|From:W-A-Y West of Jewfish Creek
I'm in danger.
This is really true. It's not an opening statement I'm using for shock value. No. It's not a joke either. Or a clever prelude to a marketing lesson. The alarm bells in my head are clanging and shrieking, stridently demanding attention.
Why? Listen: I've been on an especially hot roll lately and it's starting to go to my head. For one thing, I've just produced my first TV show (it's about the Beverly Hills Medical Diet) and I think it's a very good first effort. For another, I've just beaten one of my old direct mail control packages and now my client can profitably double his mailing schedule.
And He Was Already Mailing
700,000 Pieces Per Month!
And so on. But, best of all, as far as my ego is concerned, I just received a letter from a man named Drayton Bird who is the Vice Chairman of Ogilvy and Mather Direct in London. And, the reason that letter was so good for my ego is he was writing to tell me he is in frequent telephone communication with David Ogilvy and that Mr. Ogilvy has just sent him all back issues of my newsletter including what Mr. Bird refers to as the "brilliant" dollar bill acknowledgement letter. Mr. Bird wanted to know, among other things, if he could include some of my work in the upcoming new edition of his book called "Common Sense Marketing."
Well, I don't know about you but, for my money, David Ogilvy is easily the most astute advertising man alive and, to have captured his attention through these letters is the prize feather in my self-serving war bonnet of ego accolades.
Except for the actual numbers that are produced by a good piece of marketing: Those, of course, remain the supreme accolade of your work.
Or else the supreme indictment.
Have you ever heard of the Caples Awards? John Caples is one of my marketing heroes, but the new wrinkle in the awards given in his name makes me sick. You know what some slobs have decided
about the Caples Awards? It's this: The direct marketing piece in contention doesn't have to be a winner for the writer to win the award, it only has to be "creative."
Isn't that nice? It must truly cheer many a clients' heart, after being rendered damn-near destitute by some fool's bird-brained, stupid ad campaign, to know the writer won the "Caples."
Shame on everybody connected.
Forgive me, I digress. Anyway, to get back to what I was saying, if you were to visit my offices and look around and talk to the staff, you'd see pictures of me with some celebrities and clients, you'd see I have a loving and gorgeous woman, you'd see framed letters on the walls from subscribers and clients I've helped make a lot of money, you'd see me working with my children, you'd see all of us laughing and joking and having a good time while everybody works like crazy and, if you could also read my thoughts, you'd see a man (me) dangerously close to making one of the deadliest mistakes a man can make which
Starting To Believe Your Own PR!
This can be fatal. I'm not talking injurious to your business (although it can most certainly be that), I'm talking fatal, fatal.
Like once upon a time when it almost was for me. Listen: Do you remember how, in my direct mail pitch, to get you to subscribe, I promised to write about "the dark side of success"? Well, it's time for me to do that. Therefore, this letter is not about how to improve your marketing or make more money. No, this letter is about how to keep your success from ruining your life as it almost did mine. If you have children and/or anyone else you love and, if you think there is value in these letters, this is the one, by far, that would be the most important to let your loved ones read. What you are about to learn is just how dumb, foolish and ignorant a supposedly intelligent man (Ol' "Guru Gary") can be. But let me suggest something: Before you smirk and get condescending about the stupidity I am about to reveal and say, "that Halbert is really dumb, that stupid stuff will never happen to me," I suggest you listen to that little whisper in the back of your mind that says...
Don't Be Too Sure.
Don't Be Too Sure.
Don't Be Too Sure.
Let us go back in time to the first half of 1973. Back then I was truly living high on the hog. I had sold my half-interest in Halberts Inc. (the coat-of-arms company with over seven million customers) for a sum that translates into today's money to something like 2 to 2-1/2 million dollars. I also had my publishing company (Good News Incorporated) cranked up to where it was generating millions of dollars per year. I had highly profitable investments (sometimes my silver futures contracts would appreciate as much as $20,000 per day), I had a showplace home atop a hill, a condo in Ft. Lauderdale, a boat in the Florida Keys, lots of hangers-on and, in general, I was...
A Big Fish In A
And believe me, I milked it for all it was worth. For example, whenever I found myself in a conversation with strangers and the conversation turned to money and everybody was trying to impress everybody else, I would always emerge victorious by using one of my conversational "toppers." Like so: If one of the group would ask me how much my income was, I'd say, "Oh about 20 thousand, I guess." And then
they'd smile and say, "Well, that's not too bad. I guess $20,000 a year is decent money for a young guy like you." And then, of course, I'd use my "topper" by saying...
