This Is Not Okay

The University of Connecticut has just published a study of high school students and their attitudes about the freedom of the press.

And, apparently, our school system is busy turning out a fresh crop of fascists. One third said the press in this country needed to be restricted in what they can say. Thirty-six percent said that the government should approve all news stories before they’re allowed to run.

This isn’t cute. Most folks here have never actually read the Constitution, and that’s fine, I suppose. This creates embarrassing moments, however. Back during the sixties, smart-ass protesters used to hand innocent civilians two pieces of paper (pretending to be part of a study), and asked if the person agreed or disagreed with what was written on each sheet.

It was fairly frightening to watch. One sheet listed the Bill of Rights (without identifying it as such)… and average “man in the street” types often found that document offensive. Too many risky rights, too many uncontrolled freedoms. Made people nervous.

The other sheet was a list of talking points from an Adolf Hitler speech in the thirties (his name did not appear on the paper)… and a lot of folks agreed with what that nutcase had to say about reigning in bad elements and setting up restrictive rules. Just what this country needed — a little hard-nosed authority.

Of course, fights often broke out when the smug students pointed out that you’d just trashed the foundation of our democracy, and gave a thumbs up to totalitarianism. The sixties were like that, you know. Lots of fighting. Lots of ideological trickery.

Now, it’s easy to see why a writer would want to enshrine the First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…”). I wanna write what I wanna write, and who the hell are you to tell me I can’t write about “that”. And — as infuriating as the press can be — it’s the ink-stained wretch who mans the front line of liberty here. Not the politician. Not the entertainer. Not the latest incarnation of Elmer Gantry.

It’s the journalist.

However, it’s not quite so easy to see the connection of all this to business. But it’s there — and it’s critical. The U.S. is the leader in entrepreneurial projects… and it’s because of the First Amendment. Us upstarts can go against entrenched corporations for a piece of the pie because we are able to lay out our offers, in front of God and everybody. Without unfair restrictions.

And let the best marketer get the sale.

Other countries are only now starting to catch on. Every marketing seminar I go to now has an astonishing high number of people from Asia, Europe, Australia, even South America. They’re getting the hang of hard-ball direct marketing… but ten years ago, it was almost unheard of outside of the U.S.

We’re spoiled. We’re not just comfortable with the right to say what we please, without fear… we take it for granted. The rest of the world is still acting like a kid who just said a dirty word at the dinner table… and they’re waiting to see what the reaction of authority will be.

So far, so good. I know a 21-year-old kid in Japan who is using what he’s learned from me and others to make a killing over there. That market has never seen this kind of advertising message before. And they’re eating it up. Next stop: China.

Meanwhile… America seems to be sliding backwards. Two kids out of every five think the government should approve stories before they get published? Are you friggin’ kidding me?

Yeah, yeah, I know there are restrictions on what we can say. Can’t yell fire in a crowded theater, can’t promise a pill will make you lose weight while you sleep, can’t slander someone. But most of these restrictions involve some type of damaging larceny or lying.

As of today, however, you still can’t get thrown in the hoosegow for telling the truth. The burden of proving what you say may be on your shoulders at times, but we still have the power of the First Amendment behind us.

And it truly is one powerful mutha. You want that amendment on your side. You want it watching your back, even if you don’t regularly write incendiary stuff. Cuz the road to fascism starts with allowing someone else to start censoring what you think and say.

So do yourself a favor. Google the Bill of Rights, and download it. (The copy I just printed from is all of one and a half pages long.) The Constitution laid out the workings of the government… and these amendments were added to ensure that individuals were still, without question, top dog in the country. Regardless of your status.

This was radical stuff two centuries ago, and it’s still causing a fuss.

And even good people don’t quite understand what that fuss is all about. Your neighbors, often, are quite willing to trash the Bill of Rights, because they don’t see how it affects them personally.

Don’t be like them. It won’t kill you to read up on the foundation of the society that has created such a wonderful business climate for you. You know I’m not a sappy guy… but people died for this. People died so you have the right to use balls-to-the-wall copy to sell your widgets online.

That is not a small thing.

And never forget that there are people out there who despise these freedoms. They aren’t all foreigners, either. Some of them are growing up next door.

John Carlton

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You Got Questions… I Got Answers

Here are the answers to questions posted earlier:

1. When you’re deciding on the form your product takes, you’ve got to put Operation MoneySuck into action. The question asked was about whether to create a single book combining both “101 Ways To Prevent Carpal Tunnel”, and a remedy for the problem once you have it.

The answer lies within your market, and within the goals of your campaign. The actual question concerned the possibility of eroded credibility if the “prevention” side of the product didn’t work. Which, of course, would necessitate the need for the remedy.

In general, it’s tough to sell anything that has to do with prevention. The old adage is: People won’t spend a nickel to prevent something… but will give you everything they have to fix something important once it’s broken. It’s especially true in health matters.

So, applied to this specific question… you will have a hard time selling the prevention part of the book, alone, anyway. So, if you’re keeping the remedy as your backend, you may not have a very large list to sell it to.

In other words, it’s not Operation MoneySuck to even consider splitting this product up. An experienced marketer would know that the real salesworthy product was the remedy. The prevention stuff is actually more of a bonus.

And you should look for something else to use as a backend.

I realize there are tons of books out there selling prevention. I have books on stretching and yoga and resistance training, all because I used to have a bad back. But I bought them AFTER I had the bad back, not before. Though they present themselves as prevention, in reality they are part of my attempt to fix the problem. (By the way, I finally fixed my bad back with a regular exercise regimen — weights, cardio, the works. And lots of stomach work, which is the key to a strong back. Writers have chronic back pain, because we’re sitting all the time at the keyboard. We’re suckers for expensive chairs — I have an Aeron monster, with a dozen settings for lumbar and recline — and all sorts of things that attempt to get around the problem without resorting to exercise. None work. You gotta haul your ass to the gym.)

So, to sum up: You look at what your market will pay for. Then you create your product to appeal to that. Logic has no place here.

2. Does it matter if your sales letter is printed on both sides or not? I don’t know of any definitive tests on this. The reason so many long copy letters are printed on both sides, however, is cost. One extra page can put your package over the ounce limit for first class, and that instantly bumps your cost per piece.

That adds up when you’re mailing in the truck-loads.

The holy grail for many mailers is a lightweight paper stock that is still opaque enough so you can print on both sides and not affect readability. I remember writing a penny letter for a client that worked so well he began dropping hundreds of thousands of pieces a week. There was nothing they could do about the weight of the penny… so they found super-light paper. And they even tested the glue holding the coin. They were able to slap the cent on the 12-page letter, plus a reply envelope and order form (and one or two lift notes, as I recall)… and still get the whole mess under an ounce.

I was deeply impressed. The glue weight made the difference. (And no, I don’t know what they used.)

Side story: Another client had tremendous success with a dollar bill letter I wrote. But they resented mailing so many bucks… so they decided (without consulting me) to just print the image of a dollar bill on the first page.

Sales plummeted, but they never told me what they did. They just reported back that “yer letter ain’t workin’ no more.”

If postage is not a problem, I prefer to print on one side of each page. But it’s not a major consideration.

Test, and let me know what you find out.

John Carlton

Long Live Johnny

If you’re too young to have experienced the rich cultural connection that was Johnny Carson, make the effort to get ahold of a few Tonight Show episodes.

Heck, even if you watched him for years before hitting the sack, go back and check out his talent again.

The man was one of the best salesmen who ever lived. He sold his show, night after night after night. And he did it by bonding with his audience.

No one has even come close to doing it better. I suspect most hosts have egos too large for honest humility anymore. Ego can win over an audience for a short time… but (as Joan Rivers, Chevy Chase, the guy from Wheel of Fortune and about a thousand other wannabes discovered) it wears thin in a steady relationship.

Johnny had a love affair with average Americans. He honestly enjoyed himself on the show, was genuinely funny… and could take a joke well when it was on him. He “went down easy”, and that allowed him to be a constant in people’s lives.

You just felt you could trust the guy. That you could have a beer with him and he’d be a good friend and not a prima donna. And if he had some advice for you, you’d listen. You may not always take the advice, but you’d listen.

All marketers should aspire to Johnny’s ability to bond. He spoke plainly, with humor and intelligence and a little honest street-savvy. What he offered shouldn’t be all that rare, but it is. He’s the friend, the uncle, the partner we all wish we had.

