December 19, 2014

We lost one of the great copywriters of all time last week, Jim Rutz.

I don’t mean to be disrespectful when I say that organized religion owes its success, at least partially, to great copy.

No matter how many times I will brag about Boardroom selling three million copies of The Book of Inside Information in the 1980’s and 1990’s, it will never be the all-time bestseller on the planet.

We can’t even come close to Atlas Shrugged much less The Bible.

I bring this up because Jim Rutz understood the power of religion–he actually organized his own church–one that was true to the very early origins of Christianity, when people met in each other’s homes in small groups.

He was VERY serious about it and had quite a following.

He used his incredible talent as a copywriter to build his “Open Church” with story and messaging that was as persuasive as the best magalogs he wrote for the largest marketers in the world.

For me, reading his copy and then watching it perform in the marketplace was truly a religious experience. Jim liked when I said that…

I believe his incredible faith is what made him unique among all the great copywriters.

He had faith in God.

He had faith that the products he was selling could help people.

And he had faith in the intelligence of the reader.

I used to kid him about the fact that I thought he had a two person copywriting “agency” in his house…him and God…and it just wasn’t fair to have a partner with that much power.

The fact that he knew how to invent a religion and move people at that level, writing copy to sell books and newsletters probably came easy to him.

Although as far as I know he never admitted that.

Well…why would he?

Throughout his career, he was able to charge the highest fees of any copywriter this side of Gary Bencivenga and Gary Halbert.

And he was worth every penny.

In fact, every copywriter today who collects a royalty on pieces mailed or a percentage of sales based on performance, owes a debt of gratitude to Jim.

Jim realized that he was as good as anyone writing copy for direct marketers…he was confident (NOT arrogant…see my post “Rejecting People Is A Lot of Work”).

Jim could beat anyone.

In his early days as an “A list copywriter” he wouldn’t even charge an upfront fee but rather collect royalties based on the number of pieces the client was able to mail.

He was confident he could write the package for “free” because he knew he would get the winner and collect more than any upfront fee he could charge.

And we are talking about a royalty of  $.05 to $.06 PER PIECE MAILED. That may not seem like much, but when you’re mailing in the millions, that adds up.

I want to make sure you understand the magnitude of those numbers:

Jim wrote winning packages that became controls for some of the biggest mailers in the country…many of his winners mailing millions of pieces…and basically, he got a nickel for each one of them the Jolly Postman delivered.

I’m guessing that for Boardroom alone, we mailed Jim Rutz controls to the tune of 20 million pieces (probably more but I don’t want to exaggerate…could have easily been 30 million…or more).

And we were (by far) NOT his only client.

Folks waited a year or more to get on his writing calendar.

And as I mentioned above, he usually won the control and collected royalties whenever he competed.

Now do the math…just for Boardroom, 20 million pieces at $50 per thousand is a cool million (dollars).

Then figure he had dozens of clients, many of whom mailed as many (or more) of his control packages than we did.

Pretty nice way to make a living if you’ve got the talent.

Over time, he started charging an upfront fee since the waiting list for his services was so long…he had to go to the highest bidder…gotta love America…supply and demand.

So later, he routinely charged $50,000 as an upfront fee for those who wanted to hire him.

He even charged as much as $60,000 or $75,000 on occasion.

In fact, my mentor, Marty Edelston (and I), on behalf of Boardroom, once paid him $100,000 as an upfront fee for a new package because he needed additional money to fund a school for his church in Nebraska for homeless boys.

Keep in mind that if the package bombed, that’s a non-refundable $100,000 sunk cost.

Marty and I had a good feeling he’d earn out the $100K with a killer control (winner) but in that particular case I remember Marty and I discussing that we didn’t even care.

Marty said to me, “Brian…given how much money Jim has made for us with his breakthroughs, I would GIVE him the $100,000  just to help him out. And we’re getting another package for it? Advantage Boardroom!”

Well that was Marty…understanding that if Jim (or Gary Bencivenga or any of our top copywriters) made more money than anyone in the company including himself, it was good news.

Marty would often say things to me like,  “These guys are super human with a talent few people have…and if they are making more money on royalties alone than any of our salaried employees, think about how much money their packages are contributing to the bottom line of the company, making sure we HAVE a company. Our employees will get over it when they continue to get their paychecks…raises…and bonuses…because of Rutz and others.”

