Carlyle said, Blessed is he who has found his work. Let him ask for no other blessedness. Our main business is not to see what lies dimly in the distance but to do what lies clearly at hand.
Jay Conrad Levinson has provided millions throughout the world with the tools to do what lies clearly at hand. He is the author of the bestselling marketing series in history, Guerilla Marketing, plus 30 other books. His books have sold 14 million copies worldwide.
His guerilla concepts have influenced marketing so much that today his books appear in 41 languages and are required reading in many MBA programs worldwide. Jay is the chairman of Guerilla Marketing International, a marketing partner of Adobe
and Apple. He has served on the Microsoft Small Business Council.
Guerilla Marketing is a series of books, audio tapes, video tapes, a CD ROM, an Internet website and the Guerilla Marketing Association, which is an interactive marketing support system for small businesses. Jay taught Guerilla Marketing for 10 years at the Extension Division of the University of California in Berkley, and he was a practitioner of it in the United States as senior vice president at J. Walter Thompson, and in Europe as creative director and board member at Leo Burnett Advertising.
He has written a monthly column for Entrepreneur magazine, articles for Inc. magazine, and other columns published monthly on the Microsoft website. He has also written online columns for several Internet websites including Netscape, America Online, Fortune Small Business, and Hewlett Packard.
Most of all, Guerilla Marketing is a way for business owners to spend less, get more, and achieve substantial profits. The man to transform anyone into a marketing guerilla is the one and only, the father of Guerilla Marketing, Jay Conrad Levinson.
JANET ATTWOOD: Thank you so much for taking the time to be with us. We are so honored to be able to have this time to be with you.
JAY CONRAD LEVINSON: I’m happy to be here with you, Janet, because we know each other well enough for me to know this is going to be a whole lot of fun.
JANET ATTWOOD: Let’s set that intention; that this is a lot of fun and everyone receives a huge amount of knowledge where they can transform their own businesses. How’s that?
JAY CONRAD LEVINSON: That’ll hit the nail right on the head. I’ll take it.
JANET ATTWOOD: Okay, great. Let’s just start out. Jay, will you tell us how your passions, the things you love the most, led you to the work that you do today?
JAY CONRAD LEVINSON: Yes, I can answer that question because you’re not asking it for the first time. When I graduated from the University of Iowa in 1956, I was drafted on my way to law school. I enlisted in the Army and I was lucky enough, of all things, to be assigned to the Counter Intelligence Corps, which sounds very ‘cloak and dagger’ and was.
It was every bit what you’d imagine James Bond’s life to be like as a counterspy, but I was in it for less than two years, although I was assigned to a section called ’Derogatory,’ which meant that I only participated in cases about people upon whom derogatory information had been turned up. All the cases I worked on were interesting. I did surveillances and interrogations and learned quite a bit about how to apply my advertising to the propaganda in this game.
We would also, at the end of each investigation, write a report a page-and-a-half long summarizing everything that happened. In my Army career, which was only two years, by far the most interesting thing I did was writing those reports of a page-and-a-half long. They were exciting reports that had beginnings, middles, and not quite endings, but the ending to where we were in real life time. I thought it would really be nice to get a job where I could be paid to do writing
When I got out of the Army, I tried to get a job. I knew not to look in the newspapers because I had worked for the college newspaper, and that wasn’t the height of my life though it was kind of fun. I knew not try to write a book because you can’t
make money writing a book. I found out about advertising, I interviewed, and I got no offers from a resume that I sent to over 100 agencies in San Francisco.
I then bought a book called How to Write a Resume, did it again, and I sent out 30 letters and I got 18 job interviews, and of those, three really killer, good jobs to take. The one I took hired me as a typist because they said, You haven’t got enough experience to hire as a writer. Just because you wrote that stuff in the Army doesn’t make you a writer able to influence people with your
words, but we’ll hire you as a secretary and teach you how to be a writer, so I took that.