Find some old episodes, and watch them critically. Study how he bonds with the audience, with the guests, with his cohorts. And know that what he does is NOT easy. There are tactics he’s using. Being self-deprecating is just the most obvious. There is much more going on… and it’s all worth learning.

I miss him, but he was never my favorite late-night host. I miss the old David Letterman show much more, the really late one. His newer, earlier show on CBS just leaves me cold. I like the edgy, cult stuff. (I first saw Ernie Kovacs shows as a kid, and they warped me forever. Steve Allen, when he wasn’t censoring himself, could also court the dark side. The guys on the Daily Show are following that path, as old as television itself, of never being afraid of going over the heads of their audience. Like Soupy Sales did with kids…)

But I respect Johnny Carson’s ability as a salesman more than anyone else’s. Among my close friends, edgy works. But with the broader markets of the American hinderland, you need to understand the magic and power of Johnny’s ability to bond.

Over the next week or so, there will be numerous eulogies on Johnny, and everyone will talk endlessly about how much the man was liked. But none of these obituaries will scratch the surface of uncovering the man’s tactics. These secrets were, for the most part, invisible.

But if you watch closely, you can see his genius at work. Learn, and prosper.

John Carlton

Burning and Embarrassing Questions

I’ve noticed there are three levels of questions I get hit with. The most common are from raw rookies, and they fall into a single category: How do I do the basic stuff of writing ads, creating products, and putting a marketing plan into action? It’s the big test of being a teacher — the day I get mad at someone for asking me the same damn question I’ve heard four thousand times before, is the day I need to get out of the business of teaching.

The second level is from people who’ve dabbled in the advertising arts, but fall apart at the slightest obstacle. These questions often center on procrastination, how to get started on new projects, writer’s block (it’s a myth, by the way), and the details of editing badly-written first drafts.

The last level is from active marketers. Oddly enough, many of their questions mirror the more basic ones asked by rookies. You can have a fabulous success with one project, and then hit a brick wall on the next, and not be able to figure out why. The smart thing to do is to go back to the basics, and see where you went wrong.

Now, here’s the issue: There is no such thing as a dumb question. There ARE such things as “bad” questions… because sometimes you know the answer, but you want a different one (even though you know it’s not gonna happen). And I often get people asking me “stall” questions — they feel they’re actively pursuing thier project by asking me stuff, when in reality they’re just putting off sitting down and getting busy.

Great ads don’t get written by magic. It’s discipline and detective work and putting in your time at the keyboard.

Still, I get the nagging sense that there are a lot of questions that people don’t ask me, because they feel they’re too… embarrassing. These are often the most important questions to ask… because they’re sticking points. You cannot go further without the answer.

I understand this problem personally. I am mostly a self-taught guitarist, for example… so I never learned how to read music, and I couldn’t define a Dorian scale if you tortured me. (Though, I probably play leads in such a scale — I just never learned the right name for it.)

I finally took a few lessons from a great axe-man in the beach town I lived in back when I first became a freelancer. Taking those lessons was my reward (my “Miller Time”) for finishing hard jobs and meeting deadlines. He was a schooled musician, technically adept, and also a street-savvy bluesman. And, often, I wouldn’t actually have a formal lesson with him… but, rather, would spend the hour asking “dumb” questions. It was great. I finally got to fill in the gaps that were sometimes embarrassing for me. I was already “good enough” to be the lead guitarist in a band… but those small knowledge gaps made me look like an idiot. “Fixing” them made me confident enough to forge ahead with my stage life.

Now, I get to return the favor, as a teacher. If you have a burning question you’ve been hesitant to ask, now’s your chance. No one will judge you, no one will call you stupid.

For this post, just leave a comment with your question. Don’t be shy.

And, I know that in earlier posts I said I wasn’t going to accept comments. I’ve changed my mind. People have been emailing me with their comments, and I now would like you to just post them here. It will probably be slow for a time — there are still just a handfull of folks who even know about this site yet. But, if I get off my ass and start spreading the word — and you do the same — we could develop a pretty dangerous little online community here.

So please — post a comment. I’ll address the questions in subsequent posts.

