I remember it like it was yesterday.
I was already working with Brian Kurtz on the promotion for last year’s Titans of Direct Response once-in-a-lifetime event.
Brian had already lined up all the legends. Dan Kennedy. Jay Abraham. Greg Renker. Ken McCarthy. Perry Marshall. Joe Sugarman. Fred Catona. Plus today’s top copywriters for Boardroom, David Deutsch, Parris Lampropoulos, Arthur Johnson, and Eric Betuel. And his own mastermind group, consisting of him, Jim Kwik, and Ryan Lee.
It was already a star-studded event.
I was helping him put the finishing touches on it. The promo. The offer.
I knew Brian felt like one person was being left out…
The legendary Gary Bencivenga. Brian’s close personal friend. And a top copywriter for Boardroom for many years before his retirement from client work.
Brian really wanted Gary to be there. But Gary had made a vow, when he put on his one and only retirement seminar in the mid-2000s.
Famously, before he retired, Gary never gave speeches. He never revealed his methods. He never wrote publicly about what made him such a great copywriter. We were all left on the outside looking in, trying to learn by watching what he did.
He was like a magician — never revealing his tricks.
Then, when he retired, he spoke publicly… Twice.
The first, before his seminar, was a 3+-hour interview with Ken McCarthy, a Titan that would be gracing Brian’s stage, and the godfather of internet marketing.
The second, his seminar itself. A closed-door affair. A retirement gala and send-off, where Gary spent two full days revealing the most important thinking behind his copywriting methods.
Sure, he published the Bencivenga Bullets for a while. But even those had long ago stopped, as Gary stuck to his commitment to never teach or take on client work again.
Then, I had an idea…
I called up Brian.
“Brian, I know Gary committed to never speaking again. I also he politely declined your invitation to speak when you were first putting together the lineup for Titans…
“But I think I’ve found a way we can feature Gary there, even if he’s not there.”
Brian’s voice dripped with curiosity… “Yes?”
“Brian, remember that interview Ken McCarthy did with Gary, for his System Club members only?”
Now excitement… “Yes!”
“What if we approached Ken and Gary and — in lieu of Gary actually speaking — we could offer that to all the Titans attendees as an additional bonus.
“After all, I got a copy of that interview from Ken back in 2007 or so, when I was doing a project with him, and it totally changed my life. It’s definitely the second best thing to actually having Gary there.”
Brian could barely contain himself… “YES!”
He continued, “I’ll have to ask Ken and Gary… And I’ll definitely pay to have them printed… But I think that’s a great idea!”
I heard back from Brian within a day. Ken had already confirmed that it was okay with him. Now Brian only needed Gary to agree.
Brian knew Gary would be at the upcoming Consumer Health Summit, a closed-door event held each year by Michael Fishman, where the best of the best consumer-focused health marketers come to talk shop. It’s one of the few places you can find Gary every year — even now in retirement.
When Brian first saw Gary from across the room, little did he know what was in store for him!
Gary came straight at Brian with a big grin on his face.
“Brian,” he said, “I’ve been hearing about Titans, and I’d like to be part of it.”
Brian started crying, right there, on the spot, in the conference room of the Stamford Marriott (where Titans would be held a few months later!).
Long story short, not only did Gary agree to let Brian give away copies of the interview… He also broke his vow of silence, one time, in honor of Boardroom’s founder, the late Marty Edelston… And spoke at Titans.
Brian told me this story as he was helping me figure out how to talk about Gary in the promo, and he also told me one of Gary’s other secrets…
Meet Gary in person, and he’s one of the most unassuming happy guys you’ll ever come across. But when it came to marketing, he was a tenacious competitor. And he was most competitive with himself!
Gary never left well enough alone when it came to beating the control.
When he was writing a promotion, he’d often write two leads, just to see which one would come out on top.
And here’s the really important lesson from that. The headline, lead, and in general the opening of any promotion creates the first impression. And depending on that first impression alone (with the rest of the promotion left the same), one promotion may out-pull another by 2X, 10X, or more. And even the best of the best can’t really predict what the market will respond to.
So Gary would write these two (or more!) leads or covers for his promotions, and ask the client to test both.
Since one would inevitably outperform the other, he was essentially doubling his odds of success on every marketing bet he made!
And this is something you can copy.
Also, whenever Gary got a control, he didn’t stop there. He’d often turn around before the client had the chance to go hire another copywriter to try to beat him, and offer to do it himself. That’s right — he’d aim to beat his own controls! He was already well-versed in the research, story, product, company, and narratives he needed. So he could write a new promotion in as little as half the time as the first. And there was a good chance this new one would topple the first. Another great example to copy, of how to boost your odds of success!
Here’s another tip I didn’t get from learning about Gary, but definitely fits with the last two. Many promotions that go on to be huge winners wouldn’t start that way. They start as reasonable controls — sometimes not even bringing in a full dollar for every dollar spent mailing them. But if you see signs of life in your initial testing, you may have an opportunity. Maybe your timing is off. Maybe the story is a little off. Maybe there are other ways you can tweak and test and improve. Sometimes within a couple tests you can turn a middling promotion into a runaway winner. And the only way you do that is by focusing on what you can do with what you have to further increase your odds of success.
And of course, my favorite lesson from Gary, straight from that original interview. Commit yourself to improving your skills at least 1% every week. Practice your craft. Study. Work and then reflect on your success and failure. Learn from the very best. Do whatever it takes — just keep improving 1% per week. It seems small, but through the magic of compounding it can take you so far so fast, it will make your head spin. That, above all, is what changed my life.
Finally, one more Gary lesson, taught as much through his behavior as anything…
If you want to become a legend like Gary, you have to do extra-ordinary things.
The ordinary thing to do in marketing is to simply try something, see if it works, keep it running if it does, drop it if it doesn’t.
Extra-ordinary is recognizing that your gut isn’t always right, so you test a couple versions to see which works best. Extra-ordinary is not resting on your laurels, and stepping up to beat your own control as soon as you’ve earned it. Extra-ordinary is recognizing that sometimes you need to polish a gemstone of a promotion before it shines and sparkles.
Gary defined extra-ordinary in direct response marketing and copywriting. And if you’re willing to invest the work, effort, time, sweat, resources, and tears you can be extra-ordinary, too.
Brian does still have a few copies of the Titans DVDs available, including Gary Bencivenga’s last-ever speech AND the original interview he did with Ken McCarthy, that totally changed my life.
If you’re coming up on the beginning of 2016 and wondering, “What can I do to make this a big breakthrough year?” Your answer may be making a very smart investment in your personal education.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
Editor, Breakthrough Marketing Secrets