I am not big on conspiracy theories.

I’m 100% sure Hillary Clinton was not involved in the global pizza parlor/child slavery industry. I’m 50/50 on JFK.

But so far, I’m thinking that Jeffrey Epstein did not hang himself. Here are the facts I’ve gathered so far. (I haven’t verified them, but I’ve seen them repeated several times.)

Jeffrey Epstein: What Can We Believe? 

 * Fact: On July 23, weeks before his death, Epstein was found unconscious in his cell. He had marks around his neck. Epstein said his cellmate had assaulted him.

* Fact: His cellmate was no ordinary convict. He was a hugely muscular ex-cop facing trial for murdering four people and burying them in his yard.

* Question: Why did Epstein, a high-profile inmate who had incriminating knowledge of extremely powerful business and government figures, have a cellmate?

* Fact: Although there has been no record of the thinking behind it, prison officials decided Epstein’s claim of assault was false and put him on suicide watch.

* Fact:  Six days after being placed on suicide watch, Epstein was returned to the general population. According to Dr. Ziv Cohen, a psychiatrist who evaluates inmates at the Metropolitan Correctional Center where Epstein was being held, “Any case where someone had a proven or suspected serious suicide attempt, that would be unusual to within two to three weeks take them off suicide watch.”

* Fact:  According to the medical examiner’s report, Epstein had several broken bones in his neck, including the hyoid bone – which is far more commonly broken in cases of strangulation than in hangings. And Epstein’s eyes were bulging, which is also more typical of strangulation.

* Fact: The day before his alleged suicide, Epstein’s cellmate was moved to another facility, leaving Epstein alone in his cell.

* Fact: Two guards had been assigned to check on Epstein every 30 minutes. According to prison officials, they stopped doing this around 3:30 am on Saturday, and they didn’t return to his cell until 6:30 am – when they “discovered” his corpse. (Although they allegedly made log entries lying about having routinely visited him.) Per the official party line, they had both fallen asleep… for about three hours.

* Fact: At first it was said that the cellblock’s cameras had malfunctioned, meaning there was no video of Epstein’s possible suicide. Later it was said there was video, but nothing was divulged about what the video did or didn’t show. It’s hard to know what to believe when the stories keep changing so quickly.

Jim Goad reported most of these facts in an article in Taki’s Magazine titled “We Are All Conspiracy Theorists Now. “He concluded:

“What we are commanded to believe – lest we be labeled paranoid conspiracy theorists and therefore domestic-terrorists-in-waiting – is that an absurdly wealthy convicted pedophile with a known penchant for wining and dining the rich and powerful at sex parties where every single move was videotaped and stored for blackmail purposes was allowed to kill himself less than three weeks after a previous alleged suicide attempt because he was taken off suicide watch with no explanation and left alone in his cell at a time when the cameras stopped working and the guards – both of them – conveniently fell asleep. And all this happened at a jail where there hadn’t been a suicide in over 40 years.”

What do you think?

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HW writes to ask for help in “coming up with a USP” to market his business. He’s a copywriter for and business coach to small businesses. “It’s funny,” he says, “I routinely help my clients with their USPs. But for mine… I feel stuck!”

USP stands for Unique Selling Proposition. It is a term that was coined by Rosser Reeves, an advertising consultant back in the 1940s. Reeves used it to explain his success in promoting name-brand products.

It’s not enough to extol the various benefits of your product or service, Reeves argued. You have to identify one particular benefit that distinguishes it from the competition.

In Reality in Advertising, he set down 3 rules for creating a USP:

  1. Each advertisement must make a proposition to the consumer: “Buy this product, for this specific benefit.”
  2. The proposition must be unique – i.e., one the competition cannot or does not offer.
  3. The proposition must be strong enough to move the masses – i.e., attract new customers.

The USP is an important marketing concept. When a company can offer a genuine USP, it can demand a priority position in the buying public’s consciousness. And once that USP takes hold, a business can dramatically increase its market share through general advertising.

But contrary to what’s commonly preached by marketing gurus today, the USP is not a strategy that makes sense for every business. It was never meant for and is not helpful to small businesses, local businesses, and most client-based businesses.