Did I have the best mentor or what?

Because of Marty and how we dealt with the talents of guys like Jim Rutz, I’ll never live in scarcity…I will always live in abundance.

Another big lesson for all of us:

Never be a cheapskate with copy and creative…it’s just not the place to cut costs…it’s the place to invest in world-class resources.

Don’t leave this make-or-break area of your business to amateurs. And as I’ve said in a previous post, you gotta pay to play.

Thanks to copywriters like Jim Rutz, mailers like Boardroom learned the lesson of true partnership with creative talent.

You can also see why I’m not joking when I often say I wish I could be a copywriter!

And I’ve always wanted to be a great copywriter beyond the kidding I do about how lucrative it can be financially.

It’s such a position of supreme power and contribution:

Think about the millions of people that a copywriter of Jim’s caliber can move to action…and in our case, the action is buying products that improve their health or finances in significant ways.

He saved lives while being paid as much as anyone in the world to do what he did as his livelihood.

Now that’s a good combo, huh?

Jim was also a little eccentric but always his own man.

About his love life: 

He searched for years for a “mail order” bride. He ran a great ad–the headline was something like:

“Knight in Shining Armor Seeks Damsel…Distress Optional”, with a picture of Jim as Sir Lancelot.

He sent me a picture of the bride he chose but “the deal fell through” for some reason. I didn’t ask questions.

About his decorating in his home in Colorado Springs (where I visited a couple of times):

He had no furniture in his living room…just neat piles of successful direct mail from EVERY significant direct marketer at that time. Very organized too. He would give me a “tour” when I visited:

“Here’s the Boardroom pile…the Phillips pile…the Agora pile…the Rodale pile.”

He wrote for ALL the biggest and most successful direct marketers.

He knew and studied deeply every package in all of the categories he competed in. This is a something all of the greats do and it is what turns a “B copywriter” into an “A.”

Put a different way: He was a swipe file junkie…which most of the great copywriters are (as we learned at the Boardroom event, “Titans of Direct Response” in September).

However, I always wondered why he didn’t have a file cabinet.

I joked with him that he saved a lot of time shopping for a couch and a coffee table…more time to write, I guess…

I remember thinking to myself at the time that Jim being such a spiritual man, having those mailing pieces in the “open” allowed their true essence to emit brilliance into the air and into his head without a steel cabinet blocking that part of the creative process.

The guy had direct mail as furniture! How’s that for dedication?

Jim was in touch with me recently in the months leading up to “Titans” and we were planning to have him show up as a surprise guest…but I think his failing health held him back.

When he knew he couldn’t make the trip, he said:

“Announce at ‘Titans’ that Jim Rutz is open for business…and I’m ready for an assignment!”

He hadn’t done much for years but in those phone calls about “Titans,” he was getting excited to jump back in. It was inspiring.

I made that announcement from the stage… I’m sad now thinking that he never got to fulfill on his comeback.

But Jim’s work lives on and if you’re serious about becoming a better marketer/copywriter…you want to learn from the best.

So, I would like to give you two of the most successful direct mail packages he ever wrote for us…consider these a special gift from me and from Jim.

They are “classic Rutz”:

What will you do with your $12,000 Tax Cut This Year?” for our newsletter Tax Hotline (and on this package, we discovered future Titan copywriter David Deutsch who worked on this promotion with Jim)

Limo Larry and Champagne Cherie” for our newsletter Bottom Line/Personal

Note: At “Titans,” we  gave away PDF’s of these two Rutz packages (plus 28 more of Boardroom’s greatest promotions from all of our top writers)…30 PDF’s on two CD’s in all, and printed them out in two huge binders.

It is a swipe file for the ages–which I will be making available to everyone on this list as a bonus if you buy the DVD’s of the “Titans of Direct Response”…but that’s an e-mail and an offer for another day.

Back to Rutz…

About trying to emulate him:

My good friend and one of the best copywriters in the world today, Parris Lampropoulos,  the man with more file cabinets of mailing packages than anyone I know , said of Jim (and I am paraphrasing from a phone conversation):

“Most of the great copywriters are easy to read, study and pick up things that you can incorporate into your own style…but not Rutz. You read his stuff, don’t understand how he came up with the concept or the execution of the concept, and all you can do is sit back and marvel at it.”

