March 30, 2021

While on the tribute call for legendary copywriter Clayton Makepeace last week (a recording will be made available soon), I realized the huge advantages of being in a place where you don’t belong. 

When I began my personal tribute to Clayton, I thanked those on the call (over 1,200 people!) for inviting a “copywriter wannabe” like me into this group of copywriting royalty…and I explained that I was not being self-deprecating by saying that (more on that shortly). 

I got déjà vu immediately…and the memory that popped into my head was when I entered a different room 8 years ago—a room of online marketing royalty—where I was a wannabe as well—there I was like “T Rex roaming the earth” for a place to park my dinosaur-like, offline marketing wisdom. ☺

Looking back, what both of these “rooms” had in common is a lesson for a lifetime, fairly obvious and simple. When I first stepped into the sacred rooms of the copywriting world and the digital marketing world, where royalty was present, I was the dumbest person in the room.

Which was the absolute best place to be. 

I guess you could say it’s the extreme case of the quote on the back of a t-shirt I created for one of my mastermind groups: 

You’ve heard the quote above many times before…but the dumbest person in the room? 

Being “not the smartest” or “the dumbest” are equally good strategies for growth…both work just fine. 

Either way, the key is to exploit your position in those rooms for everything you can get (and in this case, “exploit” means getting as much from the experience by giving, not taking). 

It sounds like a trick but it should be your mantra. 

But the first step is getting into that special room (of the best-of-the-best) in the first place.

Entering the room of elite copywriters 

This one came about from some “serendipitous luck”…but luck is a tricky term, worth its own blog post. 

The key was that once I got into that room, I made sure I would never leave (or get kicked out). 

I was a “list guy” at Boardroom who, while studying the intricacies of what made a direct marketing campaign work, realized that once I had the right list and a killer offer/product, I needed world class creativity and copy to make us a world class marketer. 

Fortunately we were tuned into all the top copywriters plus we had an abundance mindset in terms of understanding that pros were pros for a reason…which meant that we had to pay to play. 

So while I got into the room initially with an introduction and armed with a checkbook, I made sure I wasn’t just meeting and paying for the next promotion or campaign. 

My plan was to sincerely make every writer in that room my best friend…and what I would ultimately be paying them for (in money and in deed) was an education (i.e. a lifetime master class) in addition to procuring my next control package. 

The great copywriters I had the privilege to call business partners, friends and mentors early in my career—guys like Gene Schwartz, Gary Bencivenga, Jim Rutz and Mel Martin—were not only magicians with their writing ability but they understood their magic in a profound way and they were willing to share all of their secret potions. 

Lucky for me…and lucky for the entire marketing community. 

I found out that by asking the right questions (always with the best manners), they were eager to teach a list guy the ropes. 

My goal was not to write like them but to think like them. 

I entered this “agreement” with whatever I had to offer (i.e. knowledge of list segmentation and databases) which ended up being super valuable to them…after all, a successful copywriter becomes more successful when their promotion gets mailed to the right people, right? 

When I realized I had something to offer of value to these legendary copywriters, I gave it up in spades…and unconditionally. 

Understanding the craft from the inside was the gift that was waiting for me if I bided my time, stayed polite and attentive, and gave as much as I could before taking anything. 

That’s a solid formula that works every time in every situation (and not just with copywriters by the way). 🙂 

Also, entering the room with this mindset taught me something else about this wacky world of copywriting: 

Throwing up my arms saying, “I am not a copywriter” or “I wish I knew how to write,” is no longer acceptable under the expert tutelage I had received over many decades from these masters. 

I’ve written multiple times over the past 7 years about being a “copywriter wannabe”–and it wasn’t until I got called out on such a lame statement by many of you that I realized that I didn’t need to go to the “copywriting store” to create great copy…and that I could go shopping in my head much more than I ever imagined. 

Plus I had been in that room with copywriting royalty long enough, beginning as the dumbest person and getting a lot smarter with at least some of their brilliance rubbing off on me. 

If you want to read about the details of being called out by someone on this list–“a tough love intervention from my online family”–and the epiphany I gained (i.e. “you are sometimes your own best copywriter”), click here. 

I had clues years ago how off base I was but didn’t recognize them at the time; but every day I see this truth more clearly. 

Just like I did last week at the tribute event for Clayton. 

I am not a copywriter wannabe any longer. 

