February 5, 2023

“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer…and keep them all well fed”

-Brian Kurtz, March 30, 1981

I can’t say whether I actually said those words on 3/30/81 (my first day working in direct marketing and the day Ronald Reagan was shot outside The Washington Hilton) …but I can safely say that it is a philosophy that has been embedded in my DNA well before I began my career.

Maybe from birth…since I was a chubby baby, (husky? big boned? O.K….I was FAT)… I ate everything in sight…and I believe in reciprocity.

Being well fed put me on a mission to feed the world…once I got my first credit card.

Twenty years into my career I received a “lifetime achievement award” from a direct marketing association…which was sort of ridiculous because I had not achieved all that much…I was just getting started…and I thought the industry was trying to tell me something.

A subtle-not-so-subtle early retirement party to get me out of everyone’s hair perhaps?

In my acceptance speech, I mentioned many previous award winners who came before me and active members of the organization, 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 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 regularly, somewhere along the line I had sent them a free book (which I assume they sold for food). 🙂

I even had a flip chart where I graphed “meals and books bought by year.”

Just made up estimates…which were based on data I was making up on the fly…maybe that’s why the direct marketers had enough of me since they respected only accurate data.

I wasn’t flaunting what a sport I was either…rather, my thesis was that this community was having a serious guilt trip, feeling obligated to give me this award in exchange for all the meals and books I had given 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 with my sarcasm).

A few people laughed.

However, my goal in accepting this way was to say that unconditional sharing and generosity will never work against you.

Since this was a room of direct marketers, who I already dazzled with my graph and flip chart, I wanted to back up my theory with response 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.

When I say you always need to be in buying mode, I also mean “giving mode” …and that includes much more than just buying meals.

Of course, by behaving this way, it does relieve the pressure when the check arrives.

In fact, I got very good at making sure I always got the check by arriving early to every breakfast, lunch, and dinner and slipping a credit card to my waiter.

This practice reached its pinnacle when I was finally able to pick up the tab at a family dinner where my father-in-law was supposedly hosting. He always paid.

In the battle of check-picker-uppers, he had never lost before…and he never expected to be beaten by his lowly son-in-law.

He was pissed…oh well.

It’s not only friends and enemies who you need to keep closer and well fed…it’s those you love most too.

It’s obvious why this practice should be practiced with loved ones and friends (which includes clients and vendors…more on that below) …but enemies?

Keep in mind enemies are in the eye of the beholder.

A friend of mine told me about a  “competitor” who joined a mastermind group he had been a member of for a few years (and “competitor” is in quotes because if you follow me, you know that one of my core beliefs is 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:

“Be careful when someone says they want to pick your brain because it often means they want to pick your pocket.”

By the way, Joe is one of the most generous people in the world when it comes to giving his time and wisdom…he only came to this conclusion after getting burned a few times.

His new book, What’s In It For Them? is a must read and gives both sides of the equation…but Joe is a believer in humans (like I am) and getting burned a few times is worth it when you practice unconditional generosity all the time.

Based on these theories, I 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 treat him as an enemy, not to hold back information…and to pick up the tab for lunch.

I also told him that the relationship needed to be monitored a bit more carefully over time (see Joe’s warning above) …so he didn’t get taken advantage of later on (i.e., get his pocket picked).

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 “secrets” (more on that below), or being a cheapskate.

An exception might be giving out confidential information on the location of America’s nuclear arsenal.

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 giving away your cherished secrets to a competitor.

Read “Never ask from nowhere again” for more on this.

And check your premise regarding what you define as your “secrets.”

A lot of stuff has been invented before you labelled them as unique to you.

Just saying.

No matter how you choose to play it, I like your odds much better to live a more abundant life when you stick to the philosophy of picking up the tab and try to go deep with your relationships whether you are the brain being picked or the brain-picker.

I think we often overestimate how much these costs figure into the big picture of your “lifetime cash flow”; and underestimate how much this is worth for your “lifetime relationship capital.”

Regarding picking up the check every time, I know sometimes you may not be able to afford it…but try to adopt the philosophy so at least you can pick up more checks, more often.

And if you can’t show your generosity with money, never hold back with sharing your wisdom.

If you would like to try to adopt the philosophy of always buying, I suggest you arrive early to all your appointments when a payment is involved at the end…and get cozy with the maître d or equivalent.

After over 40 years in business (and 15+ years since I was put out to pasture with that lifetime achievement award), 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 always pay.

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) who regularly think about picking up the tab when they (or you) are not supposed to?

Those same clients probably only talk a good game around the notion that “my vendors are my partners.” They rarely walk the walk.

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

Thinking about yourself as a generous host all the time…with money, time and information…no matter what role you think you are supposed to play…keeps you from playing a role that can only lead to living in scarcity.

Not to mention avoiding potentially uncomfortable situations…which will only get in the way of living a bigger (and richer) life.



P.S. I have gotten many requests over the past few months whether The Bill Jayme Collection is still available.

The short answer is yes…but I have a different reason to bring up his name with a story he told me that is one of my favorites (and it loosely applies to today’s post above).

In his prime, Bill Jayme was the most sought-after copywriter in the world.

He had a two-year waiting list of clients who wanted him to write a direct mail package for them…and he fulfilled them all, with a style that was a mix of poetry and sales copy.

There was no one like him at the time…or since.

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 …but no one could beat his copy.

He also came to mind when I recalled a story he told about sitting behind a guy on an airplane—while he was eating a delicious airline lunch (a meal Bill didn’t, or would want to, pay for)—and the guy happened to be reading one of Bill’s most successful magazine promotions.

What a thrill this was going to be!

He had a perfect seat watching how this guy would immerse himself in the “poetry” he created…and then subscribe…and then he could reveal himself as the author of the masterpiece.

Initially, things were going according to plan:

The guy opened the envelope (which had a killer teaser which all of Bill’s packages had) …he began reading the letter…jumped to the P.S. quickly (this guy was the perfect prospect!) …back to the letter to read further…followed by unfolding the large, 4-color brochure…and finally to the lift letter.

Then it was the moment of truth…he found the order card…he read it carefully…seemingly studying the terms (“Free issue! Send no money!”).

How could he decline this opportunity after reading Bill’s exquisite copy?

Then he folded the order card in half for some reason.

Bill was perplexed.

Then he folded it in quarters, creating a little rectangle with 4 points.

He moved one of the corners to his mouth.

And he used it.

As a toothpick!

Bill was doubly glad he didn’t pay for lunch. 🙂

He told the story with much more flair, always using language that showed more than told…with his humility, humor and wisdom always shining through…as it did in everything he ever wrote or spoke.

And that brings me to The Bill Jayme Collection.

After he passed away, his partner (and expert designer) Heikki Ratalahti worked with me to scan every direct mail package Bill Jayme ever wrote.

The Bill Jayme Collection contains 210 individual direct mail efforts in PDF format for 138 different mailersin 11 different categories.

To say Bill could write about anything is an understatement. No ChatGPT required.

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

In fact, like so many copywriters who passed away before online and email marketing became “the thing,” he would have flourished in the current marketing environment…big time.

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

Everything is on one packed USB, indexed by category, and completely searchable.

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

He’s got many other stories besides the “toothpick fiasco.”

Click here to read more about Bill Jayme and I encourage you to consider ordering this priceless package (which I needed to put a price on). 🙂

The order page is here for those who were sold as soon as I said that The Bill Jayme Collection was still available.


Stealing is a felony…stealing smart is an art…and stealing smart from an artist like Jayme is one of the most valuable things you can do.

About the author 

Brian Kurtz

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