How To Become A Respectable Word Slut

If you’re gonna slam your copywriting chops into high gear, you have to allow yourself to fall in love with the language.
This concept makes many otherwise strong men and women quiver… and it’s because our lame-ass education system does its best to make people hate the language early on. This antagonism toward English — created by boring homework and pointless drills and dull reading — has saddled most rookie copywriters with a truly sad and shallow vocabulary (list of useable words). Not only are they clueless about what constitutes a “power word” (one filled with emotional tension, like “humiliate”), but the way they construct even a simple sentence will put you to sleep.
But that’s why I say “allow” instead of “force” yourself to fall in love. There’s a very easy and enjoyable way to do this that can fix the damage done by brain-dead teachers.
Here are two ways to begin right now:
1. The current edition of the online magazine “Slate” ( has a great story about Dave Barry. He’s just retired his column, after 22 years. If you’ve never read Dave Barry, you’re in for a treat. More important, you need to read him and pay close attention to how he uses simple, common words and phrases to bring his ideas alive.
The guy is a master Word Slut, clearly in love with language and the amazing power language has to rattle our cages. Read the article titled “Dave Barry — elegy for the humorist” by Bryan Curtis.
2. While researching linguistics (I have strange hobbies), I also came across one of the best sites on current slang I’ve ever found. Go to and just start clicking on the words listed there. Warning: You better allow an hour or so per visit, cuz this is good stuff.
My favorite “new terms” the site has defined (and given fascinating histories for) are rat spill, metric butt-load, eye-wreck, ghetto pass, duckshove, road diet, listicle and BlackBerry prayer.
If you can go to this site and NOT find a new word to use in your next ad, then you’re hopeless.
The best copywriters are all dedicated Word Sluts. We delight in finding and using fresh slang and old forgotten cliches — anything that works to increase the readability of our copy. But you must be careful — you cannot use words that aren’t clearly understood by most readers. This forces you to write at around a fifth grade level (which most newspapers aspire to). You start using too many fifty-cent words (big ones that most people aren’t familiar with) and you will lose large percentages of your audience. This, of course, will murder your response.
But that’s why reading guys like Dave Barry is so important. He never uses a word that isn’t instantly understood by anyone able to read a newspaper. And yet, by having a deep “bag” of words to choose from, he is not limited at all. Simple language, lovingly arranged in the right way, can still be amazingly powerful.

John Carlton

What kind of smell are you leaving behind?

