The most valuable lesson I learned in the advertising business came from Roy, Terry, and Phil. I stand on their shoulders to see across the forest of liars, cheats, and thieves.

October 2013, I sat in the Tower at Wizard Academy for the first time. Having read the Wizard of Ads Trilogy, I liked Roy Williams and his MondayMorningMemo since 2006.

My friend Terry called me two weeks earlier and told me to register for the next Magical Worlds class. Although I gave two excuses why I couldn’t go, Terry challenged me in the way a true friend can.

He called me on my bullshit.

I booked the flights, the class and the transportation from the airport.

Marshal McLuhan incorrectly believed the media was the message.

Marshall McLuhan

Day one of the course, Roy taught us the importance of the message. He said it was more important than the choice of media.

I’m somewhat intelligent, with a decent memory. I remember a Marshall McLuhan quote of “The Media is the Message.”

So I asked Roy, what about McLuhan?

The skies darkened, the floors parted, and a fiery hell appeared as Roy screamed, “F*** Marshal McLuhan, he was full of shit.”

I laughed inside. Outside, my pupils dilated as I was sure I had offended him in his house of worship.

Roy was right. I knew it the minute he bellowed at me.

It reminded me of the story of Terry and Phil.

My friend Terry owned 12 insurance brokerages.

In 2011, he and his partners spent $200,000 on Yellow Page advertising.

As Google appeared in everyone’s pockets, Yellow Pages lost its search dominance.

Knowing this and doing something about it is not easy, especially when YP sales reps whisper the potential revenue losses in lost exposure.

But Terry is an ad man hiding in an insurance suit. He cut his $200,000 Yellow Page budget wanting to verify the theory YP was dead.

To prove his assumption, he left the money in his bank instead of spending it on other opportunities. No new spending, no new strategy, no change in messaging, yet Terry’s companies saw an increase in revenues. His company coolly pocketed an extra $200,000 from the YP expenses and grew 3% from doing nothing.

The assumption that Yellow Pages no longer worked was now proven to be true.

Or so I thought.

In 2013, prior to going to Wizard Academy, I spoke to Phil, who bought a house cleaning business two years earlier. The business grew at 54% per year.

When I asked Phil how he marketed his business, he told me about his Yellow Pages strategy.

“What, Phil, are you crazy? Yellow pages don’t work anymore.” And I told him about Terry’s experience with YP ads.

“What you say is more important than where you say it,” was Phil’s reply. Phil drank from the same hose as Roy.

Then he showed me his Yellow Pages ad.

“You’re a Queen. A Queen doesn’t clean toilets. She hires us for her dirty business.”

Phil’s competitors abandoned Yellow Pages for greener Googlier pastures, leaving him to pick up all searchers on YP.

His messaging wasn’t bad either.

I think of Roy, Terry, Phil, and YellowPages when I hear digital weasels talk about the efficiency of Google, Social Media, analytics, metrics, and any other fancy method to analyze exposure.

To paraphrase Roy, “F*** the weasels, they are full of shit.”

The message is the single most important thing you can work on.

Once you figure out your message, figure out where you can broadcast it for the cheapest amount of money to the most people.

That is the most valuable lesson I ever learned in advertising.

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