December 12, 2020

Be nice to those you meet on the way up because you will meet them on the way down

This lifetime rule of thumb, adapted to real life situations, requires some thick skin when you realize you weren’t nice all the time on the way up. 

But rather than beat yourself up over it, use it as an opportunity to learn more about the human condition, how it applies to your life specifically, and always chalk it up as a lesson before you die. 

With that quote/lifetime rule of thumb, I also wanted to warm you up to the story I’m about to tell you…because of the lesson I was taught…the hard way. 

It involves the best living copywriter, an event for the ages, and a dusty baseball.

I know this notion of “always being nice on the way up” might be a someday/one day conversation for most of you…but my advice is not to put it off. 

It’s never too early to think about how nice you are as you begin your career ascent. 

Begin in your 20’s…get even more present to it in your 30’s and 40’s…because trust me, you will be forced to think about it in your 50’s, 60’s and beyond

That’s when you get the lovin’ or the hatin’ 

A hero I met on the way up was Gary Bencivenga, America’s most talented copywriter (with “talented” defined as having an 85%+ success rate on any project he tackled). 

Keep in mind he was always competing on the harshest battlefield, direct mail of the 1980’s and 1990’s. 

It was competitive and harsh because there were only a select few writers at Gary’s level–and they were all competing to win and retain (against each other) control packages from a finite group of choice clients. 

No cupcakes in that marketplace to beat…it was always trying to beat the 1927 Yankees. 

Shorthand for those of you who don’t know baseball: 

It means they were always trying to beat an unbeatable control…every time out. 

Equally important, Gary has been, and still is, a major influence on my career…and on the careers of thousands more copywriters and marketers. 

When thinking about marketing, copywriting (and everything that’s really important related to those endeavors), I have a 3 word expression that defines it for me:

Be like Gary 

Not just in terms of his smarts, his unbelievable God-given talent and his insatiable work ethic—that’s a prescription for greatness alone. 

But then wrap all of that up with a healthy dose of humility, congruence and confidence–and it is simply a spectacular life to live…and to emulate. 

I have very fond memories working with Gary for over 20 years…which culminated with his self-imposed retirement in the mid-1990’s. 

Before he left the stage for good, he wanted to go out with a bang. 

He organized and hosted a landmark event, The Bencivenga 100, which is still considered the most important event of the last 50 years for copywriters and marketers. 

And although Gary said The 100 would be his swan song (i.e. never to speak publically again), there was one more time he spokesince then (which I will tell you about in the P.P.S.)  

In 2005, Gary hosted The Bencivenga 100, which cost $5,000 per seat and it was attended by a who’s who of direct marketing and copywriting royalty. 

The DVD’s of the event are still for sale today at…wait for it…$5,000. 

Gary’s theory: Why do I need to discount since it is as valuable now as it was then? 

A refreshing view if you’ve got the goods…and Gary always had the goods. 

This is also a marketing tidbit to take to the bank: Your next offer, whether live or recorded, online or offline, might never need to be discounted at the time (or afterwards). Imagine that. 

Those of you who have never heard of The Bencivenga 100,  it was a two day “farewell tour” from the world’s top copywriter (Gary) sharing everything he had learned along the way. 

As I mentioned, many people still talk about it today as the best event they have ever attended–which also makes it one of those events that years later, as time marches on (and accurate memories fade), it now seems like everyone wants to make the claim: 

“I was there!”  

Kind of like Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, Mets vs. Red Sox: 

Shea Stadium only had a capacity of 56,000 seats in ’86 but somehow, with all of the people who have since proclaimed that they were in attendance, Shea would have had to have a capacity of 612,000 (according to my precise estimation) to seat them all. 

You know how that goes, right? 🙂 

The St. Regis Hotel in New York City, where the The Bencivenga 100 was held, has a bit less capacity than Shea Stadium…but that hasn’t stopped the “I was there” folks. 

It too has grown exponentially as the legend of the event made its rounds over the past 15 years…from the 100 who were in the room (I saw them all!)…to where I have the current attendance now at 246,000. Again, a very precise estimate. 🙂 

Note: That’s not including those reading this blog who will lay claim to their attendance soon. 

But you can’t lie to me if you’re one of those imposters who say they were there but weren’t …because I knew everyone who was there…well almost. 

