(The following is reprinted with permission from Boardroom Head and previous Direct Marketer of the Year, Brian Kurtz. His site has a treasure trove of interviews, presentations and articles for serious direct response marketers.)
I hope I got your attention with that subject line…and no, it is NOT an exaggeration…
As you can tell if you’ve ever read my weekly propaganda, mentors are quite important to me… and I have stressed how important they should be to you too.
One of my mentors may not be as well known to you. His name is Adolph Auerbacher… and he may have been the most logical person I have ever met.
Adolph was a senior executive at Meredith Corporation (one of the largest magazine publishers in the world at the time he worked there) and the brains behind the tremendous growth of magazine brands like Better Homes and Gardens and Ladies Home Journal.
I know those under 30 are saying, “What’s a magazine?”
Adolph spoke softly, always gave sage advice, in very few words, and he was always on point.
One of his famous quotes to me is one I featured in a blog post entitled, “Where Your Best Ideas Go To Die.”
The quote is:
“Where Does The Money Flow?”
In that post, I encouraged you to always ask this at the end of ANY brainstorming meeting when everyone in the room has fallen in love with ALL the ideas on the whiteboard… especially their own.
Another Auerbacher classic became religion for me when he said it in the early 1980s, and it’s how I operate every day as a marketer and businessman:
“Follow the anecdotal evidence.”
That simple premise really did lead to a franchise at Boardroom that created sales well over $200 million in the trifecta of media: Direct response television, direct mail and online display.
And, there was some print and telemarketing mixed in for good measure.
How my insomnia led to
over $200 million in sales…
This “case history” which included two books and ancillary products, “The World’s Greatest Treasury of Health Secrets” and “Bottom Line’s Ultimate Healing,” will be talked about at “Titans” when our “Mount Rushmore of Copywriters” are on stage… since one of those four copywriting heroes is Arthur Johnson who co-wrote the scripts, the direct mail and even appeared on screen.
And, when Greg Renker takes the spotlight at “Titans,” we will discuss in depth how Guthy-Renker looks at TV as a multi-channel opportunity and not just one-off infomercials.
(Reminder: Greg Renker rarely speaks at events or in public…and I promise you many actionable case histories from him that helped Guthy-Renker become the $1.8 billion business it is today).
But what I want to share today is how this incredible franchise came to be…which is all about “following the anecdotal evidence” (combined with a little insomnia)…
Flashback to 1988 (or so)…when every magazine seemed to be on TV selling subscriptions using one minute or two minute spots…remember the “sneaker phone” premium from Sports Illustrated?
I was jealous…why couldn’t WE sell our incredibly popular consumer newsletter Bottom Line/Personal (BL/P) or one of our fantastic broad based books like “The Book of Inside Information” (“BII”) using short form TV?
We had crushed it (hate that term but love using it talking about stuff from the ’80s when the term didn’t exist!) in direct mail for “BL/P” and “BII” to the tune of 200,000 (plus) active, paid subscribers and over 3 million books sold.
But short form TV for both products proved to be a disaster.
Even with as “long” as 2 minutes, there was no way to adequately sell products like ours–which were basically unknown except to the lucky millions who were in our direct mail universe…
Then Tony Robbins came along in the late 1980s, through Guthy-Renker, and helped create a new “medium” called long form TV (i.e. infomercials).
I keenly observed that twenty eight and a half minutes was a lot longer than 2 minutes to tell a story… told you I was smart…
So Marty Edelston and I met with Bill Guthy and Greg Renker around that time… told them about our amazing “Bottom Line franchise” helping millions of consumers with life changing information… and we asked:
“How can we create a program from our (virtually unknown) brand like Tony Robbins did from his?
The logic was good too:
“Sports Illustrated sells with simple #10 envelope mailings in direct mail and then 2 minute TV; Bottom Line sells with long 12 page letters, 16-32 page magalogs and even 64 page bookalogs in direct mail, so that should translate on TV to this new “infomercial thing.”
That is, a 32 page magalog needs 28.5 minutes to sell!
And the idea went nowhere… and not because of Guthy-Renker… but because we didn’t see the model that made sense to invest the hundreds of thousands of dollars it would take to test.
Trying to figure out the “Bottom Line program to a better life” was more than one book (or so we thought)…Tony Robbins had tapes, CDs, workbooks… and my concept went from brilliant to something that simply died under its own weight.
But I never lost my desire to get our products on TV.
I had billed myself as the direct marketer who never met a medium he didn’t like… and one who was prepared to test everything.
Go ask my co-workers at Boardroom about how excited I was about advertising on the back of ATM receipts or under yogurt lids.
Both very “sticky” for different reasons… and yes, both huge losers.
However, I knew that if we ever could make it on TV, one medium we had not conquered, it was clearly a medium that I knew would scale.
We went back to our knitting (which still kept us pretty busy as Boardroom was close to a $100 million business at the time)…while TV seemed elusive…
Fast forward to 2005… right after New Year’s… and I was having a bout of indigestion at 2:00 in the morning. (Boy, am I glad I’ve given up sugar!)
I flipped on the TV to watch super pitchman, Kevin Trudeau, sell a single book for 28.5 minutes… at $29.95… no company, no brand, and frankly not a whole lot of credibility.
I won’t comment on Kevin Trudeau’s business practices, how he sold or what he delivered… just the fact that someone was using my favorite medium that I couldn’t get to work (i.e. an infomercial) to sell something that I knew was inferior product-wise to what we could create at Bottom Line with all of our fantastic material and experts.
Then it was time to follow the anecdotal evidence…
I ordered Kevin’s book and I think I was on the phone for 6 or 7 hours (only exaggerating a little) being sold every version of the book–CD, digital, maybe one wrapped in a “Snuggie”–followed by a Wal-Mart discount card, a travel club, and a host of other offers.
Now, I saw the model that would work for Boardroom. We went on to create some insanely successful long form TV spots all because I never gave up on my idea. I trusted the logic and it was only a matter of time before i found the path.
I was always “in action” in my mind to make long form TV work between 1989 and 2005 (I’m a slow learner, I guess)…but knowing that I didn’t have to invent everything myself and having confidence in my ability to steal smart… and then following the anecdotal evidence…got me where I needed to go.
And, this is not the only time in my career where this happened.
I actually have a one-page sheet taped to my computer (which I read to myself every morning):
“I am six bold moves a day… I am in action all the time… and I am the follower of anecdotal evidence (while being completely open-minded to all that has not been invented yet)”
There’s some other woo-woo stuff on that sheet too… I just gave you the business stuff…
Of course, I get frustrated like everyone else when I just can’t “figure it out”… but I encourage you to stay in action every day, full of momentum and focused on things you have thought through but not yet implemented.
And, don’t be a hermit because much less will happen if you hang out by yourself all day.
I saw Cabaret on Broadway last week…
(Brian singing out of tune): “What good is sitting alone in your room?”
At least get out of your room and go watch some infomercials… or look through the latest thousand e-mails in your in box… or just phone a friend…
Until next week,
P.S. I’ve been on the phone with all of the Titans of Direct Response and the content will be so valuable. Can’t wait to see many of you there.
P.P.S. Lots of registrations have come in this week and the hotel block is just about sold out…it actually might be sold out already since I last checked earlier this week. The $139 per night price is as low you will ever see in these parts… and we are talking with another neighboring hotel to give us more rooms for any folks who get shut out. It will be a great rate but probably not as low as $139. So reserve you room ASAP and let me know if you get shut out for some reason.