"Oh No, You Misunderstood. My
Income Is $20,000 Per Day!"
You like that one? Did it make you smile a little? Pretty clever, huh? Actually, what it really demonstrated was my...
I'll tell you something: Watch out for self-made guys in their 30's because many of them are just as insufferable (and dangerous) to themselves and others as I was.
Another example. Once upon a time, the First National Bank in Massilon, Ohio wouldn't even let me have a checking account because their credit research deemed me so unworthy.
Can you imagine that? A bank that says you're such a bummer they won't even let you deposit money?
So guess where I did my banking after I made my big bucks? You're right. Right there at the good ol' First National. And guess who, when the bank deposit was especially huge, made the deposit himself?
Bingo. You're right again. Picture this: It's about two o'clock on a Monday afternoon. The door to the bank opens and in walks what appears to be a young guy in his 30's who has been working on
a road gang. He's wearing faded and torn blue jeans, a sloppy sweatshirt and he's carrying a canvas bag over his shoulder. He waits patiently in line and, when he gets to the teller, he tells her he wants to make a deposit. And then in full view of all the customers in the bank and its employees, this rather shabby-looking young man starts pulling out wads of checks and cash and stack them side-by-side a foot or so high in front of the open-mouthed teller.
Sort of asking for it, wasn't I?
Well, I got it and it went down like this: One day in the first week of July, 1973, just after dark, I went to get the groceries out of the trunk of the car. The car was outside the garage and, as I was coming from inside the house, I had to push the button that would open the garage door automatically. As soon
as the door went up, I saw two figures standing outside the garage wearing ski masks. At first I thought they were kids and I started to bitch. But the complaint died in my throat as I discovered they were indeed adults and were both armed with .45 caliber handguns. Have you ever seen a .45? I carried one
for three years when I was an MP and they are scary. Especially when you are looking into the business end of one of those monsters.
One of the guys marched me over to the air conditioner unit on the west side of the house just outside the garage and had me take off my glasses and give them to him. Then, he did something strange; he said to me very politely, "I'm putting your glasses here on top of the air conditioner so they'll be easy
to find when this is over."
Then he marched me back into my house where his buddy had already subdued my wife, Nancy. Then they tied me up, blindfolded me, gagged me and put me inside a canvas sack.
They also did all this to Nancy except they didn't put her into a sack.
Then, they ransacked the house. They took our "emergency" silver coins, they took a cherished heirloom ring that Nancy had been given by one of her favorite relatives and they took sacks of mail all containing checks from our recent full-page ad in "Parade" magazine.
At this point, Nancy said, "Gary, do something! They're even taking the mail!"
But what was I to do while all tied up inside a canvas bag?
Anyway, they wanted more and they began to threaten us. However, after a while, they were convinced there was nothing else to get and they left, taking my car (a Cadillac naturally) and all the loot they had gathered up including thousands of checks written to "Good News Inc." which were worthless to them. By the way, before they left one of them said, "This is what happens to people who make a lot of money
and who live in a big house like this."
Have you ever had anything like this happen to you? I hope not. It's unnerving and much more so than you would think. You know, we're all so used to watching TV we sort of get the impression that, after a violent act, a person just gets up, brushes himself off and goes about his business.
Trust me, it's not like that at all.
I'm no stranger to violence and danger. I grew up in a town that was, during my youth, the most heavily industrialized per capita city on earth. I'm talking about Barberton, Ohio and, back then, it was sometimes, almost like a war zone. In high school, my buddy, "Pompadour Bill," and I would drive around in his father's car and we kept a German Luger and two knurled steel blackjacks in the glove compartment. Then later, when I was an MP, I was sent to Germany and my tour of duty consisted of breaking up massive bar fights and dealing with enraged servicemen and going up against everything from pocket knives to a lunatic with a double-barreled shotgun.
But this was different. This was in my home, my sanctuary, my cave that was supposed to be my "safe place" and secure from the tigers and bears and demons of the night.
And my family was home!
Not only my wife, but my kids too, who were all (thank God!) asleep upstairs.
Anyway, for nearly a year after this, I could hardly sleep. I was already a heavy beer drinker back then and, after the robbery, I began to drink even more heavily. My work suffered, my business went downhill and I knew something had to change.
