As I approach my 60th birthday next month, I’ve been thinking a lot about the life journey we are all on, one that seems to go in three stages:
- Middle age
- “You look good!”
(I read that in an article shared by a friend in our online family after my post last week and loved it.)
Assuming I will not live until I am 120, I am far past “middle aged”—and I am OK with that.
Now I just need to work at looking good…and I find that if I hang out with other folks who are 60+, we always look good to each other…
Whichever of the three stages you are in, I encourage you to think about all of the people you have met “on the way up” (and I know most of you are still very much on the rise).
Please think about them often with love and humility—so when you encounter them on the way down the love and humility remains constant and consistent.
I know this is a “someday/one day” conversation for most of you…but it’s not too early to think about it now.
A hero I met “on the way up” was Gary Bencivenga, probably America’s most prolific living copywriter–and also a major influence on me throughout my career (and to this day) regarding how I think and how I write.
I also have very fond memories when Gary “came out of retirement” to speak one last time at “The Titans of Direct Response” event in 2014.
Anyone who was there has fond memories of that too…and it reminds me of a story.
In 1997, Gary hosted “The Bencivenga 100,” which cost $5,000 per seat and it was attended by a who’s who of direct marketing and copywriting royalty.
Those of you who have never heard about it, it was a two day “farewell tour” from the world’s top copywriter sharing everything he had learned along the way. He said he would never speak publically again which made that one last exception for “Titans” in 2014 even more special which I will always be grateful for.
Gary’s event was epic.
So many people talk about it as the best event they ever attended, even to this day.
It was also one of those events that years later it seems like everyone says they were there.
Kind of like Game 6 of the 1986 World Series: Shea Stadium only had a capacity of 56,000 seats but somehow, with all of the people who said they were there, Shea must have had 600,000 seats for that game…you know how that goes, right?
However, I think I knew everyone who was at the “Bencivenga 100” so no one can lie to me about their attendance…well, maybe there was one guy who I might have missed…more on that in a minute.
As luck would have it, the story begins at Shea Stadium…
The first day of the “Bencivenga 100” event was on May 20th which I remember because it was my birthday…and since I hate my birthday but I love baseball, I planned to go to the “Subway Series” game that night at Shea Stadium…the New York Mets vs. the New York Yankees.
A pretty big deal in this part of the country…the two New York teams only play a few games every year and it’s a hot ticket.
I was sitting in the upper deck directly behind home plate and for the first time in my life, after attending hundreds of baseball games live, I caught a foul ball (hit by the Mets best player at the time, Mike Piazza).
I was thrilled…but at the same time, I categorize things like souvenir baseballs the same way I categorize mugs and cute little boxes from faraway lands.
Put simply, they are just dust catchers.
So…what to do with the baseball?
I came up with a killer idea.
The next day, Day Two of the “Bencivenga 100,” I took the baseball through the crowd during breaks and got every copywriter I knew in the crowd to sign it.
The souvenir baseball went from dust catcher to priceless collectible in a few hours after it was signed by an all-star team of copywriters including Gary Halbert, John Carlton, Parris Lampropoulos, David Deutsch, Jim Punkre, Richard Armstrong, Clayton Makepeace…and I know if I keep going all I will do is insult everyone I don’t name.
Suffice it to say that anyone who is anyone in direct response copywriting was at the event and I got all of them to sign the baseball.
I was then privileged to have the opportunity to present the baseball to Gary after the afternoon break in front of the entire crowd…so yes, I was one of the 600,000 people who was really there and it’s documented!
I know you loved that story…but here’s the hard lesson I learned from it that arose years later.
A copywriter I had never heard of sent me a Linked In request…and I have a “procedure” to deal with all of my Linked In requests…that is, I send a personal email to every person, after I look at their profile, and reference things and people we might have in common…to create potential synergies right at the beginning of our relationship.
I talked about that in detail in my post, “The real Vitamin C…and it’s not in your O.J.”
After introducing myself to this copywriter via LinkedIn, he sent me a beautiful response…telling me how much he admired Boardroom (my company at the time), Marty Edelston (the founder of Boardroom and direct marketing legend)… and that he had followed my career for many years.
He said he was actually at the “Bencivenga 100” event and shared this with me, referring to the period on Day Two when I was walking around the room collecting those autographs for Gary’s baseball:
“You made eye contact with me, sized me up, and then just kept on walking.”
He wasn’t bitter or angry…he admitted that he was a “rookie” in the business at the time…and getting to that event was actually a launching pad for his career. And he is quite successful today.
But it made me think about all of the people we meet (or go out of our way not to meet) every day…people we share an elevator with, the Uber driver, the desk clerk at a hotel, anyone at any restaurant we eat at…you get the idea.
There is zero chance of learning anything or sharing anything if you don’t make an effort or initiate contact…and I actually beat myself up sometimes when I am not being more “interested” (in them) than interesting (regarding myself and all the things I am working on and thinking about).
We make snap judgments all day and every day that some people we come in contact with are “more useful” to us than others…or so we think…but it’s really important for all of us to realize that everyone we come in contact with has a story, a contribution and the ability to add value to our life and others.
And this is even truer as we attain more fame and fortune ourselves.
I loved getting this reminder from this copywriter who I snubbed at “The Bencivenga 100.”
Hopefully he will now be a friend for life (and maybe he’s even reading this post this morning).
Like so many others who I may have “looked past” on my way up the success ladder, I could have had him as part of my universe much earlier in my journey if I was more attentive and asked more questions along the way.
Better late than never.
I’m also reminded of the words of Eleanor Roosevelt from this experience:
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”
Thinking further about that copywriter from the “Bencivenga 100”…a rookie surrounded by “hall of famers” everywhere…I love that he wasn’t intimidated and didn’t see the opportunity as one where he should think about how far he had to go…but rather how far he had come already just to be there.
One more quote to focus on this aspect of the story, from Nelson Mandela’s 1994 Inaugural Speech, which I heard originally came from Marianne Williamson:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate; our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure”
Have no fear…you are not inferior. I love how that young copywriter handled the situation then…and now.
Also, if you are the one being snubbed rather than doing the snubbing, don’t immediately assume everyone who looks past you is a jerk (as I defensively explained to that copywriter I ignored).
Some people (like me at that event) are just a little slow to notice your greatness.
P.S. I was very surprised how many of you had not ordered a copy of Breakthrough Advertising yet based on the number of orders I received last week.
It truly is the most important book you will ever read and own if you plan on creating products or services for a lifetime.
I have not changed one word from the original 1966 text and it is 100% relevant today…Gene Schwartz was a copywriter and marketer for the ages.
I have added some swipes of Gene’s best work to this new edition…and a new afterword…please pick up a copy here: