October 9, 2017

I received a lot of questions and interest from my post last week, “LTV is not a YouTube channel.”

Those of you who understood, and have applied, “lifetime value calculations” in your businesses, shared some incredible successes and case histories about what it truly means to invest in the future.

And those of you who shared with me that you have not yet made the calculation, seemed determined to make it now.

That was very rewarding to hear.

Thank you all for letting me know the concept resonated with you in some way.


I also received many questions about the guy I called “The Bogey Man” in the post, Richard “Dick” Benson—the smartest man who ever lived when it came to direct mail (and don’t be fooled into thinking that this post will be a stroll down memory lane…direct mail principles are eternal).

Some of you knew of him but most of you never heard of him…and many were intrigued to know more.

He was a very important mentor to me and to many others in direct marketing…so I will share today some other things I learned from “The Bogey Man” besides the importance of always calculating “the highest acceptable cost of acquisition of a customer” (his definition of a “bogey”).

As mentioned before, Dick Benson was a true master when it came to direct mail…for my money, no one could hold a candle to him when it came to discussing anything to do with that medium.

Of course that also made him the most knowledgeable person I could go to on anything to do with direct marketing/direct response…as I already emphasized, the principles of direct mail transcend all media.

And since my relationship with him was pre-Internet, there were far fewer mediums to master…but he mastered them all…direct mail, print, package inserts, TV, radio.

“Doing it” for over 50 years, and at a high level, made him an expert…the guy had seen every possible test and could comment on any test you were doing with experience and authority.

And while he was often called a curmudgeon and was known to “never say goodbye” on the phone (he simply hung up when he assumed you were done), he was an awesome mentor.

I learned to embrace his gruff exterior rather than be intimidated by it which made our relationship very special.

He had me call him “Timid Timothy” whenever possible, especially when I saw him being a little rough around the edges with others…he rarely took it out on me (thankfully).

Having said that, I could only get so far with him…I always said that I would have been his favorite client had I been a woman…the man was a charmer when he wanted to be and he was nicer to the gals than the guys.

But you can be sure that he did not discriminate when he thought you had it “wrong”–whether you were a girl or a boy.

All he wanted to do was to educate everyone in his path.

He epitomized a new expression I just came up with (although I know I am not the first to think of this).

Being that I come from a long line of teachers, I always hated the expression, “Those who can’t do, teach.”

So my experience with Benson changed that expression to this one:

“Those who did it have an obligation to teach it…and we better listen”

As a consultant, he built Contest Newsletterto become the largest circulation consumer newsletter in America.

I recall the owners of the company buying Dick a Mercedes-Benz—one of the big ones—for helping them grow (and then sell) Contest Newsletter at a huge multiple.

He helped my company Boardroom growBottom Line/Personal to over 1 million subscribers as well…although I can’t say we bought him a new car.

We just paid him a boatload of money and he was worth every penny.

And if that wasn’t enough “doing it” for others, Benson then accomplished the same feat for himself.

He launched his own newsletters and made them the largest circulation newsletters in the health category with the University of California Berkeley Wellness Letter and the Johns Hopkins Medicine Health After 50newsletter.

Benson was also incredibly quotable.

His “31  Rules of Thumb” which make up chapter one of his all-time classic, Secrets of Successful Direct Mail  are timeless, eternal truths about direct response; and as I mentioned last week and mentioned again above (twice), all 31 apply to every online medium today, whether directly or indirectly.

Another amazing thing about Benson was that he never had his clients blindly follow his rules…although he was known to “fire clients” despite paying him handsomely when they did things that violated his direct marketing sensibility and sound business practices he felt strongly about.

However, I remember when I challenged him (with some trepidation) about #9 on his list of his “31 Rules”:

“Self-mailers almost never work.”

I told him that in the case of Boardroom’s publications, in the newsletter and book category, a format called “magalogs” (self-mailers on steroids!) were hot–and I made my case for using the self-mailing format based on the fact that our products needed a longer sales message and much more education for the consumer about us and our products since we were far from a household brand.

These magalogs were often anywhere from 20 to 32 pages long.

His response?

“Self-mailers almost never work. You, however, should test a self-mailer.”

I loved the man because of stuff like that.

He was principled but he knew that everything, for the most part, was testable.

That’s why he loved direct marketing so much too.

He knew the rules and also knew how (and when) to break them properly…which goes back to my favorite quote from Picasso, “Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist.”

I remember putting together a bunch of his most important sayings from his most famous “students”–a who’s who of direct marketers in the 1980’s and 90’s–and the one that was the most important to me was #23 on his list:

“Lists are the most important ingredient to the success of a promotional mailing.”

Today that would be:

“Lists are the most important ingredient to the success of a promotion.”

Please watch my short video, “When 41% is a majority”  to see how well Dick schooled me.

I have to admit that I was an easy student for him to teach this to since I was a list manager at the time I worked with him…that is, I spent ALL of my time on lists, database modelling and segmentation…and I always made sure that the focus on lists and list research was the highest priority for every promotion we put together.

That led to a highlight of my career.

On one of my all day visits with him when I only knew him for a short time (and he is the consultant who popularized “the client comes to me” concept), after discussing dozens of tests, results and new test ideas, he started asking ME about lists for his own products (the health newsletters I mentioned earlier which grew to over a million subscribers each).

After the day, he simply said:

“Brian I don’t know you all that well yet but frankly, I’m impressed.”

Those of you who knew Dick would agree that I probably should have hung up my spikes right there and retired.

But I did decide to go on for the next 25+ years anyway…leading to this e-mail today…and because I had a teacher like him, I am just getting started.

And yes, lists are the most important component to any direct response campaign.

After one of those all day sessions many years later, after he had commented on and analyzed every test Boardroom had done over the last quarter and went over in detail everything we should test over the next quarter, I simply asked him:

“How do you know so much?”

And he answered with his thumb and index finger about an inch apart:

“I know everything about this much.” 

And with that simple phrase he taught me the lesson of going a mile deep rather than a mile wide which I teach all the time now…to copywriters and to marketers.


“The Bogey Man” might have scared some folks in his lifetime…he was far from warm and fuzzy…but who needs warm and fuzzy when there are rules of thumb to learn and change the trajectory of your business and career?


Warmly (and a little fuzzier than Benson I suppose),




P.S. Those of you who are on the “BB Alert List” (so you can be the first to order copies of the lost classic, The Brilliance Breakthrough: How To Talk And Write So That People Will Never Forget You by Gene Schwartz), your wait is almost over…and I apologize for the delay.

If you are on that list you recently received my email about my woes: “My dog…well my printer…ate my homework!”

I told you about the issues we had with our printer…but no more excuses…we should have books, workbooks and a link to order in the next week.

Send me an email with “BB Alert List” in the subject line if you have not added yourself to the list yet. If you are on the list already, thank you for your patience.

And you’ll be pleased to know that even with the long wait, I still plan on saving you $3,805 on the book since the only copies on Amazon are still around $4,000!

Please don’t buy it there…it will only be another week…

About the author 

Brian Kurtz

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