January 8, 2018

“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer…and keep them all well fed” 
 I remember many years ago getting an award from the Direct Marketing Club of New York…one of those awards that felt like a “lifetime achievement award”…and one of those awards that felt like someone was trying to tell me to just retire and get out of the way already.

But since I was only 45 years old at the time, I wasn’t quite ready for retirement and I proudly accepted the award.

In my acceptance speech, I mentioned many previous award winners who came before me, many of whom were mentors and friends…and in addition to thanking them and acknowledging them for letting me stand on their shoulders,  I also shared the scary truth:

I realized I had bought almost every one of them at least one meal at some point over the years…or if they lived too far away to break bread with, I had sent them a free book (which I guess they might have sold for food).

I even had a flip chart which graphed the “meals by year.”

My thesis was that this community felt obligated to give me this award as reciprocity for all the meals and books I gave them.

I didn’t calculate calories consumed or pages read by my guests and recipients on that flip chart…thank goodness for that…and of course I was trying to be funny (with a little bit of truth in my sarcasm).

However, what I was ultimately sharing is that unconditional generosity will never work against you.

And since this was a room of direct marketers, I wanted to back up my theory with real data.

I concluded by telling them that they can increase their chances of receiving some kind of lifetime achievement award too (or at least get some serious recognition) if they are “always buying;” but more importantly, by practicing unconditional generosity, they would receive much more than recognition by connecting at a deeper level with everyone in their life.

That is, no matter what you spend on meals and products for others, you will end up richer in the end.

I’ve talked about this often in “The power of 100-0,” “Christmas cards in July” and other posts.

But today’s special lesson is as simple as this:

“Pick up the check.” 

A friend of mine just told me a story about a “competitor” of his who joined a mastermind group he had been a member of for a few years (and “competitor” is in quotes because you all know by now that“competition is coexistence”).

He asked my advice when this new guy reached out to him to get together for lunch to learn more about the mastermind group and to “pick his brain.”

My buddy Joe Polish once gave me some awesome advice many years ago:

“When someone says they want to pick your brain that usually means they want to pick your pocket.”

And by the way, Joe is one of the most generous guys I know when it comes to giving his time…he only came to this conclusion by getting burned a few times.

And while I agree with Joe that we might get taken advantage of more often than we would like to admit, I still mapped out a game plan for my friend to diffuse any inner conflict by playing big with this guy and then seeing what happens.

That is, I told him to meet with him, not to hold back information and to pick up the tab for lunch. 

Of course I also told him that the relationship then needed to be managed carefully (see Joe’s warning above) so he didn’t get taken advantage of later on (i.e. get his pocket picked).

But I felt good about this game plan based on my experience.

I’m confident my friend will gain much more from this new relationship by playing it this way rather than refusing to meet, or holding back any helpful advice or being a cheapskate.

We shall see. But I am optimistic.

I am also not suggesting that you should end up in the poor house because you have such a rosy perspective about meeting new people and helping everyone immediately…and then always paying too.

However, I like your odds for a richer life when you stick to the philosophy of picking up the tab whether you are the brain being picked or the brain-picker.

My father-in-law trained me well for this…he was super generous and never let anyone pay for anything.

When you were with him you were always his guest.

This was in conflict with my own philosophy (since he stole it!)… so I turned it into a game.

If I knew I would be meeting him for a meal (or for anything that could lead to an awkward moment when I would have to fight him for the check), I would get there early before he arrived and find the person who would be responsible for presenting that check.

That person had my credit card in their pocket before any of the festivities began.

At the end of the meal, a bill never came…just my credit card receipt.

When I get beat to a bill I consider it a huge defeat. I am suggesting to you today to consider adopting this philosophy if you can afford to do so.

I think we often overestimate how much this really costs in the big picture of what I will call your “lifetime cash flow.”

I know sometimes you can’t afford it…but try to adopt the philosophy so at least you can pick up more checks more often.

And if you would like to try to adopt this philosophy, I will also suggest that you arrive to all of your appointments early when there will be a payment involved at the end…and get cozy with the maître d or equivalent.

Over 37 years in business, I can probably count on two hands (max) the times where someone beat me to a check…and that includes when I dined with vendors like printers, media buyers and others who had it in their budget to make sure they alwayspaid for the “client.”

This is far from a brag…as I said above, it’s a philosophy.

How many “clients” do you know (including yourself if you have been on that side of the desk or table) who regularly think about picking up the tab when they (or you) are not “supposed to?”

Those same clients probably talk a good game around the notion that “my vendors are my partners” but I have often observed that those who say that are only talking the talk rather than walking the walk.

Walking to the cash register and paying is a good start to walking the walk of partnership.

Thinking about yourself as a generous hostall the time, no matter what role you think you are supposed to play, keeps you from playing a role that can only lead to being less generous…which also leads to potentially  uncomfortable situations…which will only get in the way of the purpose of the meal, meeting, whatever.


A very successful copywriter friend of mine who today has his own publishing company often talked about how much he disliked the process of writing, all the time knowing he probably could write something better than what he bought on the outside.

But it was just too painful for him to be the copywriter.

When I asked him if he would write again if desperate, he said he would.

And he also said that he was grateful for his talent since, in his words, being a skilled copywriter was insurance that he would never starve.

While we don’t all have a super power that will prevent us from starving, and I know I am getting more literal here, most of us have a credit card–so it’s obvious you will also never starve if you guarantee to pay for all of your meals yourself,  no matter who else might be at the table with you.

And then going from simply “not starving” to being “happy and full” is about making everyday gestures of universal generosity.

You can start by picking up the check.





P.S. I have gotten many requests over the past few months about the Bill Jayme package I sold out of when I only had 30 left in inventory.

If you don’t know who I am talking about, Bill Jayme was one of the greatest copywriters of all time.

Please read “Deeply and irrevocably personal” to learn more about this amazing man.

Bill came to mind as I was writing this post today since he was someone who was difficult to wrestle a check from…and I even have some hilarious correspondence from him framed on my wall about a couple of the experiences where I beat him (to the check, that is…I never beat his copy).

If you don’t know what I am talking about when I mentioned the “30 packages” above, the product was what I called “The Bill Jayme Collection” and it sold out in a few hours.

The collection contained 210 individual direct mail efforts in PDF format for 138 different mailers in all categories.

They were almost all control packages (i.e. big winners in terms of response) and they represent some of the best direct response writing ever.

And don’t think that because these are all direct mail packages that the copy platforms, headlines and concepts cannot be adapted to online promotions.

Jayme was as prolific and productive as any copywriter who has ever lived.

The swipes are on 11 CD’s and indexed by category and completely searchable.

Plus, we added a bonus DVD of Bill himself presenting live.

I’m debating whether to produce this package again…it’s costly…so I would love to get a sense if you would buy one at $295 (which is $100 less than the original price we sold it for originally around 10 years ago).

Please send me an email with “I want Jayme” in the subject line so I can gauge interest.

I am definitely printing up 25 for my own use (and I can sell a few of those to the first responders to this email)… and the rest will be special gifts to people who might want to give me a lifetime achievement award someday…but should I print up more than that? 🙂

About the author 

Brian Kurtz

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