This one is wild. We invited Drayton Bird (who knew and worked with some of the original mad men) to join us for the 165th episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast. Drayton has been around the world of advertising and direct marketing since the 1960s and he has the stories to prove it. As we talked, it occurred to us that if Drayton wasn’t the inspiration for The Most Interesting Man in the World, he probably should have been. We asked Drayton about:
• what happened to him the last time he went to San Diego
• how he became a successful copywriter—it’s not about creativity
• how he spent his teen-age years and why he carried 2 library cards
• Why he couldn’t choose a niche when he started writing
• the one thing Drayton says you need to be a good copywriter
• the intriguing letter he sent to David Ogilvy that got an immediate reply
• the 7 big lessons he learned from David Ogilvy
• whether being interesting is something we are or something we become
• some of the questions he asks to get better creative work
• the legacy he has built and the story he shares in his latest book
• the bizarre thing his mother saw his father doing in their living room
• the time a stripper nearly killed him hitting him in the face with a plate
• the Maori princess who broke his heart when she ran off with a Swedish lawyer
• his parents’ crazy, loving and destructive relationship
• the advice he got from a Polish Count that saved Drayton’s life
• what you need to think about constantly if you really want to be really good at copy
Like we said, this one is different from any other interview we’ve done. You won’t want to miss it. Click the play button below to listen (or download the episode to your favorite podcast player), or scroll down to read a full transcript.
The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:The VW Snowplow Ad
Ogilvy on Advertising
Drayton’s Biography (read this page)
The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
The Copywriter Underground
This episode is brought to you by The Copywriter Club, In Real Life, our live event in San Diego, March 12th through 14th. Get your tickets now at thecopywriterclub.com/tccirl.
Rob: What if you could hang out with seriously talented copywriters and other experts, ask them about their successes and failures, their work processes and their habits, then steal an idea or two to inspire your own work? That’s what Kira and I do every week at The Copywriter Club Podcast.
Kira: You’re invited to join the club for episode 165 as we chat with one of the original Mad Men, copywriter Drayton Bird about his place among the original Mad Men of advertising, what all copywriters need to master to make their writing better, getting stabbed three times and surviving, and the good advice he got from a Polish count many years ago.
Rob: Hey Drayton.
Kira: Welcome Drayton.
Drayton: Nice to talk to you. And I’ll tell you something. I got involved in my most sad most expensive marriage to one of the ladies who did have a go at sticking a knife in me. Well, she didn’t ever go, she didn’t stick a knife in me, because I was in San Diego. It was all your fault. I’d been doing a speech in Los Angeles and afterward, I went with some friends and we made our way down the coast staying somewhere terribly expensive. I can’t remember.
And then we went to San Diego Zoo and had one or two drinks and my friends said, ‘Let’s go down to Mexico.’ And so we went down to the Mexican border to a dangerous town. I think, I believe one of the most dangerous places in Mexico. And that’s where I got married as a result of being intoxicated.
Kira: That’s a romantic, romantic story.
Rob: So are you telling us you’re not going to come to San Diego for our event? Is that what you’re saying here? Too dangerous?
Drayton: Can’t afford to come twice. Tijuana, that was where it was. I remember I was driving into Tijuana. No, I looked on the left on the side, it said that you can get married immediately. I was on the right-hand side going on. And on the left-hand side, it said divorce within 24 hours. I thought, ‘What can I possibly lose?’ And I said to this lady, who is actually the widow of my best friend who had killed himself. Well, that’s another story.
I said, ‘Let’s get married.’ And she said, ‘You’re kidding.’ I said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘This is a limited time offer.’ I said, ‘You’ve got to make up your mind before six o’clock.’ So she said, ‘What can we use for a ring’ And I said, ‘You can use the ring of Martin,’ who was my best friend, who had been her husband who killed himself. And then she said, ‘What should we wear? What should I wear?’ I didn’t bother about what I was wearing. I don’t know whether you’ve ever tried to shop some Tijuana, looking for something really elegant, but it’s not easy.
Rob: Yeah, there’s a lot of stuff.
Drayton: She finally found something and we got married there. There and then. And I would say that it costs me overall in the region of about 3 million pounds that evening.
Kira: Oh, my goodness.
Drayton: But you really want to talk about copywriting, don’t you? It’s so much more interesting than people…
Kira: Well, we want to talk about copywriting and we also want to talk about everything else too and getting stabbed and everything else you’ve included in your book. But let’s start with your story. How did you end up as the top direct marketer and a copywriter? Let’s start there.
Drayton: I don’t know. I think maybe it’s perhaps … If you hang around for long enough, everyone else dies. I think I did reasonably well because before I even became a copywriter, I’d written for a magazine for a while, so I knew how to write. And I think I was helped by the fact that unlike practically everyone I can make out in this business, I wanted to study. And even before I started my first copywriting job, I’d started reading a lot of books about advertising and particularly books written by people who made lots of money or 40 or 50 years before then.
