I have many memories of Dan Kennedy, none more embarrassing than when I “ruined the stampede” at the Titans of Direct Response event in 2014—and he never let me forget it.
As you know, I have been dubbed by some as the “Director of Sales Prevention.”
In fact, I was the only speaker at GKIC’s Info Summit who got a standing ovation because I didn’t sell anything after my presentation.
When Dan finished his keynote presentation at the Titans event, while he was instructing folks to run to the back of the room and grab his carefully constructed offer (with a time limit and scarcity that he would only give out X copies), I was on stage letting everyone know about lunch and the afternoon agenda —a very bad move.
The “stampede” was curtailed and Dan shot me a look that could kill…and I didn’t even know what I’d done (clearly I was not an experienced stage seller).
Afterwards, Dan explained to me what a terrible thing I did and I learned a valuable lesson.
But he continued to joke about it years later…and thank goodness many of the people who “stampeded” (i.e. walked quickly with determination?) before I blew the whole thing up ended up being “whales”(a Kennedy-ism for really big clients) in the years that followed.
I dodged a bullet but that lesson will stay with me:
An offer from the stage cannot be rushed and every step of that offer is important.
To shut up while it’s taking place.
And that it is even more important than lunch. 🙂
However, don’t think Dan is just about making fast money in the short term…Robert Skrob, a student of Dan’s since 1996, reminded me of this story, also from Titans in 2014:
Titans of Direct Response included a special tour of Boardroom’s headquarters for VIPs.
At the conclusion of the tour, after visiting the customer service team who handles renewals, there was a spirited discussion (in the hallway by the elevators) among marketers about “auto charge renewal on credit cards” vs. standard renewal billing and collection.
One marketer, seeking to garner the praise of Dan Kennedy, got an emphatic rebuke instead when he said:
“And with auto-renewal you generate a lot of money from customers who don’t realize they are being charged.”
Dan shut him down immediately saying, “That kind of thinking is exactly what’s wrong with the easy money for nothing hucksters out there. If you are running a business counting on a bunch of zombie customers paying you monthly, you’ve got a castle built upon sand.”
The hallway fell quiet and everyone boarded the elevators.
Dan is a marketer and no one loves making money and generating sales as much as he does.
However, he never makes a sale at the expense of building relationships with his customers. And he often shares that the result of selling this way is that the more they buy from him, the more they wanted to buy. He always delivers the goods.
I share these particular stories for a number of reasons.
First, I understand that Dan can be an acquired taste for some…but no one can argue that if you had to pick one person in direct response marketing who more people trace their initial (and ongoing) education in this wonderful business, it’s Dan Kennedy.
The idea that he is “old school” and not up on what is happening in the marketing world today is a story only told by those who have never spent time with him or followed his work. I’m proud to say that I have done both.
It’s true that he does not suffer fools gladly and he expects a lot from his clients.
And also from his “partners on events” when he orchestrates a perfect pitch and that partner doesn’t cooperate. 🙂
Another reason I share this story (and a few more remembrances to come) is that as of this writing, Dan is in hospice and he has sent out this message:
“I find myself in the unusual position of regretfully announcing my death. Usually people are having to do the opposite; deny rumors of their passage… I am now on the final journey of no more than a few days before exit. Consequently I won’t be interacting here anymore.”
I feel the need to interact from here. And I will still hold out hope for a miracle.
The outpouring on social media to this news has been incredible in its praise for him–which is both not surprising but also ironic because Dan never used a cell phone, he doesn’t do email and the only way to communicate with him is via fax.
He is the reason to own a fax machine.
Spoon-feeding is not his specialty and you have to work to get to him.
But he always plays full out when he’s with you and his expensive consulting fees are only an expense if you are not listening to what he is telling you.
A “Dan story” that illustrates his expectation for the “client” (me) happened fairly recently when I asked him to endorse my new bookOverdeliver with a blurb.
I federal expressed him the manuscript (in lieu of faxing 300 pages) and kept my fax machine on 24 hours a day for the next couple of weeks waiting for his blurb.
Finally it came…it was 2 pages…and page one began:
1. Blurb for your book follows on page two. It CAN’T be used unless the correction noted next, in #2, is made.
2. Your page 41 has the [informercial] story all wrong…
He then explained how I mangled “informercial history” while relating Boardroom’s greatest success story, by giving the wrong credit to the wrong people.
It was an honest mistake…but of course he was right.
Given this intro to the blurb, I assumed page 2 would now be less than what I expected.
The blurb was amazing—he called Overdeliver “…a definitive presentation of direct marketing, as apart from all other marketing.” And he ended with a reference to David Ogilvy and said, “…were Ogilvy alive, he would applaud Brian’s work here.”
I don’t share that with you to brag—rather, to give you a very precise insight to the essence of Dan Kennedy:
He will tell you what he thinks, both bad and good, and his demand for accuracy and integrity supersedes everything.
And he was crystal clear that I could not use his blurb until I corrected the story—his principles could not be violated.
Obviously I corrected the story, faxed it to him, and his return fax had a “Kennedy stamp” on it with a simple “OK/Dan.”
His blurb is the first one on the back cover of my book. Naturally.
Two other stories from the Titans of Direct Response event…an event that Dan said afterwards was the “event of the decade” (and I know that wasn’t fluff since Dan never did fluff).
The first was the VIP Dinner at the event—it mirrored the intentional dinners I participated in for years (at Boardroom and since Boardroom)—and I wanted to “teach” everyone how to do these kinds of dinners.
