I just returned from an incredible trip to Nicaragua which included a 3-day marketing seminar (more on that below).
I also had the privilege of vacationing there after the event and learned what a fascinating and expanding country it is…and sadly for me, I was advised to invest there over a decade ago but of course I missed out on that one…like so many others…oh well.
So while I passed on being part of what at the time was a “ground floor opportunity” that has grown considerably for many investors way smarter than I, my “lack-of-investment mistake” at least gives me a springboard for this blog post.
I want to talk about a concept that was shared at the event by someone we should all listen to very carefully, one of the great direct marketing pioneers and business builders you probably never heard of before.
And he’s the guy who had a vision about Nicaragua when no one else did…and a vision for a whole lot more too.
This company who saw the opportunity in Nicaragua (which is far from their only claim to fame) is a company I have followed and worked closely with for my entire career, Agora.
Agora is by far the largest financial newsletter publisher in the world.
They are also in other markets beyond finance and investing including health, consumer information and even resorts (and non-profit foundations) in Nicaragua.
The founder of Agora, Bill Bonner, is one of my heroes…one of the best copywriters who has ever lived and I guess you could say a somewhat “reluctant business tycoon.”
But don’t let this mild mannered entrepreneur, who is probably most happy when he’s writing copy and spending time with his family, give you a sense that he is not a force in direct marketing, business building…and the author of a philosophy on how to run one’s business and life with integrity and impact.
The subject line above, “Don’t just make money…deserve it…” is how he opened the three day conference in Nicaragua in front of a group of the best and brightest in the financial information community today (at the annual “Financial Publishers Roundtable,” an event that has taken place since the 1970’s).
He went on to say that when it comes to making recommendations to investors, which is what the financial publishers pride themselves on, “…we’re not paid to be right…but we are paid to do the work.”
What does that really mean?
After all, don’t we follow investment gurus and publishers to give us recommendations to make more money and make it as quickly as possible?
And wouldn’t you assume your gurus (or your financial advisor) is only as good as his or her last stock, bond or crypto currency recommendation?
And that when they are wrong we must run away and look for alternatives?
I always thought that…and I have been around this business for over three decades.
But when Bill gave us the example of various Agora newsletters recommending to invest in gold for nearly 20 years when gold did nothing but go down, and then you look at where Agora is today, it does make you wonder.
Bill’s take: While many subscribers might have left Agora because their experts were “wrong,” many more stayed with the company (following its gurus/experts) because they could trust that the research was sound and continuous; and despite the experts not always being right, they always knew they had a knowledgeable advisor, not simply a “get rich quick recommender.”
Now that sounds nice…and it’s easy to think that Agora is simply dreaming that this could be true when they had been wrong about many predictions for so long.
(Of course they were right about a lot too).
But whether they were picking winners or losers, they were always “doing the work” (and showing the work they were doing in great detail, and then intelligently explaining why they were right or wrong).
And the facts are the facts. Agora has stood the test of time.
This argument would fall on its face if I was talking about a company that had gone bankrupt multiple times or was no longer around.
But the opposite is true.
In the world of financial information among direct marketers and newsletter publishers, Agora is not in a bubble; they ARE the bubble.
Their 40+ year run, with their biggest years in revenue and profit happening more recently, is about long term consistency and realizing before it was too late that they were not in the entertainment business (as many of their competitors were).
That is, they were always serious, right or wrong.
Another secret to Agora’s success and longevity is that from the day I started exchanging information, names and intelligence with them (circa 1983), they have lived under the philosophy of “there are no secrets.”
Or as I like to say, “Competition is coexistence.”
We have proof in almost every industry that living life this way in business more times than not beats thinking that what you have is so proprietary that sharing it will negatively affect your bottom line.
In the industry we are talking about here, almost all of the largest financial publishers who Agora (and I) grew up with in the 1980’s are either gone, much smaller than they once were, or are now subsidiaries of Agora because Agora bought them.
And Agora is anything but a corporate raider.
Many companies knocked on their door to be part of the “Agora bubble.”
Studying Agora will teach you a lot about marketing, copywriting, and business building…and I could talk about them all day in just those three areas.
They are always on the cutting edge of the latest marketing techniques, they have developed the most diverse and talented in-house copywriting teams and departments in the world and their structure is based on creating independent “silos” as separate business units which make up the larger company which then creates “intrapreneurs” inside a dynamic entrepreneurial environment.
Each of those three things (marketing, copywriting and structure the Agora way) could be a post in itself and I will hopefully get to that in the near future.
But for today, I want to leave you with these two things that are the overarching reasons why Agora stands alone in what was once an industry of dozens of equally successful companies:
1) They did the work…with congruency and consistency…in the face of being wrong (a lot)
2) They didn’t keep it all to themselves…they shared freely all they did so all boats could rise…which ironically led to everyone else wanting to “be like Agora”… and in some cases to even seek them out so that they could be bought by them and be part of the Agora family
If you talk with Bill Bonner today, he will always begin by sharing the mistakes he made along the way before he tells you about any of the successes.
And you will have to push hard to get him to brag about anything.
So here’s a third overarching reason for Agora’s success:
3) Humility and never being boastful while you are doing the work and sharing freely is part of this winning formula too.
Keep working hard, right or wrong…and never think that your deep dark secret (e.g. the next great marketing hack, the next great copy platform, the next “big idea” etc.) is worth more to you by keeping it to yourself.
P.S. The greatest copywriters in the world, like the ones at Agora, are all students of Gene Schwartz.
That’s my segueway to making sure you know that the only place to purchase Gene’s classics, musts for every library, is right here.
Breakthrough Advertising and The Brilliance Breakthrough: How To Talk And Write So That People Will Never Forget You (with accompanying workbook) are both in inventory and I can ship immediately.