I remember reading a fantastic book by a guy who did all the marketing for the international correspondence schools, which if you read it today, would still teach you a lot. I don’t think it’s so much talent, it’s just study. I don’t think people study enough. I think that they think, ‘Oh, I’m going to be creative,’ and they go around trying to be creative. This is a big mistake. The first thing to do, if you want to write anything any good, be a copywriter or anything else, is to be sure about what you want to say, not to say, ‘I’m going to be creative.’
Drayton: And you can start by being creative and you can end up anywhere. It might be relevant or not. If you start by doing the right thing, you may end up being creative. It doesn’t work the other way around. You first, you’re looking for the right idea and then you worry about how to express it. Whereas a lot of people nowadays, and this has always been true, start by trying to do something clever and then the idea will fit in with whatever the hell they’re trying to sell. I think that was one reason I did okay.
I think the second reason is I was extremely well read, quite young in my routines. Even before that I used to belong to the local public library. And you could only take out three books in a day. I used to read more than three books in a day. So I joined another library. Sometimes I’ll read four books a day. I spent a lot of my teenage years reading, reading, reading, reading. And very often reading the kind of things, which you got nothing whatsoever to do with copywriting. But nobody knew what a copywriting was then.
I was brought up in a pub in Manchester, outside Manchester. And my father told his cronies in the bar, ‘My son Drayton just got this amazing job. Paid more money than he could believe.’ Copywriting, nobody knew what it was. Nobody knew what it was. What is copywriting? What does he copy? It really wasn’t known as a skill. I think also, if you want to be good at anything, you have to be confronted with a lot of challenges.
And nowadays, everyone is crazy about digital. They’re all talking about digital. I always think of the digital swine running over the cliff. The first four jobs I got in the agency I joined, which took a lot of effort to get into, were all different. One was a piece of direct mail to sell some machinery. One was to sell a local restaurant or a chain of local restaurants. The other two were again, entirely different. I can’t remember exactly what they were, one was direct mail, one was an advertisement, one was a salesman’s organizer. The salesman organizer is something that a salesman takes round with him to remind himself of what he’s got to say to the customer.
Those are the three I can remember. You were expected to be able to do anything. It wasn’t regarded as I just do so and so, I just do financial services. I had to do everything. I don’t think you can be in any way remarkable unless you have really faced all the challenges and all the media that are open to services. I was lucky in the sense that I had that challenge. And I think a lot of people now specialize in what in English we call niches [neeshes] and in American they’re sometimes called niches [nitches].
So I think those are some of the reasons. I think reading a far wider range of things I believe than most people do was a great help. I think I’m particularly fascinated and was fascinated then and still fascinated by 18th and 17th and 16th century writers. People of the same before Shakespeare, after Shakespeare, particularly into the 18th century. I also remember reading Winston Churchill’s biography of the Duke of Marlborough who is his ancestor. Three very heavy volumes.
I read everything. David Ogilvy was once asked, ‘What makes a good copywriter?’ And he said, ‘A well furnish mind,’ he said amongst other things. I think I was fortunate I have a fairly well furnished mind. I think also I’m absolutely fascinated by anything I don’t know. Anytime a client comes along to me and says, ‘We want to write you or about so and so,’ and I know nothing about it, I’m absolutely delighted. I remember when the last time, well not the last time I was in California because I have a daughter who lives in Los Angeles.
About seven or eight years ago, I went to do a training program for some people in Portland who made measuring instruments. I think they’re the world’s biggest makers of measuring instruments. When do you think about measuring instruments? I thought, ‘This is interesting.’ Show me something I don’t know and I’m interested. You have to have an open and inquiring mind to be a good copywriter. And I don’t think I’m particularly remarkable. I’ve just been around longer than most and made more mistakes than most.
Rob: You’ve definitely created a remarkable persona based around you. You’re known as maybe one of the last of the Mad Men. You knew David Ogilvy personally. In fact, if the quotes on your Wikipedia page were to be believed, he said that you know more about direct marketing than anyone in the world, which is quite a compliment coming from him. Tell us how you met him, how you got to know him and maybe some of the things that you learned from David Ogilvy.
Drayton: Very interesting. I first came across him when … I got my first creative director’s job when I was about 26, I think in an agency in London about 80 people. Apart from reading everything else, I started reading confessions of an advertising man. And from him and from other people, I noticed a huge focus on testing. I was very interested to see what worked and what didn’t. I started doing two things at that agency.
I encouraged all my clients to test things and see what worked. And I kept on being fascinated by this chap Ogilvy. I then went into business as a copywriter for a company for the first, not the first time. Well, first of many times I failed to make a fortune. But when that business went broke, I ended up with what was then probably the hottest advertising agency in the world. Nobody’s heard of it. No, I don’t think. It was called Papert Koenig Lois. Koenig and Lois were the people who … George Lois of Armenia. They put together probably the best television commercial ever created for the Volkswagen that’s called a snowplow.
Rob: I love that ad.
Drayton: Have you seen it?
Rob: Yeah, it’s fantastic. You’re right. It’s gotta be one of the top 10 commercials ever made.