3 Important Things to Understand About USPs 

USPs work very well to promote brand consciousness when they are part of general brand-marketing campaigns that are omni presentand incessant.

You’re at the supermarket with a headache and you see a dozen brands of pain pills. You know little or nothing about any of them… except for Anacin, which you remember from seeing countless TV commercials and looking at countless display ads. So that’s the one you buy.

This is not going to happen for your product or service if you have anything less than a multimillion-dollar brand-marketing budget. And it is also not going to work for you if the product or service you offer cannot comply with Reeves’s three criteria.

HW doesn’t have the money to build a brand. And even if he did, it would be wasted. Marketing executives don’t shop for copywriting services in supermarkets. They have many concerns in selecting copywriters, but the only thing that really matters to them is performance.

Using a USP to promote a personal service like copywriting makes as much sense as trying to land a position as an NBA player or a TV actor through an advertising campaign that identifies some unique skill you have – maybe cross-dribbling for the NBA player, or crying on demand for the actor.

The only way to get new clients as a copywriter is to develop a track record of writing successful direct response advertisements.

So my advice to HW is to forget about “coming up with a USP.”

How should he acquire new clients?

By doing what is essentially the opposite of brand marketing. He should identify his prospects one at a time. Then, rather than tell them something about what he does well, he should find out what they need.

If they are tired of hiring copywriters that consistently miss deadlines, he should convince them that he will never, ever miss a deadline. If they are worried about producing non-compliant (legally questionable) copy, he should assure them that his copy would always be compliant. If they are tired of working with copywriters that are overly attached to their work and rankle at criticism, he should tell them that he welcomes criticism.

Better than that, he should study the prospect’s business beforehand so that, if and when he does get a chance to pitch his service, he will be able to demonstrate some knowledge of the business and its recent advertising campaigns.

Here’s what I’m saying in a nutshell: General advertising is about me, the product. And that is why a USP makes so much sense. Direct response advertising is about you, the customer. And when you are focusing on the customer and his problems and desires, there is no place for a USP.

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A few weeks ago, I gave you good news about the gender income gap. In that essay, I explained how the data have been manipulated in a way that makes it look like the wage gap is a much bigger problem than it really is. As I pointed out, when you account for all other variables (types of jobs, hours worked, etc.), the much-publicized gap between men and women is only about 3%. And some of that 3% is attributable to the fact that women are less likely to ask for raises than men are.

Now, according to recent research, there’s even more good news.

The Facts About Women and Wealth 

Here are the facts…

Wealth Ownership:

 * 45% of American millionaires are women.

* The number of wealthy women in the US is growing twice as fast as the number of wealthy men.

* According to a 2009 study from Boston College’s Center on Wealth and Philanthropy, women will inherit 70% of the money that gets passed down over the next two generations.

Wealth Control:

* Women control nearly 60% of the wealth in the US. And this percentage is rising.

* 48% of estates worth more than $5 million are controlled by women, compared with 35% controlled by men.


* There are more than half a million women with a personal income of $100,000 or more.

* Almost half – 44% – of women are the primary breadwinners in their households, an almost 4-fold increase since 1960.

* The trend in wages favors women. In another 10 years, the average American woman is expected to earn significantly more than the average American man.

Spending Power:

* It is estimated that the total annual purchasing power of US women is between $5 trillion and $15 trillion.

* Women are believed to be behind 85% of all consumer purchases – from food to cars to electronics to healthcare.


* Between 2007 and 2016, female-owned firms grew 5 times faster than the national average.

* As of 2016, there were 11.3 million female-owned firms in the US that employed nearly 9 million people and generated over $1.6 trillion in revenues.

 Investing Power:

* Women control a huge amount of investment dollars ($11.2 trillion, or 39%, of the country’s investable assets, according to Morgan Stanley). And the data suggest that they are better than their male counterparts at investing. The reason, I think, is that women are more conservative than men… and conservative investing is smart investing.

* Women own more diverse portfolios, trade less often, incur fewer fees, and are less likely to panic sell in a downturn than men.