They sent me to speed-writing school so that I could sit in meetings and take everything down and transcribe them for the bigwigs in the agency. After doing that for six months, working for one of the icons in San Francisco advertising, Howard Gossage, it was a privilege to work with him, although he taught me a lesson that wasn’t true. He’d take an ad and head into his marble office with the pedestal table, he’d work for one week on that ad, and when it came out it was a thing of beauty.
It was going to be an ad in The New Yorker or in Life magazine or in Time magazine. It was going to be really something that a lot of people would see. I’d read it and marvel at how good he was, but every night, whatever he was working on, I would take my shot at writing the same thing. I’d put it on his desk and he’d just ‘blue pencil’ it to pieces because nothing that I wrote came up to his snuff.
Eventually, the blue marks starting disappearing, and eventually they disappeared entirely. One day he said, Levinson, he said, you’re fired. He says, You’re fired because this agency is too small to have more than one writer, and I’m it. He said, I can offer you one of two options. Option number one is I can help you get a job at any advertising agency in San Francisco. He said, Or I can promote you to the title of Executive Secretary, give you a corner office and business cards.
He knew how much I wanted those things: a title, business cards, and when I got an office with a window, that was amazing. I turned down that offer to take a job with another advertising agency where I learned immediately that writing professional advertising copy wasn’t the matter of one ad for a week. It was a matter of the boss coming in and saying, We need 16 of these radio commercials by 5:00 PM. It was more like that.
It was that really crazy way to learn writing because you’ve got to get it right the first time, and you’ve got to get it down and use these four words. Everything had to follow a pre-agreed pace but there was lots of work and every bit of that was fun. After doing that and being in love with San Francisco, my wife and I moved back to Chicago because she was home sick, where I got a job with
What I did for them was I wrote advertising for Playboy. What Sort of Man Reads Playboy? I wrote that. I wrote all the ads for Playboy products and direct mail to the male populus in the United States to get them to subscribe, and to the business populus of the world to get them to advertise. Playboy was considered as close as you can get to hardcore in those days, meaning the
Hefner was an amazing boss because he would walk around barefoot or in slippers with a robe and drinking Pepsi. The thing that was most amazing about Hefner, and still is, is his lack of talent. No one knows that better than him, which is why he always surrounded himself at Playboy with the best literary talent, the best art talent, photographic talent. He really knew who had the goods because he knew that he didn’t have the goods, but he’s able to assemble a cadre of people who put together a very successful enterprise.
My hat was off to him. Here I had two guys who I was able to look up to in my first two jobs: at Weiner and Gossage and at Playboy. After working for Playboy for a year I realized that I was writing in the same voice, the same personality, all the time. I’d be nuts to suggest a change in that because it was so successful. Playboy was so fast-growing but I was getting bored writing in the same personality all the time.
I looked for a job at an advertising agency where I could write for diverse voices, I got one, and then I started working in Chicago advertising agencies, including Leo Burnett for five years, who was kind enough to send me to London for three of those years, and J. Walter Thompson which, at that time, was the world’s largest advertising agency where I got to be all the things it’s supposed to say on a business card, Senior Creative Director. The fact that I had the trappings of a corner office, great accounts to work on, marvelous people to work with. That was a great part of my time there.
I moved to Burnett and while at Burnett, while I was in a meeting, I was called out of the meeting to go into Phil [Shaft's] office. He was the head of Leo Burnett; Burnett ran everything, but Phil [Shaft] ran the money. Phil said to me, Jay, he said, We would like to send you to London for three years, and I said, Okay. He said, Don’t you want to check with your wife? I said, I know what
I took the job and we spent three glorious years in London doing a lot of traveling; doing a lot of writing for English clients who were a whole lot more willing to take risks than American clients. I mean maybe and that’s final was what we’d often hear at meetings. I remember in the 60s making a presentation to an acne company and showing them how they could reach their audience through daytime television and on weekends. Their response was, Frankly, we’re not sure television is here to stay.