Drayton: Yeah. Well, it’s extraordinary. I worked for them and that was a highly political agency. And I was one of the people who lost out in the struggle for power. And one of the other guys there, one of the other group said, ‘Why don’t you go work for David Ogilvy though?’ And this chap was a man called Peter Mayo. Had worked with Ogilvy in New York. And I wrote Ogilvy letter, which I wish I’d cut because it must’ve been one of the best letters I’ve ever written.
All I can remember is the beginning, which said, ‘Dear Mr. Ogilvy, you’ve never heard of me. But I have a quality that I know you prize. I know how to make people buy things.’ Don’t know what the rest of it said … I got an immediate reply. And he arranged an interview, which I never attended. I never attended because I didn’t want to leave my children in England and go to America. Then I have nothing to do with him. What happened was I went into the mail order business with a partner. We made a hell of a lot of money, we lost a hell of a lot of money.
I went broke, we both went broke. I then spent seven years living under a false name because I owed so much money to the tax people. And then I decided the only thing I could do, or somebody suggested to me, to start an agency specializing in direct response. And within three and a half years, we were the biggest agency of its kind in the UK. And we were approached by eight of the top 20 advertising agencies that are interested in buying us and one of them was Ogilvy & Mather.
And we sold to Ogilvy & Mather. And that came about because of a letter I wrote and an advertising magazine called Campaign. And somebody had been very rude about David Ogilvy, very dismissive and I wrote a letter saying this fellow was an idiot and wasn’t fit to kiss David Ogilvy’s ass. I don’t know exactly how I puts it, but the next thing that I know, the phone rang and the voice at the other end said, ‘David Ogilvy here. That’s a very nice letter you wrote.’
And I turned to my pop mate, I said, ‘David Ogilvy.’ on my end over the receiver. And the next day his chairman from England, one lovely man, Peter Warren rang me up and said, ‘That was a very nice letter you wrote to David, or about David.’ He said, ‘Would do you like to have lunch?’ Now I put my hand over the telephone receiver and I turn to my PA and I said, ‘Ogilvy’s wants to buy us.’ And that’s how I first spoke to him. It was curious. I got somewhere with him. Everyone was, I think rather frightened of him. He didn’t suffer fools gladly and he could be a beast.
I remember the first time I saw him after we sold. I went from meeting in, in Amsterdam and I’m the most absent minded person you can imagine. And I lost my way to the office and eventually went running along the canal, sweating like a pig. I got to the right office and got in there and there was David sitting on a couch and he patted the couch next to him [inaudible 00:17:06]. He said, ‘Come and sit here.’ So I went next to him and my God he said, ‘What’s that?’ He said. ‘You smell like a horse (inaudible).’ Because I used to use a lot of cologne in those days. And I said, ‘How do you know David?’
I just got on, I don’t know. Got on very well with him. Went to stay at his home, got on very well with his wife. Had some lovely evenings with him. Very interesting extraordinary man. He talked to me about all sorts of things like his years when he was in the research business and how he used to, when he had Helena Rubenstein as a client. He used to go and sit on her bed slowly advertising to her because he was a very good looking man.
Kira: Drayton, what would you say you learned from working so closely with him and befriending him? What did you learn from him? What lessons did you pull away from him?
Drayton: Well, apart from everything the he said about creative work, which is all in Ogilvy On Advertising. Ogilvy On Advertising, I’m amazed. I did a talk about three or four years ago to an audience of young people. Quite a few of whom were from Ogilvy & Mather. And most of them haven’t read Ogilvy On Advertising, which I thought was rather like somebody claiming to be a Christian but never having read the Bible. First of all, he was incredibly hardworking. Secondly, he was absolutely obsessed with research and testing. Thirdly, he was very good at finding good people, spotting good people.
Fourthly he was extraordinarily perceptive about how to run a business. The other day I went to a lockup because I’m producing this book and I wanted to see if I’d gotten the old photographs, this that and the other. And I found something there which I’d forgotten about, which was the Ogilvy book on how to run an agency which I had for by David Ogilvy. He was incredibly good working out how to run a business and he had laid prodigious emphasis on how to treat people, how to have the right culture, what to do under almost every possible circumstance.
The sort of thing I learned was that when you’ve got a client, you should do more than just what you’re asked to do. I have the thinking that a client in the back of your mind all the time. I remember as a result of this … I used to travel around the world a lot. And if I ever saw anything that seemed to relate to a client’s business, I would write them a note. And say, ‘I was in Australia in Sydney the other day, and also the [inaudible 00:20:30] and I thought of you. Well, this is a smart thing to do. It’s a smart thing to think about your clients above and beyond delivering what they’ve asked you for.
People will always do business with you if you go the extra mile or 10 miles. His whole attitude was very interesting. And of course, he was extraordinarily well-read. The library in his office at the Chateau was extraordinary. He was a first-class mind. There aren’t many first-class minds around. If you want a first-class mind, then it’s a good idea to try and make your way in the right direction by studying things above and beyond what you’re trying to do every day. By having a broader mind, by having a more informed one.
Because the secret of creativity is not, I’m going to do something different. Good creative work comes from taking two things which do not naturally seem to be connected and pushing them together in a surprising way. Not so often. That’s what gets the reaction when somebody goes, ‘Never thought of that.’ It’s something has been presented to them in an unexpected way. And you can only do that if you have a very wide resource of knowledge and interests behind you.
