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Gary Halbert's Kitchen Table
I just attended a very good marketing seminar put on by Ben Moskel & Dave Clabeaux in Tampa. It reminded me of how much I owe to other marketers. Maybe you'll find benefit in this story.
In October of 1990, I sat at Gary Halbert's kitchen table in his Key West condo. By day, I was a mild-mannered bus driver on Miami Beach - sort of Ralph Kramden South.
By night, I was Super Writer. I worked on a modern word processing machine in the wee hours, writing sales letters for people I had met at another marketing seminar. I'd been writing for about a year when I FedExed a package of my letters to Gary Halbert, self-proclaimed Prince of Print. I asked Halbert if I could write copy for his clients at his $7000 Seminar by the Sea in Key West.
I was pretty astonished when he called the next night and invited me to work with him.
A few weeks later, Halbert & I sat at his kitchen table. He was carrying a legal-sized yellow pad. That's where he wrote his copy. No computer ... this was 1990. Heck ... not even a typewriter. He created with pen on paper, and someone at his office entered it into the computer.
Also in the kitchen was Paulette. I knew her from his newsletters. Twenty years before anyone ever heard of eHarmony.com, Paulette was the lady Halbert chose from all those women who responded to his FULL-PAGE girl-seeking ad in the Los Angeles Times. In that very unique ad, Halbert described the woman he wanted in his life. Took him weeks to sift through all the responses from the beautiful ladies of Southern California, and to choose Paulette. Just another reason he was a living legend among direct marketers.
On the kitchen table sat a copy of a recent issue of The National Enquirer. At one point in our conversation, Halbert picked up the Enquirer and showed me the full-page ad he'd recently written for his book, Maximum Money In Minimum Time.
He said, "I spent $22,000 for that ad."
$22k. Wow. That was more than half my yearly salary as a bus driver. Brother.
And then he told me a secret that inspired me to my own marketing success. In his newsletter, Halbert wrote every month about which marketing strategies had worked for him and which ones hadn't. Well, mostly what worked. But he never wrote about his full-page ad in the Enquirer.
He said, "You know what I got back? $2000. I thought it would be a good market for my book. But those guys just want something for nothing. HUH!"
The man had just dropped half-a-year of my salary, and all he could say was "HUH!" Halbert was a direct marketing legend. He was a huge success. He was a model for thousands of marketers like me. And yet there I sat at his kitchen table, getting an inside peek at what looked to me like a very big failure.
I spent that week with Halbert and 45 of his clients from all over the country. Plus, the other direct marketing legends who were his guest speakers (Bill Myers, Dan Kennedy, Carl Galletti, Ken Kerr, Ted Nicholas & others) ... and my fellow copywriters (John Carlton, Brad Antin, David Deutsch, Gene Dowdle, Loretta Duffy, & Brad Peterson). Easily the most memorable week of my life ... I could write a book just about our "copywriter retreats" to the bars of Key West in the evenings after each session.
But my biggest inspiration came at Halbert's kitchen table as he told me how he dropped $20,000 on one ad. Until then, I mostly thought of myself as a doofus marketer, way out of my league at Halbert's seminar. I believed my string of personal failures would go on forever, and I would never be as successful as any of these people.
And then to hear Halbert's secret that he never shared with his subscribers ... how he lost $20k on a single bad advertising choice ... and to see him shrug it off ... just absolutely inspired me.
Heck - I could do THAT!
In fact, 7 years later, I did. I hired a well-known pro to completely re-do a mailing package I had written & mailed successfully. I then test-mailed it to 25 well-chosen (I thought) lists. Cost? $75,000. Return? The same $2000 Halbert had gotten. My reaction? "HUH! That was dumb!" And quickly on to the next project.
I've often thought of that kitchen table and my private glimpse into Halbert's business as his inner doofus connecting with my own. I will be forever grateful to the Prince of Print for telling me about his loss ... and acting like it was just the most minor annoyance.
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