Those of you who are copywriters—or are familiar with the copywriter’s mindset—would probably agree that the brain it takes to write creatively (and get people to pull out their credit cards) is not wired to run a large company.
There are exceptions…and I am not belittling every copywriter by saying none are equipped to be a CEO.
And if you are one of those writers running a large company, I invite you to email me so you can begin to blow up my theory, proving you are a unicorn. 🙂
Unsuccessful copywriter/CEO’s can write to me as well…because I bet your talent as a copywriter might have made you more money than becoming the head of a large company.
I’m saying all of this because the world needs more copywriters…it’s as far from a commoditized job as any…even with GPT 4 (or maybe it’s “GPT 5” by the time this blog comes out).
There is one copywriter I have followed since the early 1980’s who has defied my theory—big time–to the tune of creating a $1 billion+ juggernaut of a company.
Bill Bonner, the founder of Agora (the largest financial newsletter publisher in the world), is one of my heroes…he began a copywriter, and he will always be a copywriter.
And unless I get a lot of contrarian emails, he’s also a unicorn. 🙂
He’s been the behind-the-scenes CEO of the company from the beginning; and he happens to be one of the best copywriters who has ever lived.
He became a “reluctant business tycoon” by being excellent at his craft and creating an environment where others could flourish (or not), being CEO’s of their domains.
Obviously he had to hire smart too.
But don’t let this mild-mannered entrepreneur, who is probably most happy when he’s writing copy and spending time with his family, whether in Baltimore, Florida, England, France (or other parts of the world), give you a sense that he is not a force in direct marketing and business building.
He authored a philosophy on how to run one’s business and life with integrity and impact by letting others handle the details he’s not an expert in.
He would be the first to admit it hasn’t been smooth throughout…but it’s been successful by any measure.
The big lever that accelerated Agora’s growth came in 1993 when Mark Ford joined forces with Bill. Mark is a genius who wears many hats and they made a perfect pair.
I’d like to share a few pieces of wisdom (from the outside looking in) I have learned over the years from working with, and observing, the various Agora companies, wisdom that I use every day in my business…and life.
“Skate where the puck is going to be, not where it has been”
I’m sure we all have heard this quote from Wayne Gretsky…and if Wayne wanted to work at Agora as a side gig, he would have been very happy. 🙂
Whether it’s from astute planning or a little bit of luck–or both–the key in spotting trends is to keep your head up…and despite Bill’s commitment to writing (which is usually done with head down), he regularly recognized opportunities where others did not.
Three come to mind immediately:
1. “Inventing” the e-newsletter when there were very few of them around
He launched The Daily Reckoning, (a summary of financial markets) in 1999, literally for friends and family (I think he said he began with a small but hearty 30 active subscribers), well before there were e-letters everywhere…and certainly very few of them were sent daily.
He had help in expanding The Daily Reckoning into a business model—“hey Bill, we can sell products inside this e-newsletter”—so maybe he didn’t invent the e-newsletter; but he was there at the birth…and Agora’s tremendous growth is proof of that.
Cutting edge thinking right in his sweet spot. Content marketing at its finest.
2. “It’s better to make them than buy them”
The “them” is copywriters…and this was counter to what was going on in direct marketing at the time.
It still is for the most part.
Check out the P.S. for a chance to become a “made” woman (or man) by an Agora subsidiary.
Bill (and Mark) made a key decision early on to grow their creative team in-house…and in interviews and discussions I’ve had with both of them over the years, they attribute this one decision as possibly the most critical one, at a time when copywriters were benevolently holding many marketers hostage (due to the writers having unequaled and unique talent).
Agora had a vision to create that talent from scratch (while still paying for the best on the outside to supplement their in-house team).
I lamented about not creating an in-house copywriting team throughout my career at Boardroom (we were one of the friendly “competitors” of Agora)…but I realized that Agora had two secret/not-so-secret weapons named Bonner and Ford.
You can’t even begin to think about doing this without writers (and coaches) who are superior to the trainees…and they need to be comparable to the best in the world.
That was Bill and Mark.
They fit the bill and handed this down to future writers (and coaches) which became their magic.
3. Investing in places others avoid
In 2017, I took a trip to Nicaragua, a country like many others in South America that had experienced strife and internal conflicts for decades.
But once again, Bill and Mark saw an opportunity where others did not, and they invested in some land around 25 years ago, built a resort, which is now a destination for travelers from all over the world called Rancho Santana.
I only bring up “The Ranch” to once again show how Agora thinks—beginning with Bill and Mark…extending to their executive team…and friends and colleagues.
“Don’t just make money…deserve it”
That’s the opening quote from Bill Bonner to a group of financial publishers who gathered at the aforementioned Rancho Santana in Nicaragua in 2017 of which I was included.
I was there because I had worked with so many of them during my career…and at the time, there were three Agora divisions who were members of my Titans Mastermind.
With that opening quote, Bill was referring to the notion that “making money” seems to be the top priority when making recommendations to investors and the only thing financial publishers find satisfying.
Bill turned that on its ear…by saying that “we’re not paid to be right…but we are paid to do the work.”
What does that really mean?
After all, we don’t follow investment gurus and publishers who regularly recommend losing propositions.
Wouldn’t you assume your gurus (or your financial advisor) is only as good as his or her last stock, bond or crypto (ouch) recommendation?
And that when they are wrong, we must run away and look for alternatives?
I always thought that…and I have been around this business for over four decades.
It was always about the hot guru of the year…or the month…or the week.