Rob: Yeah, yeah, for sure. Drayton, can we talk about copy mastery for a minute or two? You’ve worked with dozens, maybe even hundreds of copywriters over the course of your career. You’ve trained many of them. What are the things that we as copywriters need to know or to learn or to do differently in order to become true masters of the craft?
Drayton: I think I’ve almost said it really. More study. The chapter came to me about 10 years ago and he said … I was speaking of a place called the Institute of Marketing in the country area. And after I’d finished he came up to me and he said, ‘I want to work for you. Do you need,’ no it’s not quite well read level of la, dida, dida. ‘You need anyone?’ So I said, ‘No, I don’t.’ And then he kept on chasing me, he said, ‘All right.’ He said, ‘I’m going to start an agency. Would you be my chairman?’ So I said, ‘Yeah.’ I can’t say his agency did okay. And he’s a very interesting fellow. Very unusual.
Because after about 10 years, he suddenly said, ‘I’ve decided to become a doctor.’ And he is now a doctor. I went up and got drunk with him about a couple of months ago. And then he wrote to me though, he said, ‘By the way sir, I’ve got all these advertising books that I don’t need anymore. Would you like them?’ So I said, ‘Yeah.’ Well, I’m sitting in the drawing room in our house here and I’m looking at a big box and it’s got all his books in there.’
And he read books I haven’t read. I always look for people who had broad minds. I always look for interesting people or odd people. I haven’t met a whole lot many copywriters who are, if you like normal. The editor of my book who is a copywriter originally, has two hobbies. She keeps sheep and she does trapeze, she’s a trapeze artist. And the minute I heard this I thought, ‘What a wonderful woman?’ I find it hard to believe that people who are not interesting in themselves, are likely to be any good as copywriters or create … For a long time in my career I did all my own layouts.
I’m not just sensitive in copywriters. I think one of the most talented people I’ve ever employed is chap, he lives in Singapore now, but he joined me as an art director. And off he’d been with me as a art director for a while in Soho in London where my office is well then. He started his own mail order business. He started a mail order business because he thought if he wants to understand what he was supposed to do, he should understand the business. That man was voted the number one creative director in Asia, which is quite a big place. Three years running. One of the most talented people I’ve even met. He was not copywriter. I assume that anybody that can do creative work can write a bit of copy. And anybody who can write a bit of copy if needed, do his own layout.
I did my own layouts, [inaudible 00:26:08]. Not that difficult. Because what a lot of people do when it comes to layout, is they want to do something unusual. Whereas the factors that the layouts that worked best, all the classic layouts. A big squared up half tone. A picture, maybe a line above it. I head line underneath it, a sub-pad. Four columns of coffee, if it’s a full page. A dropped initial cut to encourage readership. Cross heads so that the copy is broken up. It’s very simple. To be told that you’re any good at this, it’s not really all that flattering. I think anybody educated and determined and curious can write a copy assuming they can write.
Kira: Drayton, it sounds like you’re saying to become a better writer you need to be more well read and more interesting as a human being. Can we all be that interesting person? Or do you believe that certain people have it and some people don’t?
Drayton: I think there is this mixture, isn’t there of what you are and what you become. When people talk about heredity and environment, we are what we are as a result of heredity and environment. We are as creative people, the results of what we are, and the environment in which we find ourselves or which we determined to place ourselves. I don’t think that you can take somebody completely without a tone and turn them into a copywriter. No. I think you can take somebody with some talent and make them competent.
Well, one of the most talented people I know is somebody who saw me speaking at a university whose background was that she had been a PhD in philosophy in Italy. She was Italian. And then she’d gone into the gaming industry and she saw me speaking at university and said, ‘I’d like to work with you.’ And she became a copywriter. Now you obviously would appreciate that somebody who’s Italian is not naturally gifted at writing English copy.
She was with me for some time and then she joined a financial services organization, which is very big and well, it’s the biggest of its kind in the UK. Out about three years ago she went into business with a partner in a very specialized investment business. On all dimensions, she’s probably worth about two or 3 million pounds now starting from nothing. Just because she works incredibly hard. She’s educated, she’s intelligent, and she’s very, very determined. But she must’ve had this creative flush.
She must have this creative flair. It’s how we work with what we have, don’t we? BOSS is not in the least bit creative. But when he was a client of mine, he’s now her partner. He used to write his own copy. It wasn’t a very good copy, but it did the job. So the first thing is to be competent, isn’t it? Most people are not competent because they don’t understand the rules.
Kira: Right? So once we understand the rules and we want to have a well furnished mind like Ogilvy, like you, you mentioned read as much as you can. It sounds like you’ve traveled around the world many times. So is it about travel and saying yes to experiences to be more weird and to have this well furnished mind, is it about the people you surround yourself with? And what else can we do to live this more interesting life that gives us these ideas?
Drayton: Surely it must be. The old saying and clichés tend to be clichés and all sayings catch on because they’re true. Birds of a feather flock together. Interesting people tend to gravitate to interesting people. Boring people tend to gravitate to boring people. If you’re interesting, you’re likely to be able to interest other people. If you strive to be deliberately odd or peculiar, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re actually going to be creative.