There was at least ONE guy I didn’t know (who I will tell you about in a minute). 

That’s what we call an “open loop” (for you copywriting aficionados). 

I think Gary invented that. 

Just sayin’ 

The story begins at Gary’s event and, of all places, the aforementioned Shea Stadium. 

The first day of the The Bencivenga 100 event was on May 20th which I remember because it’s my birthday. 

I hate my birthday so I always look for ways to not hate it…and  my birthday in 2005 was no exception.

Note the two things I LOVE most in my life, ranking second and third, with my family and close friends at number one: 

1. Direct Marketing: Box checked for this birthday! After all, I was hanging out with the most prolific marketers and copywriters on the planet, talking shop for two full days. Did someone say “heaven on earth?” ☺ 

2. Baseball: I planned in advance of the seminar to go to the “Subway Series” game on this May 20th at Shea Stadium…the New York Mets vs. the New York Yankees. A pretty big deal in this part of the country…the two New York teams only play a few games every year and it’s a hot ticket. 

How could my birthday get any better? 

It actually did. 

At the game on the evening of 5/20, I was sitting in the upper deck directly behind home plate, and for the first time in my life, after attending hundreds of baseball games live, I caught a foul ball (hit by the Mets best player at the time, Mike Piazza). 

My hands were cold on that 50 degree, chilly May night…but I corralled that ball like my life depended on it, clutching it to my chest as if it were a football and not knowing why. 

That is, despite catching the ball, I didn’t know what I would do with the ball now that I had it. 

It seemed clear that the thrill was in the pursuit of the ball more than the ball itself…or so I thought. 

The best plan, not desirable, would be to put it on my desk with hundreds of other useless, non-utilitarian tchotchkes. 

I categorize things like souvenir baseballs the same way I categorize mugs and cute little boxes and figurines from faraway lands. 

They are simply dust catchers. And I catch a lot of dust. You’ve seen pictures of my office. 

So…what to do with this baseball? 

I came up with a killer idea. 

The next day, day two of the The Bencivenga 100, I took the baseball through the crowd during breaks and got every copywriter I knew in the crowd to sign it. 

There were a lot of copywriters in the room—“A-Listers” from around the world—as there should be to listen to the “Pope of copywriting,” for the last time. 

And they all wanted to be on that baseball for posterity. 

I am a little more jaded and saw it as a way to prove they were actually there, one of the elite 100. ☺ 

The souvenir baseball went from dust catcher to priceless collectible in a few hours after it was signed by an all-star team of copywriters including: 

Gary Halbert, John Carlton, Parris Lampropoulos, David Deutsch, Jim Punkre, Richard Armstrong, Clayton Makepeace…and I know if I keep going all I will do is insult everyone I don’t name. 

Suffice it to say that anyone who is anyone in direct response copywriting was at the event and I got all of them to sign the baseball. 

I was then privileged to have the opportunity to present the baseball to Gary after the afternoon break in front of the entire crowd…so yes, I was one of the 246,000 people who was really there…and it’s also documented for all time on a set of $5,000 DVD’s to boot. 

I know you loved that story…but there’s more to it as we fast forward to 2015. 

There was a hard lesson I learned years later about that signed baseball. 

A copywriter I had never heard of sent me a LinkedIn request. 

Normally that wouldn’t be breaking news.  

But because of how I deal with each LinkedIn request (i.e. I look at their profile, send them a personal email referencing things and/or people we have in common to create synergies from the outset) led in this case to some disturbing news. 

After introducing myself to this copywriter via LinkedIn, he sent me a beautiful response…telling me how much he admired Boardroom (my company at the time), Marty Edelston (the founder of Boardroom and direct marketing legend)… and that he had followed my career for many years. 

Not so disturbing until the email thread took a turn for the worse. 

He went on to tell me that he attended the The Bencivenga 100 event and shared this, referring to the period on day two when I was walking around the room collecting those autographs for Gary, and where we actually almost met:

“You made eye contact with me, sized me up, and then just kept on walking.” 

He wasn’t bitter or angry…he admitted that he was a “rookie” in the business at the time…so his expectations were low that he would be invited to sign the ball. 

His only expectation being there had nothing to do with me (thankfully). 

Rather, he was dialed in on one thing only—that he would soak up the event in all its glory, learning from Gary and everyone else who was there.