There are three levels of interaction with a customer. If you are stictly a direct mail or online operation, you will never see most customers at all. As a freelancer, I have to “go deep” with a client, but it’s almost always on the phone — so, while I get to know my customer intimately through long, frequent chats, I wouldn’t recognize them on the street. Lastly, if you are, say, a doctor or a retailer, then you operate in the same space as your customer, face to face. You can see, hear, touch and smell them.
Now, the biggest blunder most businesses make is to ignore the lifetime value of a customer. These “future blind” businesses operate as if the current transaction is the only one that matters. So they get short-sighted about the long-term effects of customer satisfaction.
It’s human nature. Most direct response joints will lavishly woo a prospect until he actually orders… and then consider him a nuisance that, oh well, must be sent the product. I can tell you from experience that most clients (in all industries) suck — they will come to a freelancer or vendor desperate and begging for help, promising the moon… and, once the crisis has been handled, will get nit-picky over paying the rest of the fee. In retail, once you buy something, you’re just taking up space in the store.
Businesses treat customers the way a cad treats a date — intense attention and interest, until they get what they want. Then, hell, you can walk home.
Smart businesses never operate this way. They understand that a happy customer will buy again, and again, and again. The lifetime value of a happy customer is a multiple of his first purchase. Often, the first purchase is a “test” buy… and, if he’s satisfied, the next one will be huge.
So it’s important what kind of smell you leave behind, after your prospect becomes a customer. In direct response, even if you never meet your customer, you can still bond with him through your emails, letters, and occasional phone calls. (This is one reason I insist that my clients have long, outrageously generous guarantees on all offers — it forces them to continue “wooing” the customer after he buys.) If you deal more intimately with people, you have even better opportunities to re-establish that critical human connection.
I’m thinking of this as I stew over my second attempt to reach a human being at the “customer service” phone center for Best Buy. I dropped over a grand at the joint, and there seemed to be some suspicious activity on my credit card connected with their online operation. It would be a simple matter to solve, on the phone, with another human being. But no — they’ve installed a robotic system that has NO OPTION in the menu to talk with a live person. Their site chirps about being able to handle all matters on this line… but if what you need is outside the narrow confines of the menu, you’re out of luck, dude. They don’t spell it out, either. You have to figure it out, after putting in your time: You ain’t never gonna speak to a real person.
I like Best Buy, I really do. It’s a cornucopia of electronic gear, with at least moderately helpful staff, non-gougy prices, and — important for me — lots of stuff in inventory. And, if it’s not in the store, you can just pop online and order.
But you cannot reach a human being after the sale. I suppose I could haul myself down to the store, find the right line to stand in, and eventually get some sort of answer. But that leaves a bad “smell”, and it ain’t good customer service. That smell is even worse because of the forty minutes of frustration on the phone trying in vain to find a way around the robot. (Come to think of it, I’ll bet the store won’t handle something done online. I may just be paranoid, but I can clearly envision the conversation: “Sorry, we can’t help you if you ordered through our Web site. But we do have a great customer service phone number…”)
I’m just venting here. I discuss it further in the latest issue of the Rant, because it’s important. We shouldn’t have to be reminded that every customer still has us on “probation” after each sale… but it’s in our nature to want to take the money and run. And that’s wrong, both on a karmic level and a pure Operation MoneySuck level. It’s a lesson that needs to be learned the hard way.
Sure, I’ll bet the geniuses at Best Buy did the numbers, and decided that not having live operators saved a bundle. But I just started exploring new places to buy computers and other massive mounds of electronic gear, after being left at the altar one too many times by my former “go to” place. Best Buy seemed like a relationship that could have gone on happily for a while… until they made me walk home after the first date. (Okay, I’m through with the romance metaphors.)
Show me the place that will sell me what I want, and be there afterward when I need to cuddle (sorry, couldn’t resist), and that’s where I’ll be spending my money.
I’ve got a lot to spend, and I’ve got many more years left to be wanting new electronic gear. They had their shot, and they blew it. Does anyone know of a place that understands the need for some hand-holding after an electronics sale?