Actually, the biggest single weapon in success was very well put by an Australian friend of mine. He used run Ogilvy made the director in Australia. And I got him to come over to do a talk and I think it was Belgium. And he stood up and he said, ‘I’d like to talk to you about the three reasons why creative work fails.’ [inaudible 00:31:43] me along. And he said the first reason is the brief, the second reason is the brief and the third reason is the brief. So the most important document in a relationship with a client to me is the brief. We have a briefing template that we give to clients. And if they don’t fill it in, we can’t help them.
It tells us everything we want to know. What did you do before? Did it work? Did it not work? Who would buy from you? Who doesn’t buy from you? Why didn’t they buy? When do they buy? And so on. I think it’s about 32 questions long. Ask the right questions and get the answers, you’re going to end up with better creative work, aren’t you?
Rob: Drayton, I would like to know a little bit about the legacy that you’re building for yourself. It seems like over the last couple of years you’ve done some seminars. You’re really trying to pass on your knowledge and a lot of the things that you’ve learned over the years. You did something in Poland, I believe just this last summer that was a pretty big hit. I heard a lot of good things from a few people who were there. And I believe you also have a new book coming out. You’re telling some of your life story. Tell us a little bit about what’s pushing you to do all of that and maybe share a little bit from the new book.
Drayton: Well, I have always done seminars regularly. I think I’ve done seminars in about 50 odd countries. That’s an exercise in itself. I remember going to Kazakhstan and discovering the Kazakhstan national dishes horse. And I’m not all that keen on horse. Wherever you go, you’d find oddities. Now, the one in the one in Poland was, I think it was to celebrate my 83rd birthday and it was just an excuse for lot of copywriters to get together and get drunk as far as I can make out.
Well, there were some very interesting talks. The last thing I did, it was actually oddly enough in Bulgaria. I’ve been going there for quite a long time. What do I think about a legacy? The first significant book I wrote, which is called Common Sense Direct Marketing and is now called Common Sense Direction Digital Marketing I think. That’s been going since 1982. I’ll be extremely pleased if after I’ve gone, people are still reading it in 2082. The autobiography is quite different from a teaching book.
It is a book about all the other things that have happened to me. And it’s really strange. It’s 30 odd years ago. Somebody who was a creative group head in London said to me, ‘You should write your autobiography.’ So I said, ‘Don’t be stupid.’ I said, ‘I’ve never done anything very interesting. I’ll not fought any battles, not done anything at all exciting. I’ve just done okay, this so far.’ And I forgot about it. And then somebody else suggested it to me much more recently. And then I started a writing things and I suddenly realized that I have a [inaudible 00:35:14] old life.
I was writing this today actually, an email about the autobiography, about my mother in 1938 coming down the stairs in the little house we lived in and she was heavily pregnant with my brother. And she looked through the banisters and she saw in the front room my father making love to her mother. They have the most extraordinary relationship. And that wasn’t the only naughty thing he did. My best friend and business partner killed himself, hung himself.
I ended up marrying his widow in Tijuana and bringing up his children. I’m bringing up her children by her first marriage. And because in our business with him, as I mentioned before, I lost so much money. I had to live under a false name. Then I started thinking about my life like, ‘Oh God. That was a bit unusual.’ First of all, because I’ve lived with a quite of a variety of women, some of whom I’d marry and some of whom wouldn’t have anything to do with me.
So, my first wife was English. The next person I was with was a girl who was what they used to call the lady of the night. I lived with her for a while and she was extremely jealous. She was the one, the first one that actually try to stick a knife in me. After her, I thought that’s not going to go very far. I don’t see much future in that. I then went to live with a Polish girl who said to me … It’s this thing that I think make life interesting. She said to me one day, she said, ‘My friend Ever is working as a strip tease dancer. They’re making a lot of money. Do you think I should do it?’
So, I said, ‘Look darling.’ I said, ‘You don’t really want my opinion at all. What do you want me to do is to tell you what you want to do. And I can tell what you want to do is to make lots of money stripping. So I won’t tell you what you should do. I’ll tell you what will happen.’ I said, ‘What happened is lots of men will spend a lot of time looking at you all day long,’ and I won’t go into more details. I said, ‘It’ll really put you off sex and it won’t do much for our love life.’ That’s exactly what happened then one evening she came back about two o’clock in the morning and I complained about her performance or lack of it.’
And being Polish, she’s very excitable. And she reached out to the side of the bed and picked up a plate and hit me on the face with it and that hit me on an off tray. So I could have bled to death. And so I was very fortunate because if that happened to me, I’d probably be dead. Because I then walked up to a hospital, which was about half a mile away. And they managed to save me, but they wouldn’t be able to because that hospital is now a hotel. That lost it for a bit. And then I run into this a lady who told me these stories, I couldn’t believe. I said, ‘Oh she’d had an affair with Robert Mitchum. Blah, blah blah.’