He was already way ahead of the game. And he didn’t need to sign some silly baseball to fulfill his expectation. 

He also shared with me the hardship in getting to that point, including borrowing  the “entry fee” of $5,000 (plus travel expenses) to even get to the event. 

Ultimately, he gave me the epilogue to his “Bencivenga road trip” stating that the juice was worth the squeeze—that is, being there launched his career. 

And he is quite successful today. 

All of this made me think about the people we meet all the time (yes, on the way up and on the way down); but more importantly the many more people we go out of our way not to meet. 

People we share an elevator with, the Uber driver, the desk clerk at a hotel, the waiter or busboy at a restaurant. 

Interesting and interested people are always hiding in plain sight, just for you. 

And note this epiphany (which I’m sure you will find astounding):

There is exactly a zero percent chance of learning anything from anyone–or sharing anything with anyone–if you don’t initiate contact. Or at least respond to contact. 

How often do you think about initiating vs. avoiding? 

And you can’t use the excuse of “I’m shy” or that you’re an introvert. 

I’m an extrovert and I too have to battle the impulse to avoid when I could be initiating. 

Like at The Benivenga 100 when I thought I was hot stuff, thinking I was the initiator’s initiator. 

“Sign the ball everybody!” 

Well…almost everybody. 

I give myself a hard time when I am not being more interested than interesting… because we naturally become more interesting by being interested.

It’s as easy as starting a conversation with a stranger (who might be a rookie copywriter in a sea of the most seasoned veterans). 

We make snap judgments every day that some people we come in contact with are more useful to us than others…or so we think. 

Remember, “useful to us” is still subjective, it is totally our opinion, and I will wager a bet that you are more wrong than right when making that calculation of “usefulness of a person, stranger or not,” in your head. 

It’s important to realize that everyone we come in contact with has a story worth telling and you are the perfect person to hear it. 

Plus they can make significant, often surprising, contributions to us (and to the world) with just a little effort on our part…and I guarantee it all comes with a free endorphin rush. 

This is even truer as we attain more fame and fortune. 

I pride myself on making the effort to initiate contact always and anywhere…especially if I’m at an industry event…and especially at The Bencivenga 100, right? 

Well, I missed something, even in that ripe environment. 

This is an example of “Do as I say, not as I do.” 

It happens to everyone I guess…but you can also remedy anything. 

You can go from epic fail to revving up those endorphins anytime. 

The story didn’t end there with this copywriter. 

After we LinkedIn, he became a friend for life (and maybe he’s even reading this post). 

With “friend” defined as, “tell me the truth always without love ever leaving the room.”

These are the only friends worth having, by the way.

And I didn’t befriend him due to a sense of guilt. 

It was because I was given a second chance to make it right. 

Like so many others who I may have “looked past” on my way up the success ladder, I declare right here and right now, a preemptive apology which hopefully comes with a preemptive pardon. 

Better late than never. ☺ 

This reminds me of the words of Eleanor Roosevelt:

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”  

Thinking further about the young gun copywriter from The Bencivenga 100, a rookie surrounded by “hall of famers” everywhere, I love that he wasn’t intimidated, and didn’t shrink into thinking about how far he had to go…but rather how far he had come already by being there. 

That includes the $5K he spent and the sweat equity and grit he expended to get there. 

And of course, overcoming being snubbed by me. One more quote to round this out, from Nelson Mandela’s 1994 Inaugural Speech, (which I heard originally came from Marianne Williamson):

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate; our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure”  

Have no fear…you are not inferior. 

I love how that young copywriter handled the situation then…and now. 

First with curiosity, wonder, gratefulness (and no resentment)…and then years later, with class.  

In closing, here’s the advice if you are the one being snubbed rather than the one doing the snubbing: 

Don’t immediately assume everyone who looks past you is a jerk (as I defensively explained to that copywriter I ignored). 

Some people (like me at that event) are just a little slow to recognize your greatness.  



P.S. This blog post appears in Overdeliver… but I got smarter (and more long-winded) since I wrote the book. ☺ 

This story appears in Chapter 10, “Playing the Long Game,” with other stories about mistakes I’ve made, and lessons I’ve learned, from each one. 

The best reason to buy and read the book, especially Chapter 10:

They are now mistakes you won’t need to make. 