That was closer to the prevailing attitude in London, in that time of The Beatles and the Stones just emerging. In the business world they were less imaginative, less creative, but still, advertising is advertising, and I loved it because I got to
write for a living.
JANET ATTWOOD: What a fun beginning, and I love that you started as a typist.
JAY CONRAD LEVINSON: I was able to type 60 words a minute, which was pretty fast then.
JANET ATTWOOD: Who would have thought the ‘Guerilla Marketing King’ started out as a typist? Jay, Guerilla Marketing was a really radical new concept when you published your first book on the subject. The strategies that you outline have been adopted by small and large businesses alike. Would you tell us the story of how your first book on Guerilla Marketing came to be?
JAY CONRAD LEVINSON: Sure. After I returned to advertising with big agencies, I decided that everything in my life was working except that I was working in Chicago, where you just freeze your butt off waiting for a bus to come. I was able to get a job in San Francisco, return to San Francisco, and stay for 35 years. While in San Francisco I was freelance writing. I was working
for Quaker Oats and for Alberto VO5 and for a bunch of little start-up businesses in new industries like solar energy and computer in the San Francisco Bay area.
I had a chance to do those things and to find out that when protected from committees and memos, I was able to accomplish in three days what used to take me five days. I could put in three really high-quality days being very productive, keeping all of my promises, and have my weekends start Wednesday at 6:00 PM. Once I got that idea I started doing it, and I’ve been doing it since 1971.
I’ve been working a three-day week from my home, a three-day week from wherever I am, -but when I travel, I don’t really like to work. I’ve been doing what I’ve always wanted to do because I’ve decided that even though writing advertising hasn’t been fun and freelancing was lucrative and fun, I thought it would be great to be a writer. We looked at a beautiful house on the edge of a cliff overlooking San Francisco Bay.
Donovan had recorded a song ‘Retired Writer in the Sun,’ and it sounded like the thing to do except for the retired part. I didn’t have a clue how to go about becoming a writer except that I knew that I didn’t want to turn it over to anybody, and I wanted to do every part myself. I wrote a book on a Saturday morning. That’s how long it took to write about a 27-page book.
Then I took my manuscript, which I had carefully typed, and brought it in to Postal Instant Press and said, I’d like to turn this into a book. They said, What kind of paper stock? and I said, Paper stock? They said, Well, what kind? and I had to tell them paper stock, cover stock, the type style, and how we needed it bound. Then I went into bookstores and realized there were like 30,000 books in most of these bookstores. What chance did my little, thin book have?
The title was The Most Important $1.00 Book Ever Written, and it was a book of truths. I didn’t even have my name on it. I described myself rather than using my name. I brought that to booksellers after buying display racks, metal display racks, looking in the Yellow Pages. That’s where I learned where to get those racks. I’d say to booksellers, I’ll give you 24 of these books in a display rack if you’ll keep it next to your cash register.
Almost every bookseller said yes. I gave each one of them maybe 48 books, and I came back the next month and collected 50 cents for each book they sold. That mushroomed because every bookseller said yes to an impulse item like that, and it was a good book. It was definitely worth $1.00, my God! Eventually I thought that the only part of this that I liked was the writing of the book.
I did not like the binding part. I didn’t like the part about paper stock or typography. I didn’t like the sell part about the display racks or going to the bookstores to pick up my check once a month. I thought that was the least fun part. I did another version, this time a book called Secrets of Success for Freelancing, which was sort of a story about what I was doing exactly then; as an instruction manual to myself, as my nephew said.
That book sold very well to freelancers by mail order. That was much easier for me to write really good classified ads and put them in various publications that opportunity-seekers read, or people who might want to freelance their services. I sold every one of those. By the way, I sold 800,000 copies of The Most Important $1.00 Book Ever Written. It was bought finally by a greeting-card
distributor who saw how fast the books moved in places that he was able to sell greeting cards. That book went on and on until the cost of paper went up.