And she was actually a Maori princess from New Zealand. And she’d been a lead dancer with the Katherine Dunham ballet, which is one of the two great modern ballets with foundations of modern ballet in a way. And she was quite extraordinary. I was with her for seven years, but she was manic depressive. Used to keep on trying to kill herself. I used to have season tickets to the hospital. And I remember going there one day and she tried to kill herself, and they’d managed to resuscitate her and I was leaning over her bed and when I looked her I said, ‘Thank God you’re alive.’ And she said, ‘Why did you stop me?’ She ran off with a Swedish lawyer then she came back.
And that was an extraordinary experience because I was doing my first big international speech. I think my first or second, maybe first in Switzerland. When she said she was coming back, I went to the airport, picked her up, and then took her to Switzerland and we stayed in a beautiful hotel and she said to me … She sat there and looked at me with admiration as I did my speech. And then she said to me, ‘Somebody been sleeping, been using our bed?’
Well, obviously while she’d been away, I hadn’t been living the life of a monk. I just said, ‘Look,’ I said, ‘Forget about it.’ I said, ‘Somebody has been using my wife, so don’t worry about whether somebody,’ she said this is not going to work and she left me. Went back to Sweden. I just go into off too. Is discovered that afterwards, that the guy she was with, the lawyer she was saying was a transvestite or had the inclination in that direction. And then she came back again.
Rob: It seems like you talk in your book at least by the bullets about your parents and their relationship. Can you share why you think their marriage survived?
Drayton: A very simple reason. My mother came from a very old family. I live in Bristol and if you are in Bristol you will see a fair amount of Bristol is named after a man called Colston. Edward Colston. Who was actually a slave trader. He was the leading slave trader for a while in the UK. Rather ironic since my third wife is black, this is African American. And my mother came from that family. Yeah. But her father run into this very flighty lady whom I mentioned, her husband ended up in the front room of my folly drive in sale a few years. She came from a wealthy family and her marriage with my grandfather split up. And so my mother and her sisters became second class citizens as it were with her father’s second wife.
So, they were deeply unhappy children. She and her two sister deep down happy children. And she swore that she would never ever dessert her children. And that’s why she stayed with my father who also actually gave her a venereal disease. And the strange thing is, despite these extraordinary events, these events in their marriage. They loved each other dearly. I’ve seen letters that he wrote to her expressing his love. And I always remember, she told me the most remarkable story. What they did, they killed themselves for my brother and I in a way.
Because my father was a very, very talented salesman and he was one of the leading representatives of the Dunlop Rubber Company in England. And his number two, eventually became the managing director of the Dunlop Rubber Company. He would’ve been the managing director of Dunlop’s in England. It’s a huge organization. Then he decided he wants to make enough money quickly so that he could send his children to really good schools. Expensive schools.
And so my mother and he took a run-down pub in a town outside Manchester called Ashton Underline and they turned it into a huge success. They made a lot of money. I was trying to work out how much money they were really making when you translate it into today’s currency. Made a lot of money and they did send us both to very expensive schools. And I run away from the first one with my brother and was taken by, I didn’t run away from the second one because I knew I would get sent back. That we were both very unhappy with schools, but they achieved our ambition of sending their children to very good schools.
But in the process, they both became alcoholics. He died young and she became an alcoholic. I always think my parents killed themselves because of their love for us. But they had great love for each other. I always remember my mother telling me a story. My father was a deeply eccentric … The reason their pub so successful is she was incredibly beautiful, and he was extraordinarily funny. And half of the clients used to come to listen to him. Then the other half used to come to try and to get into bed with her. And some of them did.
She told me she was driving into Manchester one day and what she used to do is pull out of the yard where our garage was and onto the main road in her convertible Ford. And she told me one day … He would come out of the pub and stand on the main road and stop the traffic. Of course, there wasn’t as much traffic then. She told me he lent up one day and he said to her, ‘I can’t blame anyone for falling in love with you darling.’ I found when I tried to describe my life, there was some quite extraordinary things and they’re divided into two halves, if you like.
They’re divided into that half about the extraordinary relationships that my parents had and I had. They’re extraordinary relationships and also my own career in this business. Which at the time I set out on it, it was not of any great interest to people. But the degree of interest today in the art persuasion through communication, it’s greater I believe than ever before. And I’ve been fortunate or unfortunate. By chance I happened to have been around at the time when this business came from being another business to being something that is pervasive, particularly pervasive because of the internet.
And I can remember when the internet came along and somebody said to me, ‘Sir, what’s this all about?’ And I said, ‘Don’t be stupid. It’s just accelerated direct marketing.’ There is nothing whatsoever that’s going on in the internet that does not relate either very obviously or less obviously to what has always been done in direct marketing. In other words, let’s take one of the most powerful weapons in direct marketing is member get a member. You got somebody who was a customer.
And one of the great truths about selling to people and about who you should be selling to is that the customer you want is like the customer you’ve got. And customers flock together. If you look at the internet, when somebody communicates to a friend about something that they bought, who is that friend likely to be? He’s likely to be someone like them. The whole process is the same. It’s just accelerated. Because there is appears to be a great deal of money involved, the more and more people have gotten involved in it. And also, more and more rogues are abroad extracting money from the gullible for what I call misinformation marketing.
Rob: Yeah, for sure. So, Drayton, when we were emailing back and forth about this interview, you told us that you had a story about a Polish count who gave you some fantastic advice. And I’m curious if you would share that story with us.
Drayton: Count Kapinsky. This his is what’s so interesting about … I have to confess. As I said early on, I wasn’t planning to write down anything and then other people persuaded me. And then I started thinking about it. And there are quite a few things, I won’t be able to get in but I think this will get in. I’m thinking I might have to do another volume. Okay, during the 1970s, after I went broke, my partner Martin went into business with some mafia crooks and ended up hanging himself.
And I did anything and everything to make money. I needed money because my wife previous had been married to a millionaire. And I remember going into Harrods with her I saw something, I think it might have been a briefcase. And I said, ‘Well, it’s really nice.’ And she said, ‘Why don’t you buy it?’ And I said, ‘I can’t afford it.’ And she said, ‘How horrible not to be able to afford anything you want.’ But amongst the many, many things I did, I wrote speeches for the chairman of General Foods.
I sold franchise for swimming pools and prawns in Germany. I sold fake show gold paintings in Australia. Or to be more exact how I failed to sell fake show gold paintings in Australia. I did almost everything. And one of the things I did, which I hated most was working for a guy called Count Kapinsky.
And I met him because in the Hilton hotel in London, there was a sort of gathering in the lobby there of crooks who used to plot their devious plots in the lobby there. And I got to know some of them. And one of them who was a rogue called Val introduced me to Kapinsky and Kapinsky was an astonishing man. He was one of the man who charged the German tanks on the horseback in 1940. And I admired him prodigiously, partly because he was 60 and he was living with a 19 year old girl. That gave me something to aim for. The job I had with him was terrible. I hate the telephone.
The telephone terrifies me. I can’t see the person at the other end. You can’t see what they really … Do you understand what I mean? It’s a sort of half blind communication. It’s totally blind. You can’t cold read somebody. But selling to people on the telephone is a nightmare. And what I have to sell for him was investments in malt whiskey in bond. The subject is about which I knew nothing whatsoever. I learned very quickly. I used to have to sit there on the bloody phone trying to sell these people malt whiskey for investment. And I think something else, but I can’t remember what it was. But the one thing I noticed about Kapinsky was … And he did come from a very, very old Polish family. Like a lot of Polish, he did like to drink.
And the Polish girl, the strip was with, she likes to drinking and boy, she used to get excited when she had a few drinks. And I can understand how you so fit. I said, ‘Kapinsky,’ we were in the pub. We used to go to the pub every night, I said, ‘You drink like a bloody fish. How come you’re still alive?’ And he said, ‘Drayton,’ he said, ‘One day a week, I don’t drink.’ Now I have to tell you that between 1967 and 2004, I was probably intoxicated to a greater or lesser degree, six days a week.
But on the seventh day I didn’t drink because of Kapinsky. I think I would have died had I carried on. But in 2004 I met somebody who was a long my habits of drinking a bottle of wine at lunch, some a bottle of wine in the evening. And maybe a couple of drinks more, he managed to save me from it. That was Kapinsky, the advice he gave me. There were so many people I met that I learned things from, there was another guy called Sammy Gold. Sammy Gold was from New York and I worked for him. There was another guy I worked for; I was his creative director. He was selling swimming pools.
And in England, the weather is not perfect. I was just the marketing director. Sammy gave me all sorts of advice, but he also told me very interesting stories about what happened to him. He was a chiropractor in New York and one of his patients was a leading, an eminent member of the Mafia. And it took a shine to, Sammy was very likable. And he said, ‘Look,’ he said, ‘My son is bit of a hothead.’ He said, ‘Would you go around with him and make sure he doesn’t get into trouble when he’s going to collect money from the slot machines?’ And that’s what Sammy did.
Eventually this guy who’s, I can’t remember his name, the mafioso. Gave Sammy his own slot machine route in New York. And eventually gave him the opportunity of really starting up in a big way. There were some machines that Sammy was going to go … We were in a warehouse somewhere in Texas and apparently the FBI heard about this, raided the warehouse and took all the machines away. And the mafia came to Sammy and said, ‘You owe us $100,000 or whatever it was and better pay up.’ And Sammy said, ‘It was not my fault.’ And they said, ‘We don’t care. You’ve got to pay up.’
And he told me about how he would get messages. ‘Your daughter is at such and such at the moment. Nice little girl. Let’s hope nothing nasty happens to her.’ And eventually it got to, they would call him and say, ‘Meet us at so and so, we want to talk to you.’ And time to get the money. And eventually he was called he said, ‘Look, I don’t care what you do.’ He said, ‘I don’t care. You can kill me, I don’t care.’
And they actually let him off and said, ‘You go to England and don’t come back.’ And that’s how I met him. And I always remember him saying interesting things. I remember him saying, ‘Never partner with somebody in business on such terms that you can’t do business with them again.’ And a lot of interesting sayings. And I do remember one of the smartest … It’s strange how little things stick in your mind about what you mean by being in quotes, creative. He was selling swimming pools. We’re doing okay. And I was writing his [inaudible 00:56:35] And I said to him, ‘Sammy.’ I said, ‘Tell me something.’ I said, ‘Why do people swim?’