In Overdeliver, the piece above is titled, STAY HUMBLE EVEN WHEN YOU THINK YOU’VE GOT IT MADE–and that says it all. 

And I would add:

“Don’t read your press clippings.”

P.P.S. I promised you another story—this one is much shorter!–regarding how Gary went against his proclamation that The Bencivenga 100 would be his final public appearance. 

He did one more…and it was a doozy. 

It was called:

How to Beat the Control and Achieve Your Life’s Greatest Desires Using the Secret of the Red Shirts. 

You may have been one of the lucky ones to hear it “live” at The Titans of Direct Response event in 2014. 

There were 350 people live in the room that day—at an event that was billed as “The Bencivenga 100 for the 2000’s”. 

And under our new calculation of attendee size, that crowd has now swelled to 35,000. 🙂 

What made Gary come out again to speak one more time at an event I was hosting, 17 years after he retired from speaking?

I’d like to think it was a persuasive argument I might have made…or paying him a huge bribe…or telling him it really was going to be attended by 35,000 people. 

However, it was none of that. 

I wasn’t making any argument since we had an agreement after The Bencivenga 100 that I would no longer ask him to speak for me…of course that agreement was not made immediately after “The 100.” 

It took me a few months to get over the shock that he would speak no more…so I only backed off permanently after I proposed The Bencivenga 100 World Tour and he declined. 

And clearly money nor a big crowd would have motivated him either. 

What made Gary come out one last time was Marty Edelston (and Boardroom). 

Gary, like so many of us in the direct marketing world, were saddened by Marty’s death in October of 2013. When he heard that I was hosting a tribute event to Marty, The Titans of Direct Response in September of 2014, with the likes of Dan Kennedy, Jay Abraham, Joe Sugarman et. al., but “no Gary” (because I was honoring our agreement), he came to me and said (and I’m paraphrasing): 

“I know I said I would never speak again after The Bencivenga 100—but Marty was such an important client and even a more special friend. I’d be pleased to speak.” 

To which I said:

I never asked you.

Sorry Gary, I can’t quite fit you in.

Joking! I never said that! ☺

I didn’t say anything actually…I just broke down in tears.

I went from having one killer whale at the event (Kennedy) with a family of other whales and sharks…to bagging my second killer whale in Gary.

What a blessing.

And we created an event for the ages.

So what does this mean to you?

If you weren’t one of the 350,000 (yes, I’ve added a zero!) people who saw the “Red Shirts Presentation” live in 2014, or you didn’t shell out $2,000 for the video and supporting materials from the Titans of Direct Response package, you can now have access to that unforgettable presentation free.

Keep your eyes open for another email from me tomorrow announcing the release of video  #4 in my 4-part training series.

Here’s the link in case you don’t see the email


Car thief steals $20.

Ignores millions in glove box.

My friend Kevin Rogers had his car robbed a few years ago.

I have a link to a video below to prove it.

And in case you’re wondering, this all ties back to Gary B. -stay with me.

If you don’t know Kevin, he’s an incredibly talented copywriter, copywriter coach, and a seriously funny guy too.

But he wasn’t laughing when this happened,

Don’t worry. He’s ok.

The thief did break into his car and stole all the money he could get his hands on and luckily it was only around $20.

What is more interesting is what the thief didn’t steal.

If he had only checked the glove box.

Kevin shot a video the day after (from inside his car) about the entire incident.

It will make you cry.

It will make you laugh.

And most of all it will make you yearn for what was in the glove box…

Watch the video here.

P.P.P.P.S. To keep this blog post ALL Gary B., all the time (oops, slight spoiler alert about Kevin’s video!), I will tell you about another “Gary B. free giveaway” in my email tomorrow as well.

So that’s two Gary B. giveaway bonuses:

“The Secret of Red Shirts” and “A Gift From Kevin”

Sounds like the nominees for “Best Foreign Film” at the Oscars. 

Go to the fourth video on this page   in my 4-part training titled, “Putting It All Together” (and that 4th video will be available on 12/14).

The other three are already available.

Click here for the full page with all of the training. 

P.P.P.P.P.S. (The first “5 P,  P.S.” ever–I’m making email history here!)

Reminder– you must watch Kevin’s video here—if only for entertainment purposes!

Click here for the video about Kevin’s adventure!

About the author 

Brian Kurtz

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