So, after a year, more or less, of living like this, I sold my business to a tall Texan named Jerry Antill for $15.00 and never bothered to cash the check. By the way, at that time, the business had over 1,000,000 customers and more than $60,000 cash-on-hand plus all its other assets.
What I did next is I moved my family to Los Angeles, California so my wife and I could become patients of the Center for Feeling Therapy which was formed by a group of nine psychotherapists who were formerly associated with the famed Institute of Primal Therapy formed by Arthur Janov.
The founders of the Center for Feeling Therapy were acclaimed worldwide. They were supposed to be the best. They had been on 150 talk shows like Merv Griffin, Johnny Carson (I was in the studio audience), Good Morning America and all the others. They published endless learned articles and, I believe, four hardcover books. When Nancy and I signed up for this "therapy" it was our understanding that in about nine months we would be relieved of all our mental trauma and we'd be able to get on with our lives.
What We Got Instead Was
A Three And A Half Year
These so-called psychotherapists, all licensed by the State of California, turned out to be the most sophisticated and manipulative mind-benders the free world has ever known. They nearly ruined the lives of hundreds of their patients. They were, (unknown to me at the time), sexually molesting some of the female patients while they were sucking money out of all of us with an efficiency that would've made even Jim Bakker envious.
They controlled your life. Everything from where you worked to where you lived and even to with whom you could sleep.
Let me take a moment here to say that, at this point, you may be saying, "How could any intelligent adult let such a thing happen? That could never happen to me." Well, what I say is you only ask for therapeutic help when you are very vulnerable so...
Don't Be Too Sure.
Don't Be Too Sure.
Don't Be Too Sure.
By the way, all of those "therapists" were subsequently indicted by the California Board of Medical Quality Assurance and they went through the longest malpractice trial in California history and they all lost their licenses and were publicly shamed. If you are interested, you can read about it in the September 30, 1987 edition of the "L.A. Times."
But anyway, I didn't get out of that "therapy" until January, 1978 and while I was in it, my mind was in virtually constant turmoil. And, while in the midst of this mental turmoil in 1976, I was approached by a couple of guys who wanted to go into the mail order business. The idea was to sell a book on "Proud Bi-Centennial Americans" and also a decorative bi-centennial plate. The idea was I'd write the copy and put up the money and these two guys would run the business. well, for a little while, things went fine. We mailed our sales letters, took in orders and started to produce the products both of which, incidentally, had to be personalized.
Then, all of a sudden, everything went bad.
One of our big direct mail rollouts only produced a fraction of the earlier test results to that list. Also, all my income from other sources, for reasons not relevant to this story, almost dried up completely.
In a nutshell, what happened is we ended up with thousands of orders and not enough money to fill them all.
This was certainly a bad situation but it was, I felt at least correctable. You know, at that time, a lot of people had come to know and respect me and I was pretty sure I'd be able to borrow enough money to fill all the orders and make things right.
Alas, this was not to be. What happened next is one of our customers who had not received his order decided to complain and he did so to a local TV station. Well, as you know, the news media is
ever hungry for bad news and they sent a camera crew to our offices. The resulting footage was not very dramatic but, when it was aired, we came to the attention of the postal authorities and soon thereafter two postal inspectors came to our offices. Soon they learned that, even though I wasn't the
official owner of the business, I was, in fact, the "force" behind the company.
Which was true.
So they wanted to talk to me.
So, not knowing any better, I invited them to my house.
Big mistake. Real BIG! You see, at that time I was living at 637 Pacific Coast Highway, right on the beach in Santa Monica, California. My home was one of only 17 on that stretch of real estate (law forbids the building of any more) and it was truly fantastic. The house next door to me was formerly
owned by Peter Lawford and it was the western White House when Kennedy was president. I'm not going to go on and on about my house but I will say it was perhaps the finest home I've ever
seen. It had a 50 foot swimming pool and it later became the most expensive home in history ever to be sold at private auction.
So, in come these two postal inspectors, one of whom I can hardly remember and the other whom I'll never forget. The one I'll never forget was a tall, skinny guy with a scraggly mustache who had a look of deprivation about him. In fact, to me, he looked like a guy who'd never had a good meal or a good woman in his entire life.
And guess how he reacted to my home on the beach with its 50 foot heated swimming pool?
