In the final chapter of my new book Overdeliver, entitled “Playing The Long Game,” I have a series of anecdotes and stories from my career that proved instructional to me…and I thought you might benefit from reading one of them today.
(And tonight is one of the last chances to grab the e-book for $1.99—links at the end of this post.)
I hope you enjoy this if you haven’t heard it before—and if you have, I hope it’s a good reminder:
Some of my best friends are attorneys. I also know many recovering attorneys who I like a lot too. However, even though we all need legal advice from time to time, I will submit to you that there are better ways to do business than living lawsuit to lawsuit and always thinking “adversarial” rather than “peaceful coexistence.”
The story that follows proves that it’s a lot harder to build relationship capital when you immediately think “problem first” rather than “potential opportunity first.”
And it’s also a lot harder if you are one of those people who will die on a sword over “the principle of the thing.”
If you tend to hold on to things at all costs to prove a point, I encourage you to read on; and if you don’t, read on anyway since I think this story will reinforce how we should always try to turn lemons into lemonade as our first course of action.
When I hosted the Titans of Direct Response event in 2014, one of the first things I needed to do was to create a logo—so I went to an online design site and held a contest.
I ended up with something I loved, with colors and a font that fit the magnitude of the event, and a titan’s shield that was powerful yet subtle.
Using the event as a springboard, I branded everything I have done since under Titans: Titans Mastermind, Titans Master Class, Titans DVDs, and Titans Marketing (which I was even able to trademark).
After launching Titans Marketing about a year after the 2014 event, a friend e-mailed me to say that there was an up-and-coming online marketing company calling themselves Titans of Marketing.
Despite having a trademark, I don’t own the word “titan,” and the term gets around: it’s been used by NFL teams past and present, by various gurus in other industries, and even by a company that places advertising at bus stops in New York City.
But Titans of Marketing? That sounded too close for comfort.
So I went to their website, and while they were not competing directly with me, what was shocking was their logo—the colors and font were identical to mine, but instead of the shield, there was a Spartan helmet.
What was also strange was that the helmet logo was from a design given to me during my own design contest, which I rejected in favor of the shield.
What to do?
My attorney suggested we send a cease and desist letter, which I considered . . . but not for very long.
Others suggested I sue them outright (and not all those folks were lawyers, mind you).
Still others told me to forget about them, saying that anyone who would show such little imagination and ingenuity would not stand the test of time and they would be out of business before we knew it.
I decided not to take any legal action, which was easy, based on all the lessons I had learned up until that point regarding the waste of time and money a lawsuit entails.
After 30-plus years of watching people rip off promotions, copy, and titles (and more) from right under our noses and the noses of friends and colleagues alike, I knew that chasing every little infraction by taking some kind of legal action was only a distraction and would not be a good use of my energy or time.
And of course, pursuing stuff like this is a great a way to add to the billable hours of your friendly attorney, often with little or no return on that money.
When legal situations arose throughout my career, I did a simple calculation in my mind of not only the money going out to an attorney but the opportunity cost and money lost by not staying focused on marketing.
I remember a comment from Marty Edelston, founder of Boardroom, when we were dealing with a legal situation that involved a rip-off:
“I don’t want lawyers running our business. I just want reasonable and intelligent lawyers helping us do the right thing. And suing will never be our first option.”
For a while I decided to just forget about those “other Titans,” until one day I discovered that one of the partners in that business had sent me a friend request on Facebook (which I hadn’t gotten around to accepting yet)—and he had even liked a post of mine.
I decided to reach out to him directly. No lawyer required.
I privately messaged him on Facebook, asking him why he would be so lazy with the naming of his company, and especially with the development of his typeface and logo.
I wrote the note assuming he had heard of my epic event, and that he wanted to cash in on the tsunami that was the Titans brand in direct marketing.
Well, he clearly was not aware of my press clippings . . . he didn’t even know who I was or what I was talking about. I got a good lesson in getting over myself.
But that’s not the biggest lesson from this story.
Once we connected and I showed him what I was talking about—my logo and branding next to his—he was shocked. Together we figured out what happened, and both of us learned two very valuable lessons.
Lesson #1 (Micro)
When you go to a public site to get work from designers who are not getting paid top dollar, don’t assume they are being 100 percent original.
It became clear to us that that someone took a good design that failed to win a previous contest (mine) and figured they could recycle it for another contest without changing very much.
Of course, “stealing is a felony; stealing smart is an art.” I guess this example was neither a felony nor art. It was just opportunistic on the designer’s part . . . and the Titans of Marketing were simply caught in the crossfire. I didn’t need to accuse anyone of anything.
Lesson #2 (Macro)
Jumping to conclusions—and jumping to legal action without all the facts—is a waste of time and money.
When I discovered the truth, I felt there was now lemonade to be made from lemons. I scheduled a call to learn more about these competitive Titans, their business, their overall mission, and their future plans as coexisting Titans.
What I found were two young, ambitious entrepreneurs—full of enthusiasm for marketing and the direct response business we all love—actually, the kind of marketers I regularly seek to attract to my tribe.
On the call, they volunteered to change their name before I even asked, saying they would be going in a completely new direction with their branding and their logo.
They seemed inspired to raise the bar higher for their business after the call, and I was inspired to help them.
I offered my consulting services at no charge to create their new brand, and I began asking more about what they offered to their clients and how we might even work together.
(They even attended a live event I was planning at the time. the first “Titans Master Class”)
It turned out that their skillset had tremendous value to various clients and mastermind members I was serving at the time.
And while I didn’t ask them for anything specific in return, they offered to sell, as an affiliate partner, the $2,000 product from the Titans of Direct Response event I had created (a package of DVD’s, interviews, and swipe files which were sold to those who were unable to attend).
And of course I offered them an affiliate commission for every one they sold.
These guys went from being the jerks ripping me off to my newest affiliate partner. This felt much better than paying legal fees, and I’m sure they would agree that the last thing they would have wanted was the stress and cost of legal action from me.
And the story goes on . . . I spoke at a large online marketing conference some years later, and one of the partners from the former “Titans of Marketing” was sitting in the front row while I was on stage.
After the event, he was one of the first people to post on Facebook saying nice things about me (and no, it had nothing to do with the affiliate commissions I had paid him in the past).
He went from potential adversary to friend for life.
This is not an isolated incident.
I have had many experiences over my career that speak to this theme. Many don’t involve legal issues or lawyers, but they all work on the premise that assuming the worst of people as your first reaction is nota winning formula for a peaceful life.
Or for a relationship capital account you can access at any point in your career.
I even had a dose of inspiration from my mentor on this topic on one of the saddest days of my life.
Marty was on his deathbed, and I couldn’t believe it when he asked what I was working on. The man was unstoppable, right to the end.
I told him about a few tricky deals that were going on at the company, and through a difficult breath he just said, “Be fair.”
Obviously Marty had taught me that lesson over the previous 30 years too, and it stays with me every day.
Don’t always think in terms of getting the advantage, whether it’s your partners, employees, consultants, or competitors—they all deserve respect and fair treatment, even on the days when it’s the last thing you feel like giving them.
Keep litigious thinking out of all you do. Of course, sometimes you may actually need a lawyer . . . but above all, be fair.
P.S. Last chance to get the e-book of Overdeliver for $1.99…here are the links: