the scheme is the pitch.

And, when done right, that pitch will exhaust your brain, murder your intuition, and leave you believing that black is white. Reality and fact be damned.

It’s only job is to generate enthusiasm. Enthusiasm for all the money you’ll make, so fast and easy, coupled with your new ability to live forever by guzzling this delicious new goop.

Whatever the goop is.

Doesn’t matter.

MLM is all about the suspension of belief… so, in your fevered excitement, you begin to believe that YOU — yes, YOU, among all the people who have sought it from the dawn of time — have been chosen to be among the blessed few to finally — FINALLY — discover the Fountain of Youth.

And you deserve to made rich for doing so.

You may as well join a cult. Because the brainwashing will never cease, and you are in for a ride that will not end until you are forced to face reality again.

Some people will get rich. That’s a given — it’s the reason the “snake oil” miracle remedy has been part of civilization since cockroaches decided to partner up with us.

We all want that simple, easy answer to our problems.

We all want magic in our lives again.

We really, really, really want it.

And we’ll PAY for it, by golly.

MLM schemes have a half-life of many years. Unless they are careless — and a good organization will avoid saying anything in their pitch exposing them to easy prosecution — they will not be brought down by any legal action. You can’t legislate the yearning for magic.

Mostly, they just peter out. Some hang around in the shadows for generations.

Hell, some even have some half-way decent product to sell.

But if you’re paying someone, who’s paying someone else, who’s paying someone else, etc., for the right to sell your share of this wondrous goop to friends and family… then you’re not the rebel marketer you believe you are.

You’re just part of an MLM organization.

Hey, for some people, it’s a way to dip their toes into the business world, I suppose. Maybe a way to make a few extra bucks. (Though studies confirm that the average MLMer never makes back their initial investment.) (Which they probably paid to a relative, or someone at work.)

The thing is… you gotta get clear on how you define “success”.

If all you care about is making money, then go smuggle drugs. Tons of cash in that line of work.

If you want to have a legitimate biz, then strive to make it a good one. And watch who you’re learning from.

Just know this: There are mobs of marketers out there earning boatloads of money… selling crap. Not just the MLMer’s, either.

If your chosen mentor or teacher bases his pitch to you on the idea that he has made a lot of money, then do a little digging. Especially now, with the globalized reach of the online business world, it’s EASY to make a bundle selling shoddy, screwed up goods and services.

Because, again, the product often doesn’t matter. The pitch hits your hot buttons… and the organization attaches an umbilical cord to your wallet and starts siphoning up money.

Look for quality. Look for honesty, integrity, and a product that does what the pitch promised.

You can admire an organization’s ability to round up a herd of prospects, and a pitch’s masterful way of harnessing cash.

But you don’t have to admire the people behind it all when they’re selling crap.

We live in a world filled with illusion and greed and clever thieves.

Watch your ass. And skip the goop. Go buy a blender and some cheap but good protein powder, eat more fruits and veggies, and get off your butt more and go do stuff that makes you sweat.

No one’s gonna live forever.

And if you truly desire to get rich, you can do it with your head held high, selling quality products and offering damn good services.

I shouldn’t have to keep reminding you of this, you know…

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

3 Inviolate Rules We Routinely Violate

One of the reasons I got into teaching was a special notebook I kept throughout the early years of my freelance career.

In that notebook, I wrote down every non-writing rule I came across in business. These were not the tactics and tricks and secrets I was using to actually write copy. All those notes and insights went into different files.

No, this one special notebook was simply called “Nuggets”. I was hanging around stars, geniuses and wizards who constantly spouted little tidbits of wisdom — the guiding rules of their life — and I was astonished that few people were as knocked out by the power of these nuggets as I was.

I started my career as a freelance copywriter in a state of near-utter cluelessness… and I pounced on every shred of advice and insight I could find. I guarded that notebook like it was gold.

There was more to living a good life than just earning big fees as a writer.