You know already, don't you? Let's just say he wasn't exactly overjoyed to see me enjoying the evil fruits of my capitalistic endeavors. During that first meeting, and during subsequent ones, he would slip in comments like, "Well, I guess I'll never know what it's like to live in a house like
this." Or, "I'm sorry to have to ask you and your wife to ride in this plain old car but we can't all have
And so on.
So it begins to look like this is really serious and it's not going to go away so my partners and I hire a lawyer. I can't remember his name. Actually, I only chose him because he was so handy as he was in the same building as our offices. After we explained everything to this lawyer he said it was obvious that none of us ever had any criminal intent (true) and we should open our books and give the postal inspectors any info they wanted.
That was a big mistake. A real BIG mistake!
Look, being investigated is like being interviewed by a TV news team. In other words, if they find out 50 good things about you and one bad thing, it is only the negative that is recorded on their minds and has a chance of going on the air or in their reports.
We were indicted. All three of us. For mail fraud.
What happens next is the postal inspectors have a little chat with my two "co-conspirators" and it is explained to them that if they help the inspectors get me (Mr. Big), they will be allowed to plead guilty to only one count of mail fraud and probably get a suspended sentence.
And, to their eternal shame, those two guys laid down and rolled
over. And, in fact...
They Were So Scared
They Pled Guilty To A
Crime Of Which They
Perhaps I'd better modify that "innocent" part a bit. According to the law, you are not guilty of any type of fraud, including mail fraud, unless you had "criminal intent." Well, let me tell you, neither of those two guys (or me, for that matter) ever had one smidgen of criminal intent.
On the other hand, the mail fraud statutes are written so broadly it is difficult for anyone who has ever mailed a letter not to be found guilty. It's so bad, in fact, that sometimes, it seems to me anyone who has walked by, driven past, or flown over a U.S. post office is guilty. What this means is that, often, a jury does not have any real choice as to whether or not to find a defendant guilty. You see, what happens is the judge will issue jury instructions that dictate the jury must find you guilty if such and such or so and so occurred.
And since those such and such's and so and so's are so broad in scope...
98% Of All Defendants
Are Found Guilty!
Here's a side story. Once upon a time, in the San Fernando Valley, some paid arsonist torched a restaurant and a couple of people were killed. He was guilty of trespassing, breaking and
entering, arson and murder.
And They Got Him
For Mail Fraud!
'Cause somebody, to get the insurance payoff, sent the claim in by mail. And the prosecutors know, if they can't get someone for something else they can almost always get anybody for mail fraud.
On with my story: So, here I am indicted for mail fraud and, in August of 1978, I went to trial. It lasted about a week and guess what was the most persuasive piece of evidence the feds had against me?
It Was My House!
Yep. One of those zealous little public servants stuck a camera over the hedges on the beach side of the property, took a picture, had it blown up to poster size and then forced the jury all week to look at this photo of "Halbert's Beach Villa."
Know this: If you are a successful businessman, there is no such thing as a "jury of your peers." Basically, your fate will be decided by 12 men and women who are "have
nots" and who believe all the "haves" got that
way be being crooked.
I was convicted.
was sentenced to 18 months but I was released on my own recognizance, pending appeal. The appeal took three years and, guess what?
The trial was, in my opinion, a farce and, unbelievably, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals seemed to agree. Now what happens when you win an appeal is you are back to square one. What that means is the government has the option of putting you on trial again, dropping the whole thing or else letting you plead not guilty to a much lesser charge.
That third choice, the "plea bargain" is, by far, the most popular choice. And that is what the government decided to do with me, to let me plead guilty to a misdemeanor and pay a fine or something. You see, by this time, the "news value" of "The Big Bi-Centennial Rip-Off" was non-existent and, after everything that came out in the 1978 trial, I think even the prosecutors no longer thought I was such an evil guy.
But this was not to be. And, according to my lawyer, it was because that "from hunger" postal inspector wouldn't let it go.
I don't know if that's true or not. But I do know this: The mental and emotional turmoil of being "in therapy" and fighting these mail fraud charges cause me to go broke around the time of the first trial. However, between 1978 when I filed my appeal and 1981 when I won it, I did something unthinkable:
I Made A Lot Of
Money All Over Again!
And in 1981, when the postal inspector came out to serve me, I was then living at 201 Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica and I owned two apartments there (they're co-ops) which were both worth a ton of money.