John Carlton

Red flags, dodging bullets, and staying focused

Howdy. It’s Tuesday night, a few days away from Amateur Drunk Night (New Year’s Eve)… and I’m thinking about mortality and the brief little ride we’re all given on earth. I’m very pleased with life right now… and, as I’m finding out more and more as I age, it’s not because of anything I’ve done. It’s because of something that hasn’t happened — specifically, I just got a clean bill of health from the doc. Some minor problems with the machinery got my attention last month, and all sorts of red flags went up… but once more I’ve dodged the bullet.
Those of you who have been reading my newsletters for a while know that I led a fairly wild life until I settled down and got serious about writing and bidness. I’ve been in at least three car wrecks where I should have died, and too many of my buddies over the years have died in situations where, by a matter of seconds or inches, they might have skated. Testosterone does funny things to your head, and young men just have to work through the urge to risk and dare and push limits. The lucky ones survive some truly stupid and insane behavior.
And I gotta admit — when you crawl from a ticking wreck, alive and standing despite the blood and torn clothes and smashed glasses, the first thing you want to do is laugh. Because you made it, yet again. And life tastes great when you’ve just brushed up against The Big Black Hole, and walked away grinning.
Young men taunt death, because they lack an intimate understanding of mortality. I now hold life very dear — there’s so much more I need to do before my ticket gets punched — and I find physical risk less attractive than I used to.
The risks I now face each year are much more mundane — cholesterol, blood pressure, psa counts, a suspicious-looking mole. But they’re just as serious as drag racing.
That’s the new hand I’ve been dealt, and I’m playing it hard.
I’m still here. You aren’t rid of me yet, by God.
Side note: As we enter the New Year, in this brave new world of terrorism and genocidal tidal waves and teetering economies, it’s good for your peace of mind to get some perspective. It’s one thing that comes with age, you know — perspective, solely from having logged so many years on the planet.
Well, I’m now over fifty, and those fifty years have been pretty damned interesting. I’ve seen wars begin and end, technologies arrive and collapse, recessions and cultural conflicts and political ideologies come and go.
Why is this relevant? Well, there are a lot of “experts” out there who haven’t been through entire economic cycles yet… or entire pendulum swings in the culture… or the birth and maturation of a technology. Old geezers can come in real handy when you’re panicked over events. Cuz, often, we’ve seen it before. No need to freak out. There are ways to handle almost all of this, and we’ve tried most of ’em.
But you don’t have to rely on geezers. (They can be disagreeable bastards at time.) History isn’t hidden. In fact, it’s laid out in living color for you. As unsettled and scary and unpredictable as the world seems right now… we’ve gone through worse before, and come out fine. There are no guarantees, of course… but if current events (like tsunamis killing tens of thousands and knocking the earth off its axis) have you a little rattled, try reading some history for a reality check. I’m reading about the Crusades right now, back when “getting medieval on your ass” really meant getting medieval.
What you will discover is that it has ever been thus. The world has never been totally at peace, and humans have never gotten along with each other for very long. We didn’t develop our system of law as suggestions for behavior — no, we have laws to punish those who would rock the boat too wildly. When lawlessness rules, as in the Middle Ages, you welcome order and authority. When authority gets too full of itself and starts dragging people to the gallows for minor stuff, you yearn for revolution. There is no safe place where everything is perfect, and never has been. Our culture… and our business world of markets, especially… is in a continual state of flux.
Shit happens, and it happens all the time. Do not let events shake your concentration. Yes, the world may end some day. That doesn’t mean you should abandon your next project. Maybe you don’t want to drop a ton of mail right as the next war starts, and maybe you want to explore a few more “Plan B’s” that include alternate ways to keep bringing results and money and customers when your Standard Operating Procedure gets fried… but don’t give up just because civilization seems ready to implode.
It always seems ready to implode. When I was eight, I was taught to hide under my desk because the Ruskies were gonna drop nuclear bombs on us. I’ve held my breath, along with everyone else, as leaders were assassinated, Black Fridays gutted the stock market, wars went sour, disease raged out of control, and on and on.
Hold on tight. Selling the house and running off to hide in the mountains isn’t your best option yet. There may come a time when it is your best option… but for now, go ahead and plan out your next marketing campaign. If you’ve got a good product — especially an information product — the world needs you.
Stay frosty,
John Carlton

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

Do Yourself A Favor

I just got back from four days in Santa Cruz, about an hour south of San Francisco on the coast. Gorgeous unobstructed view from this hidden little hamlet where we rented a forties-era cottage. We were a hundred feet up on a cliff overlooking the Pacific. The first night, I saw dolphins jumping through the reflection of the moon on the waves.

I used to live in a small beach town, and getting back to the ocean is like visiting a long-lost friend. While the dog played and my Significant Other stuffed her pockets with perfect sea shells, I just stood and watched the surf. The sound of the ocean, to me, is like an ancient voice that’s been droning on about important stuff since the dawn of time.

Four days without a newspaper or television. Very quickly, you can get back your concentration, and start tasting and hearing and feeling things again that the culture has numbed down.
It clears the head.

When I got back to the office, nothing much had changed with the world. The media was hyperventilating over some new bullshit non-crisis, and politicos were spinning like dervishes over the same nonsense they’d been whining/yelling/insinuating about the week before. War and rumors of war were everywhere. And the economy was either back-sliding or going great guns… depending on who was talking.

The din is stunning, when you leave and come back to it.

Now, as a marketer, you gotta go deep into the world of your prospect. I’m amazed that so many rookie marketers try to game the system, by skipping over the inconvenient research details and rushing to send out ads that don’t have a chance of convincing anyone to buy. You gotta read what your audience reads, and think like they think — even if you disagree.

Every niche market has it’s own mini-culture, with its own lingo and it’s own history and it’s own code of honor. Ignore these important details at your peril. Connect your “insider” knowledge with broader knowledge of what’s going on, and you’ll be weighing your profits in buckets. You must become part sociologist, part psychologist, and all-around voodoo salesman to find — and then needle mercilessly — the passionate sweet spot of your prospect. That’s why the best marketers read newspapers and magazines and watch popluar culture television shows. They are hip to what’s happening, and can intelligently talk about it.

You can’t market in a vacuum.

But here’s the kicker: You also can’t market when your brain has been turned to mush by too much popular culture.

