I was thinking about Gary Bencivenga a lot this week…not only because he is America’s most prolific living copywriter but also because he influences me every day with how I think and how I write.
In addition, he was top of mind since but I talked about him a lot in the past few emails I’ve sent you about the Titans of Direct Response event where he “came out of retirement” to speak.
In one of those emails, I mentioned the once-in-a-lifetime event Gary hosted called “The Bencivenga 100,” which was $5,000 per seat and attended by a who’s who of direct marketing and copywriting royalty.
Those of you who 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. It was epic.
It was 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…
However, I think I know everyone who was at the “Bencivenga 100” so no one can lie to me about their attendance…well, maybe one guy…and I would like to share a story and a lesson I learned at that amazing event.
As luck would have it, the story begins at Shea Stadium…
The first day of the Bencivenga event was on May 20th which I remember because it was my birthday…and since I really hate my birthday but I love baseball, I planned to go to the “Subway Series” game that night at Shea Stadium…Mets vs. Yankees.
A pretty big deal in this part of the country…
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 to sign it…and it was 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 were really there!
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 LinkedIn request…and I have a “procedure” to deal with all of my LinkedIn 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 and other connecting tips in my “Vitamin C(onnect)” blog.
So, 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…
We make a judgment that some 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 lives and others.
And this is even more true as we attain more fame and fortune ourselves.
I loved getting this reminder from someone who will now be a friend for life…like so many others who I may have “looked past” when I could have had them 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:
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”
So I thought about that copywriter at the “Bencivenga 100”…surrounded by “hall of famers” everywhere… yet 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.
And so let me add this 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”
I say…have no fear…you are not inferior.
And don’t think everyone who looks past you is a jerk either (as I told that copywriter I snubbed!).
Some people (like me at that event) are just a little slow to notice your greatness.