March 10, 2024

There is good news and bad news about being someone’s “partner” in business.

Being with someone in a business marriage that is symbiotic, where both parties benefit from that marriage, with little sniping and even less “trying to get the advantage” every step of the way, is always blissful.

However, most people only “talk the talk” about partnerships when it comes to how we serve each other (e.g. “I treat my vendors like partners” or “my partner is like a brother/sister”) …rather than walk the walk which includes not always trying to get the upper hand at every turn.

Saying it is not the same thing as doing it.

We are wrapping up our first “Profit Partnering Workshop,” which was a six-week exploration into what it means to take on a partner in your business, having skin in the game on both sides…and frankly, I learned as much as I taught.

I consider myself an expert in this area…not because I have created the most profitable partnerships known to mankind…but because everyone I have ever worked with over my 43 years in direct marketing walked away after working with me a better person than when they began working with me.

“Better” being defined here as never bitter, always left whole…because if a partner of mine is bitter or not whole as we part ways, I will make sure to handle that before we separate.

And many have entered my life and never left.

That’s what I call 
exceptional lifetime value. 🙂

Have I made the most money possible from every one of those relationships that involved the exchange of cash?

Far from it.

Have I slept like a baby throughout my career?


This is far from a brag, especially to those of you who look to maximize profit at every step in your cash journey.

Hey, you might even think this sounds downright wimpy.

But for me, it’s about being peaceful during my business career despite many conflicts, disagreements (that were never disagreeable) …including arguments about money.

My definition of “peaceful” (with some help from Landmark Forum):

Always walk into a room without “needing anything”; and never walk into a room immediately thinking, “there’s something wrong here.”

That’s the formula I’ve used to create a peaceful business life, and walking the walk (into every room) of what it truly means to be someone’s “partner.”

When I was working at Boardroom Inc. during the 1980’s and 1990’s, we had a consultant by the name of Adolph Auerbacher. He had been an architect and business builder of the magazines Better Homes and Gardens and Ladies’ Home Journal, before consulting in his later years.

Adolph was a special guy. I called him our “judgment consultant.”

When it came to new business ideas, where me and Marty Edelston (my mentor and the founder of Boardroom) would begin cooking up new marketing adventures without thinking about execution at all (yes, we were both ADHD entrepreneurs of which we were proud), Adolph was there as a doorstop so we could check our premises before venturing too far down a tunnel with no escape.

And when it came to including others in those adventures, he would begin with, “You don’t need a paatna” (said with a Jewish flair) …so we could initially think independently about any new project, free of interference.

Did that mean we wouldn’t take on “paatnas” eventually?

Absolutely not.

We developed partners over time, but always based on need, integrity and trust.

If you look at my track record of working with the top copywriters of the last half century, paying them millions of dollars in royalties, or creating one the largest infomercial success stories of all time with the best team I could put together, also paying millions to my marketing partners, you will see that I’m open to sharing the profit.

But jumping headfirst into the deep end with someone you call a partner without developing the relationship doesn’t come lightly (to me anyway) …it needs to be thought out, earned…always in the spirit of total fairness.

Here are two examples where this played out in my career, the first involving someone I worked with and the other closer to home…both profound…and hopefully instructional:

“You have to pay me more than last year”

Once upon a time in the olden days when direct mail ruled the world, there was a phenomenal list manager (who I once worked for)…someone who could sell (rent) mailing lists to anyone and everyone whether they needed them or not.

One day she got a new job to sell a family of lists that had never been on the market before (NEW is always a big thing in the world of direct mail…as it is in all media).

And these lists were going to be “hot” …they were affluent professionals who bought expensive books through the mail in large quantities.

Our ambitious list manager negotiated a deal with the publisher of these books (a large corporation–dare I say “stuffy”) for a generous base salary plus a hefty commission…and she was off and running.

However, this deal netted her–in her first year–a total compensation package that was not only more money than she ever earned in her life, but it was also greater than the CEO of the entire company.

And as I said earlier, it was a large enterprise (which means that is a big number).

Safe to say it was “high six figures.”

Who knew being a list manager could be so lucrative? 🙂

The secret to her success was only partly due to her selling acumen…because she was representing lists that could have “sold themselves” …they were new and had a profile that yielded high response rates for almost all who tested (and continued) mailing them.

This windfall, although a big win, was also the beginning of a perfect storm of calamity for our hard driving list manager.

When it came time to negotiate her second year, she followed the rules she had been taught from previous sales jobs.

That is, “If I made X dollars this year, I should make additional income on top of X dollars next year because that’s how salespeople with ambition who have success get paid.”

She didn’t see this first year as a windfall…equal to four or five years of previous compensation…just a big number that had to get bigger because of her talent.

And since her contract was for two years, with a stipulation for an increase in her salary and commission if she met certain goals (which she surpassed by a wide margin), the publisher was obligated to pay her even more in year two.

While I agree a contract is a contract, if she had viewed her first year as a windfall and her second year not as an entitlement, resulting in a windfall on top of a windfall, she might have thought long and hard about renegotiating her salary and commission package downward in exchange for a long run at the company at more money she could make anywhere else.

At least that’s how I would have played it given the outrageous amount she made in year one, a number that was well beyond her wildest dreams (and an unforeseen nightmare for the company).

You can guess what happened after she made even more money in year two…whether the CEO got a raise or not.

The CEO unceremoniously let her go as soon as he could.

If there was ever a case of unreasonable compensation that could be acted upon by the recipient, this was it.

It is also the definition of a failed partnership.

Of course, she probably stockpiled enough cash to last her for five years or more…but I wonder how much she could have made with a “fair” (i.e., robust but not unreasonable) package by working at the company for two decades rather than two years.