* On average, women earn between 0.4% and 1.0% more than men on their investments. This can result in 12% larger retirement nest eggs for women over a 30-year period.

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Number One Son recently asked my opinion of a potential investment opportunity – a startup business looking for funding.

“These guys are friends of ours from NY,” he told me, “and they’re building a members-only kids gym/bar, with the eventual goal of franchising. The idea is that you can put your kids in the gym, and monitor them while having a beer. Interesting, yes?

“J and I will likely put about $10K into this because we want to support our friends. But also because we think the business has potential. They’ve so far secured $75K of $375K, I think, and are currently valuing the business at $1M. High, I know. But I’m not sure how one would go about setting a valuation for a business like this.”

“What do you think?”

What to Do When a Friend Asks for an Investment 

After taking a look at his friends’ business plan, this is what I told him:

“I love how every new startup with no sales – forget profits – has a minimum valuation of $1 million. And these people have never even run a business before.

“Yeah, it’s a long shot at best.

“Here’s how I look at new business ideas: The most important facts about making any business a success are not those that are visible from the outside. You can see a lot about a business from the outside (from research). But there are always things that fall into the category of wisdom (derived from experience) rather than knowledge (obtainable through study) that end up being crucial.

“To discover those things, you have to be inside the business.

“This proposal is very well done from an outside perspective. It’s logical. It addresses all the usual subjects. It evinces assiduous research. But it doesn’t indicate that they have any understanding of the business’s inside secrets of success.

“And since I know nothing about that kind of business, I have no way of knowing whether it will – or even could – work.

“So that’s one reason I wouldn’t normally invest in it.

“The other is the issue of valuation. The era of digital startups has skewed the logic of traditional valuations. And so I’m sure these guys feel their proposal is fair. From my point of view, it’s absurd.

“What are they offering for sale? Not a business. Just an idea for a business. And the idea is not even proven. It’s speculative. What is that worth? Absolutely nothing. The value in an unproven business idea rests solely in the capital used to start it.

“Think of it this way. A reasonable reply to this proposal would be, ‘I tell you what. I’ll fund 100% of the business and I’ll keep 100% of the equity, but I’ll pay you guys a fair compensation for starting it and running it. Plus, I’ll give you 10% of the profits as an incentive to make it work.’

“That would be an offer they would be smart to consider.

“I’m not suggesting that you’d be doing anything wrong by investing $10K in this business… unless you have expectations of making your money back. These are friends of yours. You like them. So you’d be buying $10,000 worth of lottery tickets as a favor to them.

“It is, of course, easier to say no if you don’t know the people asking for the money…

“I have a number that I stick to when a friend asks for an investment. It’s my limit. It means, ‘Okay, you’re my friend, so I’m doing this. But I don’t believe I’ll get back one cent and I’m okay with that.’

“If 10 grand is your number, go for it…

“You don’t want to lose a friendship over an investment.”

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At my age, 68 (or “in my 69th year,” as K likes to put it), I feel like I’m surrounded by teenagers whenever I find myself in the “real” world of Internet marketing seminars. More to the point, I feel like they can see the fossilization going on inside my brain.

I can’t keep up with the acronyms. Worse perhaps, I’ve lost the desire to try. Instead, I think about and, when asked, talk about what I see as the underlying principles of marketing. Is that the right thing for me to be doing at this point in my life? Or am I just kidding myself?

Cotton Top Entrepreneurship and a Politically Insensitive Metaphor 

I listened to an interesting TED Talk recently. The speaker, a scientist, was asking a similar question: whether aging scientists can contribute meaningfully to their fields. This is a serious issue. In science (and math), there is a longstanding bias against older thinkers. (The speaker noted that Einstein once said something like, “If you haven’t achieved a scientific breakthrough by the age of 30, you never will.”)

As a result of that bias, he said, most of the grant money for scientific inquiry goes to young researchers in the 22 to 32 age range. But then he provided data indicating that older researchers are just as likely as younger researchers to make a significant discovery.

Why, then, do young people get such a high percentage of the funding?

The answer: Because they produce a much higher percentage of the grant proposals.

