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Secrecy or Collaboration: Why Sharing Valuable Business Lessons Can Be So Important

In any business environment, there is a natural tendency to closely guard your most valuable revenue-generating secrets.

But that isn’t always the best – or most productive – policy.

That’s something I learned early on in my career in direct marketing.

Like most who were new to the direct marketing industry, I was stunned when I learned – three decades ago – that companies who were natural competitors routinely rented their own customer/subscriber lists to the competition.

This made no sense to me: My instinct was to protect what I had created. Why would I ever want to expose my customers to an offer from the competition?

And what about the approval process for these list rentals? That was even crazier!

It absolutely blew my mind that a competitor would share their upcoming promotion with me in order to gain approval for a list rental.

It just seemed so crazy: People were sharing their marketing…and they were sharing their customer lists. They never taught me about anything like this in school.

Fortunately, it wasn’t a difficult lesson to learn.

After all, renting those customer lists to competitors opened up a new revenue stream to those companies.

And without those list rentals, finding new customers would be an even more difficult task.

There have been fortunes made in direct marketing based squarely on the concept of marketing to the “hottest” – or most recent – buyers within an industry.

But the idea of sharing valuable marketing secrets doesn’t just apply to list rentals, however.

At the publishing company where I worked in the 1990s, there was also a fierce competition within individual business units.

If a particular business unit had an especially juicy marketing secret – be it a copy technique…a format test…a new product line…or whatever – there was a natural inclination to guard that secret.

It’s human nature, after all. By guarding that secret, those responsible for it will look better in comparison to others in the company. So they’ll be more likely to get rewarded, recognized or promoted.

But here’s where it becomes tricky:

The company as a whole would obviously do better if those lessons were quickly shared once learned – to allow for wide scale implementation.

The owner of the company realized these benefits, of course. But at the same time he didn’t want to stifle the competitive creative environment.

So these lessons were often shared…but not immediately.

Sometimes these lessons would be shared as part of informal gatherings of the heads of the business units. Sometimes they would be shared in one-to-one meetings. And sometimes there would be company-wide meetings where the business leaders were required to make presentations detailing their secrets for success.

The balance that was struck between immediate sharing of valuable lessons and a true collaborative environment has proven to be immensely successful for that particular business and I’ve always admired how it was managed.

Since going on my own as a freelancer – more than 20 years ago now – finding opportunities for collaboration has become more difficult.

The nature of most relationships with my clients requires me to safeguard their secrets, so they can only be applied in their marketing. It would be unethical to tell Client B that Client A – a competitor of theirs – has had success with a particular strategy that Client B has not tried yet.

But still I try to achieve the benefits of collaboration whenever possible.

This can include reaching out to colleagues within the industry to solicit ideas…or having them review a piece of copy.

It can also involve just staying “plugged in” to the direct marketing world to understand what companies are trying. Even without a direct pipeline to the “inside secrets” it’s often easy to surmise what is working best just by observing what is being used most frequently.

While it can take many forms, this collaboration is almost always valuable.

This is common sense, but it’s worth repeating: Learning from others within the industry makes me a more effective marketer and it allows me to help my clients get better results.

A significant part of my daily morning routine involves reading up on what’s happening in the industry – including the latest promotions that make their way to my inbox.

Any marketer or copywriter who isn’t staying plugged in to what’s happening in his or her clients’ industries is doing those clients a disservice. And in the long run, they’re also missing an important growth opportunity for themselves.

Jody Madron is a results-oriented copywriter with 30 years of breakthrough marketing experience.  To learn how Jody can deliver results-boosting copy — ahead of your deadline — visit

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