Can't have that, can we? No Sir. So, in August of 1981 I got back on trial again. But this time I've got a new lawyer (wait'll you hear about all my wonderful lawyers) and I'm a lot more prepared and I think I'm going to win. The prosecution trots out the picture of the house again but, anticipating this, my lawyer and I have prepared what we think are effective counter arguments.
So, the trial ends on a Wednesday or Thursday afternoon and when the jury walks past me, they actually look friendly and that's a good sign says my lawyer. But the next morning as they walk past me and my lawyer, their heads are down and they won't even look at me and that's a bad sign says my lawyer.
And later, that afternoon, they find me guilty.
And, in an interview, what do they say as to why they found me guilty? "It's the house," they say. "Anybody who was really trying to do right and fill those orders wouldn't have lived in such an expensive house."
"But I thought we explained that," says my lawyer.
"Yeah, but just look at this article that is in this morning's 'Herald Examiner,'" says a lady juror. And she waved it in front of our faces and there was a three page article all about my house complete with pictures, the main one of which was the same one the jury had been forced to look at poster size all week.
What a strange coincidence. Here it is something like six years since I've lived in this house and the "Herald Examiner" which is a morning paper comes out with this long article about the opulence of the house and its furnishings and all the Rolls Royces and other exotic cars parked outside and so forth and it comes out just in time for the jury to see it...
And Take It In The
Jury Room With Them!
Incredible timing, right?
So we immediately ask for a new trial and I'll never forget the judge's face as he denies the motion muttering how he may be wrong but we've got to make sure the appellate court has enough work to keep them busy.
So once again I file an appeal and try to retain my sanity (I never did regain it) as I wait for the outcome.
This time it only takes 2-1/2 years and I lose; I don't see how but I did.
And on May 21, 1984 I reported to Boron Federal Prison Camp ("Club Fed") in the Mojave Desert to start serving my time. I'll tell you a little about that experience in a minute but first two more of my semi famous "side trips."
First, I want to tell you a little about the seven lawyers I used fighting this nightmare. One of them was a respected law professor who wrote both of my appeals. Another was a Mormon who fought his heart out for me but could not overcome the impact of the newspaper story about my house. Another one did almost no preparation for my case and he was eventually disbarred. Another one is the naive, young guy who told me to freely give the postal inspectors any info they wanted. Another one was too busy laundering drug money to be of any real help to me and, besides, he was found shot dead in the Century Plaza shopping center while clutching a paper bag full of paper money. Another, reputed to be a "fix it" lawyer, was indicted along with a local judge for obstructing justice.
I Sure Can Pick 'Em
The seventh attorney was Howard Weitzman. Remember him? He's the guy who won for DeLorean and the only attorney in this story who I have decided to mention by name. You know, I really have a lot of respect for this guy. Here's why: When I asked him to do some post-conviction work for me he said...
you ought to get someone
else because other lawyers
will do it cheaper than me and
you don't have much of a
I could hardly believe it; honesty from a lawyer? So I hired him, he gave it his best shot, I lost and paid him willingly and never regretted it simply because...
He Was Straight
By the way, I talked to him on the phone from Boron the day after DeLorean was acquitted and I told him that, when the verdict was announced, the whole camp burst into applause!
Isn't this a bitch of a story? Hold on. You ain't heard nothing yet.
Let's take side trip #2.
Away we go. After my conviction in 1978, while I was on appeal, I did some work for a publisher back East. What I did is I wrote a diet ad for him that featured a San Diego M.D. (a psychiatrist) that became one of the highest pulling ads in history.
Considering my situation, I was very careful about what I wrote. I checked and double-checked with the doctor to make sure the ad was accurate.
The money started coming in like crazy and the guy back East couldn't keep up with the orders. I literally begged him to slow down, to stop advertising till he got caught up. To no avail. He got thousands of orders behind, many of which were four months overdue. And guess what? Yep. He got indicted, I got indicted and the doctor got indicted...
On An Ad I Thought Was "Hound's Tooth
Those indictments were later dropped but they massively interfered with my mental peace and also prevented me from bringing in character witnesses during my second trial.
Lord, love a duck; I was starting to feel like a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest.
But so what? What can be learned from all this that is of practical value to you?
A lot. Assuming you don't want to be robbed, incarcerated or swamped with the emotional and financial trauma of litigation, I herewith offer 10 rules for your consideration:
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