January 6, 2019

There are a lot of ways to be a hero to your audience…and the best combination to do that is to show off your super powers while at the same time calling out the villain (or villains) that you and your audience equally despise (i.e. villains who are holding you back from success and happiness).

Sounds easy…but it needs some skill too.

Requirement: You can’t get carried away with your own press releases on how great you are; and you have to choose your villains wisely.

My old company Boardroom did this masterfully with what we called “the bloodhound approach.”

While we didn’t have a single guru or expert in any of our newsletters or books calling out the bad guys, we did have our founder, Marty Edelston, who was the most inquisitive and connected man on the planet…and he was always looking out for the average Joe.

One of my favorite promotions using this technique was this one for a consumer tips book called The Big Black Book: 

Our copywriters perfected this “bloodhound approach” (which took a while) since we didn’t have one point of view with one person with an axe to grind (e.g. a doctor railing on the medical establishment) but rather panels of experts—authors, researchers and opinion leaders–who went out to seek the truth under Marty’s direction.

Marty just needed to be the most connected man, not the man with all the answers himself.

He then became a crusader for truth directing those experts to focus on justice being served, making sure your doctor isn’t arrogant or that your lawyer isn’t greedy…and whatever else he needed to protect everyone from including the ten additional “swindlers” in the promotion above.

Bloodhound is defined here as someone who is an expert on nothing in particular but seen as a watchdog and protector and someone who will spot the villains on your behalf.

I share this with you today since it comes up often among my mastermind members and other people I coach…they sometimes lament that they don’t have the skill or the experience (and track record of success) to tell their audiences why they should trust them over others offering similar products or services.

But even without a track record of success, being aligned with those who can claim victories over various villains (who look like those you are competing against for example), and positioning yourself as the bloodhound leader of those experts, can often be a viable alternative.

If you don’t have a single area of expertise, the bloodhound approach is something that could work for you in today’s world when you position yourself as the “steadfast pursuer of the truth.”

Another version of the bloodhound approach that worked well (and was also one of my favorite direct mail packages ever) was one we did for our newsletter, Tax Hotline. 

A Boardroom trademark was how we brought our experts together on a regular basis…whether at our famous “Boardroom Dinners” or just assembling experts from a particular discipline to meet and debate to see what sparks would fly.

When they got together in a moderated discussion those sparks always turned into the best story ideas.

Marty once brought together all of our tax experts from all over the country  in one meeting…and he was smart enough to not only invite our editors to listen in but also one of our copywriters too.

What came out of that meeting were dozens of the best story ideas…but unexpectedly, what also came out, was a blockbuster control package for Tax Hotline. 

What the copywriter figured out was that the concept of a “secret meeting of the country’s top tax experts spilling the beans on things they would not normally talk about in public” was another differentiator beyond just the content.

Only WE could get that special group in a room, spilling the beans on who was screwing the average consumer the most.

The heroes of this package were the top tax and estate planning practitioners and attorneys in the country, all brought together by Marty the bloodhound.

And there were lots of villains readily available starting with the government and the IRS.

They didn’t go into the meeting planning on throwing anyone under the bus…but they did.

And the copywriter was the first to take note of that.

This “closed door meeting” was the premise of the new control, a control that was impossible to beat for over a decade.

Bloodhound plus experts (in a place where no one could get in without a special invitation) telling secrets how to beat popular villains, is a premise worth stealing if you are not a single guru.

(Another lesson here is to invite your copywriters and creative talent into your marketing process whenever you are creating content ideas…remember “copywriters as trusted advisors” rather than “vendors who write stuff for you” is a potential game-changing philosophy for your business.)

Side note about this bloodhound approach: The copywriters at the time generally preferred to work with many of our competitors who had single gurus…they found writing for us (who had “gurus by committee”) was much more difficult.

I guess they thought it was more direct with one guru: The hero could be a naturopathic physician who hates traditional doctors; or a financial planner with a contrarian view on picking stocks who hates milk toast financial planners; or a superstar CPA who hates the IRS.

Eventually the copywriters got more comfortable with the bloodhound approach (and got better at it too), using many experts (under the supervision of a well-connected bloodhound).

They found new and creative ways in the spirit of “Twelve Smiling Swindlers” or the “Secret Meeting of the Country’s Top Tax Experts” to battle many villains at the same time with multiple, yet unified, experts, with lots of success.

Once they perfected the approach, we were not as much at the mercy to the guru publishers for their services.

But bloodhound or guru, you also need to choose the right villain(s)…ones that the bloodhound’s experts can expose as charlatans easily or ones that the guru is superior to…and it all comes down to believability and a track record (i.e. proof that you have the better solution).

Choosing inappropriate villains while at the same time not having enough success yourself, bloodhound or guru, could blow all of your credibility in a heartbeat…and ultimately diminish the effectiveness of using either approach.


I read two different promotions this week from online gurus who both seem to have a decent following.

And while both might be super effective, I want to point out some possible flaws.