Well, it turns out that the same logic applies to entrepreneurship. If you look at statistics, you see that a huge percentage of the available venture capital is given to people in their early 20s to mid-30s.

Why? Because they produce the vast majority of start-up proposals.

But when you look at the start-ups themselves – at the businesses that got the funding and succeeded – a significantly higher percentage of them are headed by older people. In their 40s and 50, mostly.

What does that tell me?

As with scientific research, there is a big difference between generating support for an idea and making that idea work.

Yes, there’s a lot to be said for youthful enthusiasm. But there’s also something to be said for solid experience. And that tells me that I’m right to keep my focus on the basic principles of marketing that I have learned through the years. At my age, it’s better to play the wise old Indian chief than to try to compete with the braves on the battlefield. Let them count the number of scalps they’ve collected. If they can sit still long enough to listen to my old war stories, I can teach them how to get even more.

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21 Ways to Make Your Life Miserable 

  1. Believe that, as a human being, you are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
  2. Believe that, as a citizen of the wealthiest country in the world, you have the right to free health care, free education, and a comfortable standard of living.
  3. Believe that your parents’ failures at parenting account for your shortcomings.
  4. Believe that you have a right NOT to be offended.
  5. Keep a mental record of the harms others have done to you.
  6. Keep a mental record of anyone doing better than you that doesn’t deserve to be.
  7. Postpone or avoid experiences that take you out of your comfort zone.
  8. Be attentive to aging. Imagine that every ache and pain is another sign of your senescence.
  9. When listening to others, think about how what they are saying applies to you.
  10. Try to improve your financial situation by befriending wealthier people.
  11. Try to improve your emotional situation by climbing the social ladder.
  12. Allow bullies to bully you.
  13. Spend time with people that you don’t like or admire.
  14. Socialize with people that don’t like or admire you.
  15. Depend on your spouse, your family, or your friends for your self-esteem.
  16. Depend on anyone but yourself for your financial wellbeing.
  17. Do work that you don’t value.
  18. Forgo learning for amusement.
  19. Think about yourself… incessantly.
  20. When you have the choice, always take the easier path.
  21. See yourself, unconsciously, at the center of the universe.
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A Hard Question… and an Easy Answer

GT has a problem. Last week, he sent me this email:

Hi Mark,

I’ve had another great week of work experience at the SB office!

I really enjoy writing copy, as well as the process of learning and improving at it. But I do have one question that I’m hoping you can answer…How can I combine my enjoyment of face-to-face sales with being a copywriter?

With your experience, you must’ve seen this dilemma before?

Thanks and all the best,



Here’s what I told him…

Hi GT,

Glad to hear things are going well with SB.

As to your question, I have an easy answer: Find a way to do both.

Most people that choose to become copywriters do so partly because they have an aversion of person-to-person interactions… and dread of selling that way. ( At least that’s my impression based on the hundreds of copywriters I’ve mentored.)

The fact that you like personal selling is a huge plus. It will teach you all sorts of important things about the art of persuasion that you can’t learn very well any other way. As your skill at writing persuasively grows, you’ll begin to recognize that. You’ll be thinking, “This is just like when I do this or that on the phone.”

Conversely, you will learn things from practicing copywriting that is difficult to learn with direct, one-on-one sales. Again, these important-but-subtle things will come slowly but naturally if you practice both skills.

Every really successful copywriter I know has had some experience in direct person-to-person sales.

Since you have, at least for the moment, chosen to Copywrite as your primary goal, you should focus most of your time on that. But find a way to keep honing your personal selling skills on the side. You don’t need to do two jobs at the same time. Two or three hours of selling in person or on the phone per week should be enough to keep those muscles strong.

Keep me updated. I’m sure you will be very successful one day.


P.S. Find someone at SB that’s willing to give you advice from time to time. It never hurts to have a mentor.


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I just read an astonishing essay by Jeanna Smialek in The New York Times arguing that the Fed’s recent rate cut is motivated by a desire to boost incomes of the working class and create more income equality.

This is so absurd on so many levels that I am unable to begin to talk about it.