The only issue was that the dinners usually had a maximum of 25 people around a rectangle table and I had 68 guests (!) at this dinner at Titans.
To replicate the dinner as well as I could, I had a (very) long rectangular table—33 people strategically placed with assigned seating on both sides (the entire procedure is outlined in Chapter 10 of Overdeliver)—with me at the tail and Dan at the head.
Obviously I couldn’t get around to everyone (one of the techniques we use at the dinner) but I talked through the entire process while watching Dan at the other end enjoying the ride.
I have to admit that I needed binoculars to see him.
Here’s how it looked as I toasted Marty Edelston, the founder of Boardroom (with a wave to Dan):
The other story from the event, an event where Dan was my first speaker and planned the entire agenda and picked the other speakers with me, relates to Dan’s demand for his privacy and why he lives his life through a fax machine rather than a smart phone.
On the way to that VIP Dinner at Titans I drove to the restaurant with three marketing and copywriting icons: Dan, Gary Bencivenga (the world’s most prolific living copywriter) and Joe Polish (the world’s most connected man).
I could say that Dan is the most connected man “without wiring” but I won’t—however he certainly brought more people into “marketing” than anyone.
Anyway, on this short trip—one which I was tempted to take a 2 hour detour just to be in the car for as long as possible with these three heroes—Joe’s cell phone rang.
Those of you who know Joe Polish know that he always picks up his phone because it might be an opportunity to help someone…Joe is incredible that way.
As Joe was talking to someone (not all that important to anyone but Joe), Dan turned to me (he was sitting in the front) and said:
“What makes someone think it’s appropriate that they can call you on your cell phone out of the blue—and that you’ll actually pick up?”
The first part of that I don’t have a problem with…you can always let it go to voicemail; and you have to understand Joe Polish to understand the second part.
But it hit me that Dan’s protection for his privacy and making it difficult to reach him was part of an overall plan and not a façade.
He is uncompromising when it comes to issues like this and he is unbelievably consistent.
He makes it tough to get to him because it increases his value…and it also shows you are serious about working with him (or at least talking to him).
I think it also makes him much more productive…how would your day be if everyone had to contact you via fax and through an assistant?
It sounds extreme but if his ability to read, study, write and speak at Herculean levels, always being prepared to give his opinion, is a result of his “system,” it works for him and he is dedicated to it.
And I think we can all take a lesson from him (maybe not as extreme) and make ourselves a little less accessible.
I know I think about that a lot and I submit that for your consideration.
Here’s my favorite photo from the Titans of Direct Response that has a prominent place on the wall in my office, the passengers in my car that night:
The last time I saw Dan was this past April when he came as a guest speaker to my Titans Master Class…and I wrote about that event in “The what and the who before the how.”
As usual he came with fantastic information in the morning and we spent the afternoon doing hot seats with members.
He talked about his new book, Almost Alchemy, which I reviewed and I hope it will be released soon.
From my blurb:
“This instant classic begins like a parable, continues as an instruction manual for success through case histories, and ends as a marketing (and business) encyclopedia…Every book Dan Kennedy has ever written is a form of alchemy—he turns paper into gold.”
And the share from Kennedy in “The what and the who before how” about jewelry sellers and horse auctions is worth a read if you missed it.
I also had him at my Titans Master Class event in 2018 and he talked about “Offline in an Online World”…and while that video is only available to my Titans members, I have included the video of Dan’s presentation at “the big Titans event” in 2014–free and with no opt in as a tribute to this once-in-a-lifetime marketer.
There’s so much to talk about when you’re talking about Kennedy—I’ll stop here and save “Part 2” of this tribute to Dan for a future Sunday (and I will share with you some insights I learned from him when I spent a day at his home last year).
For now, I just want to thank Dan for a lifetime of stampedes (for him and others), an unrelenting commitment to his beliefs and integrity, a desire to serve fully while protecting his privacy (with lessons for us all)—and being a kick ass marketer and copywriter.
A life well lived by a man who lives it the way he wants. And he has left us so much to still digest should there be no more.
P.S. As stated above, Dan Kennedy was a keynote speaker at the Titans of Direct Response in 2014…and the presentation he gave is as relevant today as it was then.
As a gift to you, I would like to share it here to mark the (almost) five year anniversary of what Dan called “the event of the decade.” And to mark this day as we celebrate his wonderful career.
He titled it:
Dan created this presentation specifically for this event and it is part of the 12 DVD set that I have since sold many copies of for as much as $2,000. Let me know what you think.
No charge and no opt in.
And at www.OverdeliverBook.com, the 270 page swipe file he put together exclusively for the event is available as a PDF as well–in addition to 6 more videos from the Titans of Direct Response.
P.P.S. It really doesn’t matter whether Dan has passed by the time this post goes live. I have spoken about him like he’s still alive because in essence he is–and always will be.
Dan’s body of work is massive and I did many tributes to him in the past—actually not tributes but detailed recounting of his work. And the work speaks for itself.
As he said in his good-bye email:
First, it has been a great privilege to have worked for you, and with you, and to have had your interest and patronage. You have made it possible for me to do work that interests me, that I chose and that I felt meaningful and worthwhile. Second, I never thought of this as just a transactional business but also as a genuine relationship, a community, and a Movement.
From me to Dan (and I will fax this to him now):
Meaningful and worthwhile is an understatement; and while customers transact, you are spot on that it is a community that interacts.
Thank you Dan for all that do for thousands of people and interacting with us live and through your writing and yes, by fax.
And because you’ve left a mountain of material, thank you for all you’ll do for thousands more yet to come.