There is a lot more about all of this in that post about:

  • Why it’s important to learn early in your career that copywriting is not a commodity…and despite it being a super power for many, it is very much within your grasp as a marketer or entrepreneur…at least enough to make you dangerous.
  • Why being a great interviewer makes you a great copywriter…or a great marketer…or a great human being.
  • Why “copythinking” (nod to David Deutsch) is as important as copywriting.
  • Why “wishing and hoping to become the next Gene Schwartz” is irrelevant…but learning what was in his mind and the minds of elite copywriters is priceless for whatever you do.
  • Thinking about being the best copywriter for your business has less to do with the actual writing than you think… I bet some of the most compelling copy in your Inbox every day does not come from seasoned copywriters, but from passionate entrepreneurs who know how to write and communicate about their mission to their audience better than anyone in the world. (And if by chance they got into a room of blue chip copywriters at some point, they will only be better).
  • Going from copywriter wannabe to reluctant copywriter to copywriter extraordinaire (in your niche) is a journey worth taking.

That’s what I received (and a whole lot more) from being where I was not supposed to be, hanging out with elite copywriters, while being a useful sponge.

And starting out as the dumbest person in the room.

Entering the room of elite digital marketers

Getting into this room as the dumbest person also had some luck attached to it…being in the right place at the right time or whatever…but again “luck” is a topic for a future post.

The topic for today is about developing a skill—at least a muscle—for crashing the right parties.

No matter how much luck is involved, the principle of being dumb while always being observant and focused is what’s important… while being useful to everyone around you.

A couple of years before I left Boardroom, I received an invite to be a guest at a mastermind run by Jeff Walker, the inventor of Product Launch Formula, a best-in-class online marketer, with a ton of successful students and followers.

Of course I said yes to his invite immediately.

The story of how that invite happened is interesting in itself (and you can decide how much “luck” was involved). ☺

You can read it here:  You never know who is watching…or listening…

The first step was that I said “yes” (instinctively) since Jeff Walker has a terrific reputation and this seemed like all upside.

Little did I know it would be a game changer in my second career as a multichannel marketer–which I knew had to include all things digital.

Upside is an understatement.

I was not just given an invite…I was given a golden ticket into a world I never could have entered so intimately without one.

I humbly admit that not everyone gets a golden ticket to attend Jeff’s exclusive mastermind as a special guest…and thank goodness that Jeff recognized that toiling in the world of offline marketing over three decades was worth that golden ticket.

I guess he thought there would be some wisdom to be had from me for his band of online geniuses after mailing almost 2 billion pieces of direct mail…conquering infomercials…working with the top creative talent… yada, yada, yada…

When I got to that room, there was some respect from the few that knew me; but there were a lot more that never heard of me.

No press clippings preceded me. I was on my own with a solid reputation they didn’t know about or cared about…and they were relying on Jeff that he didn’t bring a loser into their midst.

And as soon as the mastermind began, I realized the folks in that room knew a lot about a lot of which I knew very little. All of which needed to be relevant to me unless I preferred to become a marketing relic.

So much for three decades of experience.

If that group got anything useful from me that weekend it paled to what I received as the dumbest person in the room, posing as “that direct mail offline guy who mailed a lot of names with direct mail and did some infomercials.”

It wasn’t alienating—in fact they were very welcoming–I said that more for effect. ☺

It wasn’t humbling or depressing either…I embraced it fully…it was an exciting wakeup call.

And it was an opportunity to learn from the best (just like I did in the previously mentioned “copywriter room”).

It was clear that there is no way that they got the better end of this deal, listening to me vs. me listening to them.

The best part is that it went beyond that weekend…it led to a “love grip” (both ways) between me and that special group.

And when I was offered a permanent seat, I said yes to that immediately too.

It reminded me when my peers say to me “I would never get into the college I went to if I had to apply today.”

This was a situation where if I had formally applied to join Jeff’s group I would most certainly have been rejected…but I got in through a loophole in his system (don’t tell him!)…and they will never get rid of me now.

Bringing this full circle: Once I became a member of Jeff’s mastermind and stuck around for a few years, he and I talked about our own evolution into the “copywriters” we are today—maybe not in the image of someone like Gene Schwartz—but powerful writers and communicators just the same.

And I learned that he got into some elite copywriting rooms himself where he wasn’t the smartest but he came in guns blazing with his innovative, mad marketing skills…exchanging those for an education in copywriting.

We both agreed then and now that copywriting is a learnable skill…some who do it at a high level are just superhuman like in any other field…but everyone can take their writing to new levels all the time, especially when writing inside of their passion.

And better yet, it was Jeff who inspired me to come into your Inbox every Sunday at 6:00 a.m. because that’s when he sends his weekly blog…I am simply following the leader so I have consistency and congruence whether you always open and read these or not.

You become a better writer by writing all the time in a disciplined fashion. Imagine that.

The moral of the story when you are crashing (the right) parties:

Once you get into the room as the dumbest, get smarter…give everything you’ve got to offer (and more)…and never leave.

Your friendly “fellow copywriter” and “digital marketer,”


About the author 

Brian Kurtz

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