Thus: You gotta dis-engage, regularly, and get outa Dodge. Let your grey matter recharge and soften up a bit. Go somewhere you can’t get to a newspaper or magazine easily, and let the dog decide where you’re gonna hike this morning.

The day before I left on my little mini-vacation, I struggled to get through a normal hour’s worth of work in four hours. I was toast. The evening I got back — even after a six-hour marathon drive home — I did four hours worth of work in ninety minutes. And enjoyed it.

A notorious “lifestyle” coach revealed the secret to me long ago — every month, get out of town. Even if you only have two days, do it. You are not doing your bottom line — or your life — any favors by dulling your system with too much work, too little sleep, and a lack of adventure and fun.

And that’s my holiday advice to you. Come January, and you’re looking ahead with a refreshed sense of lust and topped-off tanks of piss and vinegar, you’ll thank me.

Side Note: As many people (a small mob, in fact) have taken the time to observe, I have not been allowing comments on this blog. It’s a time thing — I’m just attempting to lay down a little honest content and info here, and I’m not really looking to start any conversations. So I blocked the comment option.

However… as an experiment… I am allowing comments on this entry. We’ll see what happens. So have at it. I will look over everything that’s said, but I’m making no promises…

Taking Advantage of the PUMP…

Just now finished a two-hour marathon teleseminar, hosted by Michel Fortin (The Copy Doctor). A thousand lines, booked solid, ears slammed against the phone listening to me rant. A riot, contained by technology.

God, it was fun. The main theme was “salesmanship” (or, I suppose, “salespersonship” if you wanna be PC)… but as usual I spent a lot of time on PASSION. I never plan it that way, but my talks and lectures always seem to swing back around to passion — the passion you feel for your product, the passionate sweet spot inside your prospect, the passionate “marketing group hug” that happens with you hook the right market up with the right pitch.

I try to spread a lot of content around when I’m teaching — actual specifics and details and tactics people can write down, and use later on to help their own writing and marketing. I’m never stingy — my “job” as guru is safe, no matter how many secrets I let loose… because my real value as a teacher is my experience. Not the facts I can recite… but the real stories I can tell, illustrating real experience that can have an immediate impact on someone else’s life.

But you know what? The biggest response I get, when teaching, is when I talk about passion. We are all motivated by different things (from a rather small menu of human emotions, it’s true, but most of us have a slightly askew version of each basic motivation)… but we all share the same “fuel” for living life to the fullest: Inspiration. That blissed-out feeling you get in your gut when you immerse yourself in your passion.

It’s magic.

Tonight, I found myself ranting — again — about the lack of excitement in most people’s lives. Like the accountant, whose wife and kids and golfing buddies don’t want to hear about his job. What he does is “boring” to most people. Drop-off-into-a-coma boring.

However, I’ve also been at the same hotel as a convention for accountants… and when they get together to have a beer and chat, they get as impassioned and animated and crazy as teenagers at a Clay Aiken concert. Becasue they SHARE a passion for what they do, for what’s important to them. The rest of the world yawns at them… but by God, among other accountants, they are dashing heroes, saving clients from financial disaster and rescuing fair maidens from the IRS dragon.

That’s your opening, as a marketer. You have a chance, when you zero in on a niche market, to BE that moment of excitement in their life. To share their passion, and let ’em into a new world of others just like them, through your product.

Even the staid old accountant still wants to be the uber-accountant among his peers. He wants to know the hidden secrets, discover what other accountants never discover, and master the things that will bring him money, honor and respect in his field.

Recognition and money. Two of the most powerful appeals there are.

Well, two hours is a long time to talk, and I’m exhausted… yet still wired. I just got to indulge in something I truly love — talking about passionate marketing. I am such a sap. But from the look of the pile of email I’ve just received, the call was a terrific success.

Hey — one side note. I’m not going to do a lot of pitching on this blog, unless it’s relevant. I’m doing some serious end-of-the-year housecleaning here, and having a new geek spiff up my websites… especially, where my main stuff is. Part of that spiffing up is going to include a stiff price hike… so, if you’ve been dithering about, wanting what I offer but not acting for whatever reason… now’s the time to get busy. Come January, and the price of accessing this part of the Insider’s marketing world is going to get more expensive.

Just a friendly nudge…