Then it had to become The Most Important $3.00 Book Ever Written, which I never thought it was. That’s why we don’t hear about it anymore. Secrets of Successful Freelancing sold out for its whole run, and led me to realize that a lot of people wanted to do kind of what I was doing, live a more liberated lifestyle where you work one week out of four or go every other month or every other year, and you give yourself the flexibility that your ancestors didn’t think of because they were too interested in food, clothing and shelter. Who can blame them?
We have opportunities to do a whole lot more with ours, and what I thought I’d do is give more but to my family and my recreations. I have two passions in life. I keep thinking of other passions that I have, and I have a lot, but my main two passions are skiing and writing. When I’m skiing I think of writing and when I’m writing I think of skiing. The synapses are comprised of similar kinds of
thought material. The intense high that I get from skiing, can you imagine that the same thing is what I feel when I’m writing?
Just imagine the well of writing that will come out of my word processor, typing away very rapidly, and I’m thinking of skiing. I don’t know how the cross fertilization works but it’s interesting, how my two passions merge in spite of me. I don’t know ever write about skiing, and I don’t ever write while I’m up skiing. Still, those are the two main passions that I have in my life. I have a zillion minor passions.
I’ve ridden almost every white-water river in the American West, many of them several times. I’ve ridden through the Grand Canyon three times, and I’ve watched every August full moon, until this last one, at Canyonlands National Park. That’s a passion, or whatever mecca is, that has been for me and my wife. We have shared that as we have shared skiing at Big Sky in Montana and, for the first time ever, we shared a book. We just finished reading it a month ago.
We were asked by Entrepreneur Media, the people who put out Entrepreneur Magazine, to write a book called A Start-up Guide to Guerilla Marketing. I said, Jeannie, they want us to write a book together. I’d never written a book with anybody. I’ve co-authored books with people, but they did the writing and I just did some editing and wrote a forward, because I’m not able to write
with other people or, at least, I’m not inclined to.
Seth Godin, a brilliant writer, and I have collaborated on a couple of books where I did do the writing part because it was hard to tell where I began and left off and where he took over because our styles were so much alike. Here’s my wife Jeannie, who’s a brilliant person, a nurse, an occupational therapist, a physical therapist, and an architectural draftsman. She’s running a couple of
businesses and sold, in one year, more swimming pools than any other individual in the United States.
I said, How would you and I like to collaborate on a book? Let’s figure a way to do it so we don’t step on each other’s toes. The way we figured is she’s heard me give every talk I’ve given since we’ve been married. That’s a lot of talks. She sits in the front, she laughs hard at all of my jokes, and she takes copious notes. It just amazes me how she does that and why she does, that but it pays
One year we wrote a book together because she said, If you write the book, the text, I’ll write the stories that they want to have on the side. They wanted a lot of sidebars in this book. The box with statistics of stories or anecdotes, and she knows I have a lot of them, though in my book, I was able to write more closely to the bowl than she was able to write.
They’re beautiful and instructive realities based on things that had happened and things I have observed in marketing, in advertising, and just life in general, which we call LOE, Life on Earth.
JANET ATTWOOD: Go ahead.
JAY CONRAD LEVINSON: I have been living that life that I’m describing, a three-day week working from my home. Here’s an exception to that. After us living there for 35 years, my wife said, Would you ever think of moving from here? I said, Never. The family’s grown and we could, she said, Why don’t we live in an RV? I said, And do what? She said, Anything we want, just
drive anywhere. I said, Okay. We read loads about how to live in a RV full time or what kind to get and all that.
We sold our house. We sold it to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s attorney, and we bought a really nice RV, think trailer, think penthouse suite in the Ritz Carlton because we really got a nice one. We spent four years driving around anywhere we wanted, mainly visiting grandchildren and national parks. We’re not going to national parks the way we used: get your feet wet and get used to the water, okay get out, dry off, and let’s go. It wasn’t like that.