I’ll say this: A friend of mine was involved in the fight promotion business many years ago. I asked him about all the corruption and he helped me understand why it exists and why it is almost impossible to get rid of. The reason: When the game is fair, the champions can’t last more than one or two defense fights. Thus, the gates are small and nobody makes much money. But when you set up a system that allows champs to stay champs, the press gets excited and they sell more stories. The audience gets excited and they buy more tickets. The owners and fighters and managers and trainers all make 10 times what they would otherwise, and even the popcorn vendors make out better.

Yes, rate cuts may trickle down to the working class. But, at best, it will be a trickle. The real beneficiaries will be the big public companies whose stocks are artificially pumped up (and whose insiders are selling their shares into the fake market), the brokers, bankers, and lawyers that support the financial industry, and, most of all, the incumbent politicians whose chances of getting reelected are almost locked in when the economy is growing.

The difference between the fight game and the economy is this: The cost of rigging the fights is that the quality of the game is diminished. Many would-be champions never get their title fights because it wouldn’t be good for business. The cost of cutting rates (and, thus, pumping fake money into circulation) is that trillions of dollars of debt are being accumulated that we will eventually pay back with either massive inflation or an economic collapse.

In any case, read on. This piece is simply too naïve to believe:

 Pride Flags and Rate Cuts: Fed Loosens Up to Connect With Average Workers 

by Jeanna Smialek 

The Federal Reserve’s decision this week to cut rates for the first time in more than a decade was, in part, a reflection of the central bank’s efforts to be more attuned to the needs of everyday Americans.

Unemployment in the U.S. is close to a 50-year low, but many people remain out of work or have seen only modest pay increases. By lowering rates, the Fed could foster a labor market that draws in disadvantaged workers and prods companies to raise wages.

Despite the positive momentum, many people have remained on the sidelines or have seen only modest pay increases. By lowering rates, the Fed hoped to protect the economy against potential risks to ensure that it keeps growing. The move could foster a labor market that continues to draw in disadvantaged workers while prodding companies to raise wages.

“The best thing we can do for those people is to sustain the expansion, keep it going,” the Fed’s chair, Jerome H. Powell, said after the move. “That’s one of the overarching goals of this move – and all of our policy moves.”

 The wealthiest also benefit from the Fed’s decision, since rate cuts push up stock prices, creating big gains for investors. But the central bank’s push to portray its policy as a win for rank-and-file workers highlights an evolution: The Fed is trying to be more attuned to the needs and attitudes of everyday Americans.

Some of the changes are superficial. Mr. Powell, previously referred to as “chairman” in the Fed’s post-meeting releases, is now a gender-neutral “chair.” The 17-member policymaking body is as diverse as it has ever been, with leadership roles held by two openly gay members, five women, one black member and one person with Indian heritage. The powerful Federal Reserve Bank of New York flew rainbow flags outside for pride month this summer, for the first time.

A visit to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s Instagram account shows that it is following up its #dogsofthefed campaign with a #humansofthefed one, complete with inspirational stories and not-so-candid snaps.

But something more significant is happening under the surface.

An institution long shrouded in mystique and hemmed in by its desire to remain above the political fray is opening up. Fed research has long hit on diverse and even hot-button topics – from social mobility to global warming –  but presidents at its 12 regional banks increasingly promote and publicize that work. They even occasionally take positions on issues like immigration and skills training.

Fed officials have also spent much of the year visiting community groups in places like Augusta, Ga., and Camden, N.J., part of a widely publicized campaign aimed at convincing the public that policymakers are listening to workers’ concerns. Officials now regularly talk about unemployment rates by race and gender.

A political calculus is at play. The Fed needs to shore up public support at a time when President Trump regularly criticizes its actions and when government bodies – especially opaque ones aligned with bankers – are anything but popular. It has come under congressional and popular pressure for being slow to diversify and not focused enough on the most economically disadvantaged.

Mr. Powell nodded to those challenges in a recent speech in Paris, saying, “Our audience has become more varied, more attuned to our actions and less trusting of public institutions.”