I’ve never been to Mount Rushmore…I will get there someday…but I love using that particular monument to talk about the copywriters who have made me and Boardroom (and so many others) look so good as marketers all of these years.

Frankly, if we tried to mail a billion promotion pieces without world class copy from the greats like Jim Rutz  (and David Deutsch, Parris Lampropoulos et. al.),  we would have been out of business before we mailed a million…

Boardroom’s original Mount Rushmore of copywriters are four of the greatest Americans (to me at least):

Jim Rutz

Gary Bencivenga (who spoke at “Titans of Direct Response” for the last time in public—see my post “The People You Meet on the Way Up…”)

Eugene Schwartz (author of Breakthrough Advertising –see my post It’s Not Always About the Money)

Mel Martin (who is the best copywriter no one ever heard of…I’ve got a post in mind for the future about him…)

As you can see by the length of this post, Jim Rutz is a very rich topic.

Jim’s passion for everything he did should be a lesson to all of us, whether you are a copywriter, marketer…anything.

He also trained many of the greats.

John Carlton, one of my heroes, recently posted his thoughts about Jim:

“Jim was a brutal taskmaster, an over-the-top great teacher, and one of the most skilled ‘pure’ writers I ever met. Also one of the most eccentric. 

And while he and I existed in completely different worlds, his advice for me to let my freak flag fly (not his words, of course) helped me create my own global reputation.”

Jim also was smart enough to hire and train the aforementioned David Deutsch.

Today, David is one of the world’s best too, and he’s on Boardroom’s  “current” Mount Rushmore (with Parris, Eric Betuel and Arthur Johnson).

Packages from all of them are in our “top 30” which I will make available to you soon…and those four are responsible for 650 million pieces of successful direct mail just for Boardroom…and over a billion dollars in sales.

I can safely say they would all agree that Jim Rutz inspired them in profound ways.

And that’s in spite of the fact, as Parris said, “you just couldn’t write like Rutz…he’s one of a kind.”

Jim  left us with some of the greatest promotion copy ever written…a compensation model that every copywriter today should thank Jim it exists…direct mail formats that he innovated…and dozens of “A list” copywriters who couldn’t copy him but were his prized students.

I am not a religious man but I know Jim is even closer to God now…and they were already pretty close down here on earth too…

Until next week,


P.S. I was teasing those “30 packages” because I am still formulating the full array of goodies I want to offer you—my special readers—to go with the “Titans of Direct Response” DVD’s.

After writing this post, it’s clear I absolutely need to include those 30 packages from our original and current Mount Rushmores as part of the offer.

There are also mailing pieces on those discs written by other “A listers” such as Clayton Makepeace, Jim Punkre, Sol Blumenfeld, Henry Cowen, Pat Garrard, Bill Jayme.

If you buy the DVD package that includes all of these direct mail classics,  I suggest you print them out (they are PDF’s on two CD’s) and feel free to decorate your living room with them in honor of Jim Rutz.

About the author 

Brian Kurtz

  1. Hi Brian,
    Thank you for this wonderful post. It’s a real insight to a copywriter legend most people may not even no about.

    However, with this post you made it all come alive with excellent word pictures that capture the essence of Jim

    I also love reading your insightful behind the scene stories they are oh so delightful.


  2. Hey Brian, just came across this while doing a little investigation into the greats.. as all good and “great-aspiring” copywriters must, we keep searching, reading, researching, hunting in our world. I’ve always enjoyed your emails, website and success story. Looking forward to hearing your speech, maybe buying you a drink, this fall in Del Ray. All the best, Jesse

  3. I love this article about Jim. I love anything about Jim’s work from people like you Brian who knew him personally.

    He had a totally unique style, and his copy was really a sight to behold. I still read his packages and literally shake my head in awe. Brian you have spoken in previous articles about Marty talking about copy that made him “vibrate.”

    Jim’s copy does that. Not only was Jim just a stupendous copywriter, he also seemed fearless in his copy. What I mean by that is he would come up with some ideas that seemed crazy at times but as you got into the copy you’d think, “woah, this is just incredible.”

    I just don’t know how he came up with such incredible ideas that would launch yet another monster winner for his clients.

    Jim was a complete LEGEND!

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