He said, ‘What?’ I said, ‘Why do you think people swim?’ He said, ‘It’s healthy, it’s nice. The sunshine,’ dida, dida, dida, dida. It adds value to the home, which it doesn’t. And I said, ‘I’ll tell you what Sammy. I think people swim because they like to swim.’ He said, ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘Tell me something else Sammy. Tell me, if you take a swimming pool and instead of it being so long and so wide, you might get a little narrow and a little longer, would it cost you anymore?’ And he said, ‘No.’ So that’s interesting. And I wrote and it said, ‘Get four extra feet of swimming pool free.’ That really did the business. If you want to be good a copy, it’s not good enough to be good at copying.
If you want to be extra good. You’ve got to be thinking about business and not enough copywriters do. I was talking to one of my partners today, about television commercial. He said, ‘Yeah, look at this television commercial and see what you think,’ I looked at it, looked at it again and it’s done by a client that we worked with. We don’t do that television. And he said, ‘Well, the client had asked me,’ he said, ‘He will be welcomed for any comments you have to make.’ I said, ‘He’s interested.’ I said, ‘He’s interested. You have the possibility of getting the television.’ We should be known. He said ‘Well, what do you think about it?’ I said ‘Well, it’s a beautiful commercial, but it’s too long.’
It takes too long. They could say the same things in a shorter period of time. And also the agency is in love with our idea. Agencies fall in love with the idea. They want to be creative and able to win awards. I don’t give a shit about winning awards. And I said ‘It’s too bloody long. And I’ll tell you what, there is another format that would work a lot better.’ We were running ads for them that works a lot better. The two things I will tell you, you should say to them. First of all, we could probably take something like that and shorten it. That would make it more cost effective. What is the generally reckon to be the best format for television?
And the best format for television, which we did a lot of research into. The best format for television as I presented talking to you. I said, ‘And these people happen to be in a health related business.’ So you think of all of the TV commercials. I’ve got a guy who’s talking to who dressed up to look a bit like a doctor. People trust doctors, I said, ‘You should be doing something along those lines.’ And then I went online about an hour ago and I found a very, very long commercial from the US. Given my guy who speaks not very good English, he’s oriental, I said, ‘I’ll bet you that thing is making a ton of money because it’s sincere.’ And what was it? A great joke. Sincerity is what sells. If you can fake that, you can do anything.
Rob: That’s so true. Yeah, exactly.
Kira: So Drayton, I know we’re out of time and there’s still so much to talk about, but can you just share, if people listening are interested in your book, when can they get your book? Where can they get your book? Where can they sign up for it?
Drayton: The best thing to do, because the book has is not even ready now. It won’t be ready until at about three weeks, three or four weeks before Christmas. The best thing to do is just to drop me a line. it’s just Drayton@draytonbird.com. Drayton@draytonbird.com and just say, ‘Book.’ And I’ll send you the landing page. And if you don’t like the landing page, that means you’re too respectable. Because a guy saw this landing page the other day, and he wrote to me and he said, ‘It’s the most outrageous landing page I’ve ever seen.’
But the thing is, that it’s all true. It’s just right, so Drayton@draytonbird.com,’Book’ and I’ll send you more than you ever needed to know about. But I guarantee if you found this interesting, you’ll certainly find the book interesting.
Rob: We’ll definitely link to it in the show notes for the podcast and we’ll share it in our group when it becomes available. I know Drayton, you’re a member of our group and you pop in occasionally to offer a comment or two on a few conversations. Yeah, we’ll definitely let people know. You’ve lived a crazy life story that I’m sure more than one person is interested in learning more about and if it’s peppered with the lessons that you’ve shared with us today, that’s going to be great. So, we really appreciate-
Drayton: Yeah, it’s just a combination of stories and it’s also about how you go ahead in business. Maybe more about the kind of attitude you should have. Well, maybe you shouldn’t, I don’t know. I survived.
Kira: You have to, yeah. Speaking to people listening, you have to check out the landing page at least even if you choose, you do not want the book. It is an incredible entertaining landing page. So, it’s worth checking out and I’m excited for my book and to receive that. Thank you, Drayton. This has been fascinating and I’ve learned a lot in this conversation, so thank you so much for spending time with us.
Drayton: My pleasure. I wish I was in San Diego. I could go up the road and see my daughter in Los Angeles.
Rob: We’ll try to get you out there. We promise no violence, no marriages-
Kira: No stabbings.
Rob: No stabbings, yeah. Just come and have a great time hanging out with us. Thanks Drayton.
Drayton: Thanks very much.
You’ve been listening to The Copywriter Club Podcast with Kira Hug and Rob Marsh. Music for the show is a clip from gravity by Whitest Boy Live available in iTunes. If you like what you’ve heard, you can help us spread the word by subscribing in iTunes and by leaving a review. For show notes, a full transcript and links to our free Facebook community, visit thecopywriterclub.com. We’ll see you next episode.
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