As I began to taste success and enter doors previously closed to me, I saw the wreckage of ruined lives all over the place — guys who had achieved great things in business, but whose personal lives sucked beyond belief.

The first decision, I realized, was simply taking the obvious steps to getting your professional act together.

But the next decision was just as critical — and usually overlooked.

You gotta get your mojo together, too.

You must weld the Yin to the Yang.

I can always tell when a copywriting student is gonna go places in this biz — he pays as much attention to the non-writing advice as he does to the specifics of crafting sales pitches. Most are too full of raw ambition to see that “success” needs to be defined… and it’s different for everyone.

Nobody gets out of this world alive.

In the end, it’s not how much you earned, but how well you lived that matters.

And that’s where these “nuggets” come in. Back in the ’80s, there were oodles of books coming out that purported to tell you how to live. The best-sellers were like Robert Ringer’s works — tough, no-nonsense updates on Machiavelli and Sun Tsu’s “Art of War”. It was good stuff… but a little lopsided on the “kill first, ask questions later” model.

If all you read was the hard-core “greed is good” manuals, you might have succeeded at reaching your goals… but there was a good chance you’d be alone at the end of the day. And miserable.

I was fortunate to discover the other side of the “rules for life” literary trend. Og Mandino, for all his sappiness, still delivered a useable message of hope and empowerment. And the Americanized Zen of David Reynolds (“Constructive Living”), when balanced against Ringer’s “take no prisoners” tactics, offered you a breathtaking menu of life lessons that came close to supplying you with what it took to be a complete person.

Still, I noted that many of the basic rules my mentors were relying on each day weren’t represented in the popular books.

So I kept meticulous notes. And I took the lessons to heart.

I’ll share just three with you here. A sliver of insight, culled from a long career at the edge.

I’ve called them “inviolate” rules… meaning, you shouldn’t violate them, ever, if you want to live a super-disciplined life.

But I noticed that even the most disciplined and ambitious and proactive guys I learned from… violated nearly every rule they had, at one time or another.

And that’s another rule: There are always exceptions.

The difference is all about keeping your eyes open, and acknowledging to yourself that you are consciously going against your own rule.

Sometimes, life is like a horror movie. Yeah, you should never go down into the dark cellar after hearing screams… but if you’re the go-to guy in the group, then that’s what you gotta do. Even if doing so goes against the very fiber of your being.

Here are 3 “inviolate” rules that are routinely violated:

Rule #1. No good deed goes unpunished.

It’s astonishing to me how often this rule proves itself. I’m a generous guy, and I was raised to enjoy doing things for people. It’s a habit. When I’m in a position to help someone else out, I often jump up and go out of my way. It’s just my nature — and I’m not alone.

Americans in general — despite our current spate of bad PR in the world — are generous people.

But you cannot do something for another human being with the expectation that you will be rewarded. First, because that diminishes the act of kindness.

And second… because doing something nice for someone often kickstarts a thought process in the person being helped that doesn’t end until he’s convinced you OWE him even more help. More of what you did for him, and more of everything in general.

The psychological roots of this weird thinking are deep, and if you pay close attention you’ll discover that even you have engaged in it. (I distinctly recall being overwhelmed with gratitude at the better-than-I-expected salary I received from a mentor… and, less than a month later, assuming he should also kick in for a new car. I was horrified to realize I was punishing him for kindness… but at least I caught myself, and nipped that ungrateful demon in my head in the bud.)

And yet… I have never stopped doing good deeds. The idea of going through life refusing to be generous just because many people will consider you their private sugar-daddy is… well, it’s an ugly idea.

I’ll continue to violate this rule… but I’ll be ever vigilant to the possible consequences.

Being generous doesn’t require that you be a sucker, too.

If I do something for someone out of the goodness of my heart, and they shit on it… well, fine. They’ve burned a bridge, and it’s not my problem.