In one of the promotions, the guru talks about, “The secret [which] is a skill rising in popularity called copywriting and…in the next 3 minutes, I’ll show you the millionaire’s definition of copywriting.”

His initial proof elements are about his homes and cars and the wealth he’s created from learning this “secret skill” and when he starts identifying his villains, he maintains that “…the old way of learning copywriting is wrong” because guys like Halbert, Schwartz and Hopkins only wrote offline and his secrets are for online copywriters only.

Big promise…and it’s one that he might be able to keep if he knows his list very well (i.e. he’s talking to inexperienced marketers and copywriters)…although a logic line like this to a group of folks like you (who know copywriting is not a commodity) might lead to skepticism.

That is, at this point, he better be able to show his prowess compared to some of the best copywriters who have ever lived if he’s got experienced and well read folks on his list.

He will need lots of successful promotions as a show and tell, with testimonials, and not just expensive cars and multiple vacation homes to prove he’s got the deep dark secrets that no one had before the Internet.

All-time great copywriters may be good villains if his audience is made up of newbies; but they are dangerous villains to choose if his audience is made up of experienced copywriters and marketers.

I admit that I am not objective here since the best copywriters today swear by what they learned from those old timers. But it’s also true there are many young copywriters who probably believe that the formation of the earth and the Internet was a big bang that all happened at the same time.

Believing that only new techniques work online is an argument that can be made…but not by me.

Maybe this approach wins short term with the right audience but long term, I think it’s a loser to attract future rock stars.

The second guru I heard from made a much more convincing argument when her thesis was that “Facebook ads don’t work anymore”– and whether it’s true or not, Facebook is a villain that might be easier to hate than Halbert or Schwartz.

If she can then prove she has an alternative or shortcut on how to make Facebook ads work, and has a track record to back it up, this one seems way more plausible.

Being a guru comes with responsibility—you have to have the goods and show you are superior to the villain(s).


Studying copy through this lens of heroes and villains, whether the hero is a bloodhound or a guru, always gives me ideas for future copy platforms and maybe it will for you too.

Surround yourself with top experts who are best-in-class–or just be the best in your field–and the “smiling swindlers” will appear before your eyes.





P.S.  A hero of mine who is one of the most effective email marketers in the world—and someone who knows a villain when he sees one—is my friend Ben Settle.

Since you know that I don’t do affiliates or sell anyone else’s products or services (unless it’s for charity), the “offer” I will make to you today is a no brainer, all “give” with no compensation for me (and I have a valuable free gift for you as well).

I want you to opt in to Ben’s list at www.BenSettle.com.

He did a similar email like this to his list not long ago and I am so happy to welcome many wonderful new subscribers from “El Benbo” (the nickname he gives himself).

Flattery will get him everywhere with me..he called me the “Stan Lee of Marketing” (yikes!) and if you want to see what he sent, email me and I will send it to you (before I frame it for my wall).

I have since hired him to do all my publicity…:-)

And whether you opt in or not, I would like to gift you this presentation he gave exclusively to my Titans Master Class in October which blew away everyone in the room.

However, once you watch it, you will definitely want to opt in to his list immediately.

Click here for the video.

I also got to interview him after his presentation and you will love his take on creating email communications that have the most impact regardless of your writing style or your audience.

I know some of you marketing experts who want to teach me something today would say I should only give the video to people who opt in…but I told Ben I was giving it away to everyone, opt in or not. 

I urge you to still opt in and read his emails every day for one lesson after another on how you should build your tribe, create raving fans, establish yourself as a hero–while calling out the “smiling swindlers”…and how to always deliver value.

Whether you agree with him every day or not, you will never be able to accuse him of incongruence.

Ben is the misunderstood bad boy of email marketing since he never holds back on the truth and has been known to piss off a few people in the process…but even when you disagree with him, there is a marketing lesson every time he writes something.

He and I have completely different styles but we have found over time that there is tremendous affinity with our audiences as evidenced by the fact that the students on his list bought more Titans of Direct Response DVD packages and more Bill Jayme Collections than any of the dozens of folks who mailed for both—most with much larger lists.

That’s why I used the word “students” when describing his list…and they understand direct response like you do…so I wanted to encourage you to opt in to his list and go on an educational and entertaining ride with him daily.

Funny story: Someone on his list bought the $2,000 Titans DVD package and then returned it…and when I told Ben that I was fine with it, he wasn’t…and he manually unsubscribed that person from his list.

And then he shared with his folks about why he did that (i.e. “anyone who wouldn’t see the value of that material doesn’t belong on my list!”).

As I said, not my style–but he is so true to himself and all he stands for—and it was consistent with his overall philosophy.

OK…I admit it…him doing that was better than me cursing under my breath when I processed the return!  🙂

What I have said previously about Ben:


“In a world of self-promoters and people who constantly tell you how good they are at whatever they seem to be good at, Ben is the antitheses of that…he mostly stays home and simply produces e-mail that consistently delivers as both content and promotion…and frankly, he’s so skilled at it, you rarely know which he is doing since he is always doing both.”

About the author 

Brian Kurtz

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