It was stay as long as you want at a national park. You hiked every trail you wanted to hike and seeing every part that that park has to offer you, so that takes a long time and that’s really the joy of it. We spent four years discovering America, going to Orlando, Florida and back because we have family there, and Tucson because we had family there. Mainly though, national parks are the beauty of America, and the tiny towns that you see on the blue highways.
We learned that in an RV you don’t really get to go on the blue highways the way you used to because it’s best to stay on interstates and to avoid cities like the plague, which is why we’ve towed a jeep on the back of our RV. We decided, just about a year-and-a-half ago, that this has really been fun. What a great period of our life, but we seemed to be spending a lot of time in Orlando.
We always want to be near a lake so we thought, What about buying land in Orlando where we could be right at the edge of the lake and have access to our 26 grandchildren? We thought that would be nice, but instead of buying land at the edge of a lake we forgot and bought land at the edge of a lake that had a new house, a three-year-old house, just perfect size for a family that’s grown.
We live in this house at the edge of the lake, about 40 minutes from Orlando near family, and we get to work from here three days a week, but since we moved in, which is just about three months ago, we haven’t had much chance to work here because we’ve been traveling so much, because people around the world want to know about the Guerilla Marketing work.
I’m getting speaking invitations to go places I never dreamt I’d be, even though I read about them as a kid and fantasized about them. We just came back from a trip to Malaysia, which we used to call Malaya on the first globes I saw. Malaysia and the Philippines, Thailand, Japan, and the island I forgot the name of.
Jay, it’s clear that all of this fun is how you keep aligned with your passions because you’re so passionate about your traveling, your RV, the fun you have, the house by the lake, being able to be near your grandchildren, working three days a week. What I know everyone would really like to also know about, is, I’m sure, one of the keys to staying aligned with your passion; it is doing the
things you most care about.
Marketing is clearly the key, and I know you would agree with me, being able to get one’s ideas out and reach many people. What does one do if their passions don’t include marketing?
JAY CONRAD LEVINSON: If their passions do not include marketing?
JANET ATTWOOD: Yes, what would you tell someone to do if their passions do not include marketing, when marketing is clearly the key to being able to get one’s ideas out and reach many people?
JAY CONRAD LEVINSON: What many wise people do is learn about Guerilla Marketing and then hire a designated guerilla or maybe they already have, in their employ, a designated guerilla. A designated guerilla is a person who gets enthusiastic about the opportunity to market, who sees the vision of what marketing can do for a company and who has enthusiasm for the whole idea of
That’s a golden opportunity for so many people to get a lot of people, but to stay in it and even more, they don’t understand it so they’re scared of it. After you read Guerilla Marketing, which I made as simple as possible, because it’s a shame that these people should be scared of something that can help them so much, and at no cost at all, as a lot of guerillas have learned.
JANET ATTWOOD: Now, if you were in an elevator, I was with you, and I said, Jay, we have 10 flights to go. What is Guerilla Marketing? What would you say? I’m sure there are many people on the line who don’t know, that might not know
JAY CONRAD LEVINSON: Here’s what it means, it means going after the conventional goals of profits and balance, enjoying your life, and going after them with unconventional means. Not paid advertising as much as something unconventional, like contacting community organizations, community clubs that offer your services as a lunchtime speaker for maybe 30 minutes, or doing demonstrations or offering free consultations.
If you market like that, one person to one person, it does not become an overwhelming task. You should do it one person to one person in the first place, and marketing starts becoming fun because you see that it really does work. The reason we’ve sold 50 million copies of Guerilla Marketing is because it works. It works everywhere and it works for everyone who reads the book and then does the stuff it says in the book, which is certainly not hard.
A Guerilla Marketing attack is just a simple 10-step process, and by making marketing as simple as possible, as business-owner friendly as any marketing school as ever been, Guerilla Marketing seems to have caught on not only with small business but with big business, where my speaking invitations used to be to speak to conventions of plumbers or architects or doctors.
Now I get invitations from government groups and foreign countries around the world:
South America, Australia, everywhere. They’re all wanting to learn…
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