America’s shifting social discourse also enables the Fed’s evolution. Janet L. Yellen, the Fed’s first female leader, broached the topic of income inequality in an October 2014 speech, questioning whether it was consistent with American values. It was an unusual topic for a Fed leader to take up at the time, and Republican lawmakers chastised her.

“You’re sticking your nose in places that you have no business to be,” Mick Mulvaney, a South Carolina representative at the time and now Mr. Trump’s acting chief of staff, told Ms. Yellen during her testimony to the House Financial Services Committee the next February.

Representative Sean Duffy, a Wisconsin Republican, said the speech showed political bias because Democrats were campaigning on the issue ahead of the midterm election.

Five years later, Fed officials frequently talk about income inequality. In February at a forum with teachers in Washington, Mr. Powell echoed Ms. Yellen’s sentiments – but got no pushback.

“We have work to do to make sure that the prosperity that we do achieve is widely spread,” Mr. Powell said. “We need policies that can make that happen.”

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I’ve been working with my partners in the art business to put on a major annual art show in Central America starting next year. It’s going to be big and fun – a combination of Art Basel and the Academy Awards for Central American artists.

The team was in Costa Rica last weekend brainstorming. After what was clearly a very productive session, they sent me the following note…

Hi Mark: We met in Costa Rica, talked with local art and event professionals, and have come up with a very good plan.

One thing that all agreed on was that we must choose a name for the event that is not only very Central American but also clever. And we have a great idea: Manglar! The Manglar Awards!

 Manglar – the Spanish word for “mangrove” – is an ecosystem that all of the Central American countries have in common. The word is minimal, clean – super-easy to create a logo and brand. Even better, the mangrove – struggling to survive between the sea and land – is an excellent symbol for what we are hoping to achieve here. (Not to mention the implication of social responsibility.)

Perfect, don’t you think?

One Thing You Should Never Do in Advertising 

Manglar? I checked the calendar. No. It wasn’t April Fool’s Day. It was mid-July. They were serious.

I sent them this rather curt reply…

Sorry… I HATE “Manglar.”

Yes, it is clever… but clever is the OPPOSITE of good marketing.

Clever says, “Look at ME! Aren’t I smart?” And the prospect does “look at” the marketer, thinking “Who would come up with a name like that? Meanwhile, he is NOT looking at the product.




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Most of the people I work with – either as colleagues, employees, or partners – know that I don’t believe in time off.

My approach to working is not “balanced.” I am working 24/7, 365 days a year. I’m not saying that I don’t take vacations or that there aren’t days when I’m not in the office. But there is never a day – and I don’t think there has ever been in at least 40 years – when I don’t work at least 10 hours on workdays. And on vacation days and weekends? I don’t think I’ve ever worked less than two or three hours. And that’s active work. When I’m not at my desk, I’m usually thinking about business.

This makes me a difficult person to live with, work with, or be friends with. I try to make up for my inattentiveness by caring and by being generous. It’s a second-rate effort at best. I realize that. But it’s who I am. No, that’s wrong. It’s who I have chosen to be.


The Fanatic’s Dilemma 

I don’t feel virtuous about this. And I certainly wouldn’t recommend this approach to others. I worry that my children might emulate me in this regard, and it isn’t a pleasant thought.

On her deathbed, my mother cautioned me: “Try not to work so hard.” And I sometimes complain to K about the stress I’m under. “You don’t have to work,” she points out. “It’s not like you need the money. Just quit.”

I know. That sounds logical. But here’s the truth. There was a time in my life when I was capable of taking it easy. And I did. But when I decided to get serious about my career, I trained myself to work as long as it took and that became a habit. Not just of behavior but of my thinking, too.

The way I explain myself to people that don’t get it is this: I’m like a big, complicated machine that can accomplish 16 different things at various times of the day. All of those functions are on automatic. They are permanently and deeply programmed into my circuitry. Problem is, I have only one control – an on/off switch. And there is no rheostat. In other words, I have only two modes of operation: on, which means that I am working at full capacity… and off, which means that I am not functioning at all.

This is, admittedly, a design flaw. But unless you are willing to shut me off or replace me with a different model, you are going to have to live with me. Just like I have to live with myself.

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