This is a somewhat extreme case…but cautionary just the same.

Would you have considered “negotiating down” …at least a little?

I’d love to know what you think.

“You mean copywriters collect royalties?”

In the 1980’s, 1990’s and into the new millennium, I worked with a stable of copywriters who were the best-of-the-best.

I like to think that was because we had the best products and the most competent (and pleasant) staff to work with…but I must admit it was also (mostly?) because we always paid to play…offering large upfront fees plus generous royalties.

Because these word magicians were worth it. And unlike the list manager in the previous example, this was ALL about their unique talent.

That alone was a differentiator…because we understood that the A-List copywriters were a rare breed…and they would prioritize the clients who would pay the most (and were nice to them too). 🙂

We had one copywriter…who had written some new controls for us…but had not caught on to the “royalty craze.”

He charged us large upfront fees to write for us…but he simply didn’t know that he could add in a royalty once he created a winner.

And shame on me that I didn’t let him know at the outset…my excuse was that I didn’t know he would be that good.

However, once I saw that he was as good as the other royalty writers, I sent him a large bonus check after he wrote us a BIG winner.

When he called me to ask what the check was for, I told him it was for his genius…and specifically, for the current winner and winners of the past.

I then educated him on the world of royalties, and we negotiated a royalty arrangement for all ongoing and future promotions.

Which led to a partnership like no other…we got first dibs on his calendar (which is a coup with these top copywriters) …he became a true partner and helped us by writing in other media than direct mail…and best of all, he became a trusted friend, much more than a “vendor/copywriter.”

And that trust and friendship went both ways.

The lesson here is that when you have a good deal in your favor (in this case, saving lots of money by not paying a scarce resource what he or she deserved), it’s far more powerful to fess up that you are in windfall territory before the other party lets you know first.

This philosophy led to symbiotic partnerships with all my royalty copywriters, resulting in them being amenable to “tiered royalties” (which I think I invented despite saying I never invented anything).

When the copywriter had a control and certain lists couldn’t be mailed with their royalty, I would produce a proprietary P & L spreadsheet (with complete transparency), mapping this out to them…and then getting their permission to mail certain lists without a royalty, leading to additional royalties in the future.

Did I say this philosophy led to trust both ways? It did.

Which led to additional profit both ways too.

I hope these two examples were meaningful to you in some way…and will enable you to recognize early in every relationship when you’re being paid (or paying) too much…or when you’re being paid (or paying) too little…and stop trying to always get the “upper hand” in every negotiation.

Walk the walk of true partnership.

My staff often challenged me when I renegotiated a contract with a vendor that was too much in our favor…dare I say got frustrated with me too…but if the changes reflected fairness, that’s all that mattered to me.

Back to Marty Edelston:

On his deathbed, he asked me a strange question…strange if you didn’t know Marty.

I was sitting on his bed, holding his hand, he was in and out, opening and then closing his eyes.

With his eyes wide open he asked, “What deals did you make today?”

If you knew Marty, you’d know that he is one person who would be thinking about “the office” on his death bed…his business was his life.

I told him about some negotiations I was working on, all in the spirit of the things I’ve discussed in this post, letting him know about the give and take…with more give than take.

He simply replied:

“Be fair.”

That’s the final word on this topic…well, two words. 🙂



P.S. In the spirit of partnering with you today, I am announcing the opening of the SIXTH Breakthrough Advertising Bootcamp.

What is it?

It’s an interactive workshop and study group…with six live calls (all recorded), complete with office hours, personalized coaching, and a private Facebook Group.

It takes place over three weeks…going deep into the theories, applications and game changing modalities inside the most important book ever written on copywriting, marketing, and human behavior, Breakthrough Advertising.

And if you are a curious student of the craft (copywriting or marketing) and don’t have a copy of this book yet, you can still attend the Bootcamp…and there is a special deal on this page to buy the book and the Bootcamp at one low, discounted price.

Gene Schwartz, the author of this masterpiece, and one of my mentors, has entrusted me (through his wife Barbara) to be the shepherd of his life’s work…which now includes teaching (and not just selling) his book.

Whenever I offer this Bootcamp, now for the sixth time, I can see Gene smiling down at me.

Over 400 people have been through this training, with each of the previous five Bootcamps improving on the one before…making this next one coming up “the best one ever.” 🙂

The first call will take place on Tuesday, March 19th…and you can get all of the details here.

P.P.S. There will be two additional live bonus calls for everyone who registers for Breakthrough Advertising Bootcamp #6:

That is, free access to two Titans Xcelerator calls, where you can be part of my $2,000 virtual mastermind two weeks in a row, at no additional charge, during the Bootcamp.

These are in addition to the six Bootcamp calls.

That’s eight (8) calls total over three weeks.

You won’t get sick of me…promise…because my marketing partner Chris Mason will be leading the way…and we will have lots of special guests.

Click here to sign up for The Breakthrough Advertising Bootcamp plus two additional complimentary Titans Xcelerator calls.

See you on the “inside.”

P.P.P.S. If for some reason you can’t attend the Bootcamp, I still have something special I want to invite you to just for being a member of my online family.

The Titans Xcelerator call on March 21st will feature marketer extraordinaire Perry Marshall.

Perry is one of the deepest thinkers in our industry…from being the father of Google AdWords to authoring 80/20 Sales and Marketing and Evolution 2.0…and so much more.

A true Renaissance Man of marketing.

He is sharing his “AI Manifesto” live on March 21st for Titans Xcelerator members…and I want to share Perry with you…at no charge and with no obligation.

Click here to read all about it and to save your seat for FREE!

Hope to see you there whether you join the Breakthrough Advertising Bootcamp or not…but seeing you at both will be even better. 🙂

About the author 

Brian Kurtz

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