And it’s not gonna sour me on helping others.

Rule #2: All clients suck.

This is an easy one. All clients DO suck… because the very nature of being a client means you want something from the person you’ve hired. And as much as that hired gun is a pro — with good work habits and a dedication to deadlines — he still resents the fact that his skills have been bought with coin.

I try to make my freelance students understand that they are, essentially, whores. You take the cash, and work up a rabid enthusiasm for your client’s business and life. You are his new best friend, and you’re in it with him 110%… until you’ve fulfilled your paid-for duties.

Then, you’re outa there like a kid on the last day of school.

And the client, once he has what he needs from you, can’t wait to see the door hit you in the butt (most of the time).

It’s an adversarial relationship. Each side feels they gave it up too cheap.

What’s funny about this… is that YOU suck when you’re own client. Writing for yourself is one of the hardest jobs you’ll ever take on… and you must assume a schizophrenic duo-personality if you’re gonna be successful. Cuz you gotta kick your own ass, and set your own deadlines.

Still… in the end, the savvy freelancers among us all continue to hire ourselves out to new clients… and the smart business owners among us continue to hire new talent.

With your eyes open, and no illusions that these people really are your new best friends, you can make it work.

Rule #3: Do not go into business with friends.

I’ve seen 30-year friendships burst asunder, long-term marriages collapse, and even brothers never speak to each other again… all after making the decision to go into business together.

The trouble is in believing your closeness will overcome all problems.

You know… the way teenagers believe love will conquer all.

If you truly value any relationship, you will build a wall between it and your business life.

And yet… I have consistently violated this well-established rule time and time again.

What saved me… was the reality check I gave myself and the other people in the drama: If this goes bad, I will kill the association where it stands.

And I’ve done it. Over the years, I have tried a dozen times to bring friends into the world of entrepreneurism, and especially advertising. They had nothing going in their lives, were rudderless and desperately seeking a clue… and I gave them one chance to come aboard.

I had a single simple requirement: They had to get serious.

I would bend over backward helping them the entire way — personally teaching them what they needed to learn, overseeing their efforts, being that “secret weapon” watching their backs at all times. I would take them on as a private project, and pour myself into the job.

But they had to get their game on, and do what I told them to do. When it was about business, we were no longer equals (as we were in regular life) — they had to obey, and follow through, and trust me.

Of the dozen I brought into the field… only ONE ever made it a career. The others just couldn’t get past the idea of their friend getting serious about all this… business crap.

The one who stuck it out? I still act like a drill sergeant around him when the subject is business… and he has prospered. And, we still have the friendship, mostly — it’s changed a bit, but we’ve made it work. It’s like putting on a different costume, playing a different role depending on the circumstances.

It can be done. It’s not easy, though. Most people screw it up… and lose the relationship.

I violate this rule just as I do the others — with my eyes wide open.

I’m even partnered up with one of my closest life-long friends… and while we watch out for the pitfalls, there is always the chance it could turn out badly. Money and success can ruin anything.

But in a full life, you choose your battles and you choose your rules.

And even the hard-core rules were made to be broken — if you pay attention.

Still, it’s good to know the rules in the first place. It’s sorta like having a flashlight as you go down those dank cellar steps.

No, wait — it’s like being able to rewrite the script as you go. Maybe not the entire plot, but a lot of it.

Yeah, we do need the stinkin’ rules.

We just don’t have to always follow them.

Stay frosty…

John Carlton

Inside The Marketing Poker Game

Though I live near a downtown crammed pretty much wall-to-wall with casinos, I never haunt any of them unless friends are visiting.

And most of my friends, by the time they arrive, are visibly hungry for an evening spent in degenerate splendor, throwing their money away. The more gritty the casino, the better, too.

I had an old friend come up for Superbowl weekend with his son, and we decided to watch the slopfest in the dirtiest, darkest, and most out-of-controlRead more…

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

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