But when Bill gave us the example of various Agora newsletters recommending to invest in gold for nearly 20 years when gold did nothing but go down, and then you look at where Agora is today, it does make you wonder.
While many subscribers might have left Agora because our experts were “wrong,” many more stayed with the company because they could trust that the research was sound and continuous; and despite the experts not always being right, they always knew they had a knowledgeable advisor, not simply a “get rich quick recommender.”
Now that sounds nice…and it’s easy to think that Agora is dreaming that this could be true when they had been wrong about many predictions in the past.
Of course, they were right about a lot too.
It is, however, what this CEO (copywriter) believes…he says it out loud…and I believe it’s a sign of leadership.
Whether they were picking winners or losers, they were always “doing the work” (and showing the work they were doing in great detail), and then intelligently explaining why they were right or wrong.
And the facts are the facts. Agora has stood the test of time.
This argument would fall on its face if I was talking about a company that had gone bankrupt multiple times or was no longer around.
But the opposite is true.
In the world of financial information among direct marketers and newsletter publishers, Agora is not in a bubble.
They are the bubble.
Their 40+ year run is about long term consistency and realizing, before it was too late, that they were not in the entertainment business (as many of their competitors were).
That is, they were always serious, right or wrong.
It’s hard to say what the future holds in the rocky world of financial publishing…and I’m sure Agora, like all other publishers in this arena, are feeling the pain…but if I had to bet on one company to figure out how to do the work at every step to keep the ship steady, they will always be first on my list.
Invest in people…and give them the opportunity to sink or swim
This lesson, which I wrote about in my tribute to Dave Florence (“The King of the List Industry”)—who passed away earlier this month—is a tenet of business that should always be taken into consideration…whether you are the one handing out the opportunity or running with it.
It’s about taking responsibility for yourself and pride in your work… and thinking of yourself as an entrepreneur, even if you are a salaried employee.
Bill Bonner at Agora, like Dave Florence at Direct Media, create intrapreneurs who turn into CEO’s…who then create “silos” within their businesses.
Agora took this philosophy to an entirely different level, creating independent companies, with their own CEO’s, marketing, editorial and creative departments, still with an eye on the overriding philosophies that Bill and Mark instilled.
It didn’t always work…but it worked way more than it didn’t.
There was internal competition…but the individual companies, for the most part, shared what they were doing and how they were doing it…often within private mastermind groups (like Titans)…and also with the outside marketing and copywriting world too.
I remember speaking with Bill in the early 1980’s about competition being coexistence and to a large extent, that’s still my philosophy and Agora’s too…and many other companies who know that all boats rise when you share “secrets.”
We have proof in almost every industry that living life this way in business beats thinking that what you have is so proprietary that sharing it will negatively affect your bottom line.
In the industry we are talking about here, almost all of the largest financial publishers who Agora (and I) grew up with in the 1980’s are gone, much smaller than they once were, or are now subsidiaries of Agora because Agora bought them.
And Agora is not a corporate raider.
See the P.S. for their novel approach to “make” new copywriters.
Many individuals and companies knocked on their door to be part of the “Agora bubble.”
Studying Agora will teach you a lot about marketing, copywriting, and business building…and I could talk about them all day in just those three areas.
Why Agora stands alone in their category:
- They did the work…with congruency and consistency…in the face of being wrong (a lot)
- They didn’t keep it all to themselves…they shared freely in the spirit of education…which led to others wanting to “be like Agora”… and in some cases to even seek them out so they could work there…even be bought by them…to be part of the Agora family.
- Humility and never being boastful while you are doing the work.
This last bullet is not true of everyone who has followed Bill in the Agora hierarchy.
However, when you talk with Bill Bonner today, he will always begin by sharing the mistakes he made along the way before he tells you about any of the successes.
And you will have to push hard to get him to brag about anything that was a huge winner.
That’s why I decided to brag about them (and him) today. 🙂
P.S. Agora is still “making” copywriters rather than buying (i.e., hiring) them.
And because I want to support the Agora philosophy (especially those who are still members of my Titans Mastermind), I want to tell you about a special event one of those companies is hosting.
I get nothing for this except the satisfaction of knowing there might be copywriters inside my online family who are ripe for the biggest challenge of their careers.
I received an email this past week from Kelly Brown, Titans Mastermind member and the person who leads the copy team at Stansberry Research, one of the largest (if not the largest) Agora affiliates.
Kelly is one of the smartest people I have ever met in this industry.
The email is about a one day event called “The Stansberry Copywriter Bootcamp”…where you will learn the Stansberry formula for creating world class copy from Kelly and Chief Copywriter, Mike Palmer.
The letter about the Bootcamp comes from Mike and he tells his story about how he came to run one of those silos for Agora…and how he has trained million dollar copywriters…from the perspective of becoming one himself.
The purpose of the event, beyond what you will learn, is simple:
Stansberry Research is recruiting its 2023 copy class
It’s not for everyone…and you need to apply for admission.
I promised Kelly that I would share this one-time live event and opportunity with you.
It’s one day that could change your life…and if you attend and are not selected, getting to see how this copywriting factory (not a sweatshop) works from the inside will still be priceless.
You need to apply because Stansberry is paying for your food and lodging…giving you priceless wisdom too…so you need to read the full letter here.
And they want to make sure you are as good a fit for them as they are for you.
Kelly’s email inspired this post today about why Agora is one of those companies I have admired since entering the direct marketing business in 1981…and they keep on keeping on with the same philosophies I wrote about…including this Bootcamp.
If you think you have the copywriting chops to participate and flourish, go here: