Rated P for Passable – An Ancient Secrets of Lead Generation Review

Note: This review is adapted from an article I wrote on LinkedIn on November 4, 2016, which was in turn adapted from a review I wrote for Ancient Secrets Of Lead Generation: Your Primitive Business Guide To Better Leads With Less Effort on my Goodreads.com account.

Today’s business blogosphere is teeming with thought-leaders and wannabee-thought-leaders, including myself.

The ones who manage to grow a big enough following are invariably offered book-deals.

The typical result of such book-deals is a compilation of the newly minted thought-leader’s most popular blog posts.

Combine that with a sliver of original content and a punchy-sounding title, and you’ve got something that will fly off of conference room tables and help fuel the thought-leader’s personal brand.

Ancient Secrets of Lead Generation by Daryl Urbanski is one such book. Although it contains legitimately good business advice, it is without a doubt the most sloppily-written eBook I have ever read.

I put this book on my to-read list after I saw it on Josh Kaufman’s Personal MBA reading list. After having read it, I concluded that Ancient Secrets does have some good points.

Unfortunately, they are rendered nearly moot by its chronically haphazard editing. This is another hallmark of the books put out by mini-thought-leaders such ask Urbanski.

Ancient Secrets of Lead Generation is a slim volume with advice which is almost as gaunt.

The basic principles of hanging out where your target audience is and using targeted ads for different demographics are rather elementary, but sometimes that’s a good thing.

What’s unique about Urbanski’s book was that he made me rethink my ideas regarding these tactics.

I guess you could say that Urbanski gave me perspective on this strategy by giving an example of it in practice, via his anecdotes of running a small martial arts business.

But that’s where my admiration ends.

The eBook’s core flaw is that it’s littered with typos, misspellings, and bad grammar.

This takes the reader out of the experience of reading to an intense degree, making it difficult to absorb the author’s platitudes. It also undermines Urbanski’s credibility as a marketing guru.

If he cannot produce a high-quality product, then his marketing scheme will only serve to fuel the dubious reputation that reviews like mine will give him.

Again, a lot of eBooks written by mini-thought-leaders such as Urbanski tend to be a bit spotty in terms of editing, but this book left me utterly flabbergasted.

To wit, Ancient Secrets of Lead Generation presents old ideas in a new perspective, making them easy to grasp for relative amateurs such as myself.

Sadly, the book’s execution is critically lacking. It would have been improved a hundred times over if Urbanski had hired a decent proofreader.

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Goodreads Review: Save the Cat!

Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever NeedSave the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was the first book on screenwriting I’ve ever read. Despite its subtitle, it made me want to read more books on screenwriting.

“Save the Cat!” is probably the most well-known book on screenwriting there is. For this reason, I see now that its advice has been disseminated among and copied by a multitude of other writers of books on writing, such as “You Can Write a Novel” by James V. Smith.

What all of the books I’ve read on the subject have in common is they all copy at least some of the advice in “Save the Cat!” in one way or another. Most of them also copy Blake Snyder’s smarmy style of writing.

But Snyder has a leg up on all of these posers. Unlike the majority of writers of books on writing, Snyder has actually written and sold screenplays to studios, and therefore has credibility.

At this point, the peanut gallery will probably say, “Well, just because he sold some screenplays doesn’t mean those screenplays were good.”

Meanwhile, this same peanut gallery (including other writers of screenwriting books) haven’t sold any screenplays. Presumably, if they knew how to write a good screenplay, they would have sold some by now.

The aforementioned James V. Smith, however, also uses this tactic, though he has to his name a handful of obscure military fiction novels, not quite the same as screenplays one sells to Hollywood big-wigs.

Smith therefore has all of Snyder’s ego but none of his achievements. If Smith had gotten a well-known book published by some big publisher that I’d heard of, that would be a different matter.

The advice Snyder himself gives is nothing short of eye-opening. He cuts right to the chase, spending little time hyping himself or trying to prove to his readers that they should believe him. Such an approach is all to common in modern guru books.

Snyder’s advice on genre, story structure, various tricks of the trade, and most importantly, “The Board,” are so fun to read about.

It’s more than just writing advice. Snyder is explicitly nonacademic in his approach, making it feel like you’re having a conversation with some guy you met at a Starbucks.

Indeed, Snyder is indeed a product of a unique era. He hailed from the spec-script hey-day of the 1990s, a prosperous time in Hollywood, yet just before the internet had fully blossomed into the informational juggernaut we know it as today. I wonder what he would have thought about the superhero craze that’s going on presently.

Snyder passed away in 2009. If he still lived, I imagine he would still be going strong in the era of Facebook, Twitter, and Web 2.0. Rest in Peace, Mr. Snyder, and good job on having “How to Train Your Dragon” dedicated to you. You would have appreciated it, I’m sure.

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Miracle on 34th Street: When Big-Wigs Had Big Hearts

This previous month, I watched Miracle on 34th Street as part of our tradition of watching Christmas movies during Christmastime.

When I watch old movies such as these, it always strikes me just how good they are.

There isn’t just a higher standard of cinematic craft in place, but the entire value system on which these old movies are built is drastically different from those of today.

In the film, a man named Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn), claiming to be the real Santa Claus, becomes the Macy’s department store Santa Claus. He promptly sets out on a one man mission to spread genuine Christmas cheer.

What makes Miracle different is that it doesn’t cast the businessmen running Macy’s as dastardly villains, as a modern film might do.

Rather, it goes with the typical Old Hollywood policy of making sure that everyone gets their just deserts, no matter who they are.

Miracle on 34th Street not only demonstrates that businessmen weren’t typically castigated as scumbags in 1947, but that being decent is good for business.

A major theme in the film is the primacy of kindness and charity over the crass and ruthless desire to “Make a buck, make a buck,” as Alfred (Alvin Greenman) puts it.

Kris’s strategy for fighting this mentality is to refer the parents of children he sees as the department store Santa to other stores where they can find items that aren’t available at Macy’s.

Though his bosses are at first alarmed, the head of the store, R. H. Macy (Harry Antrim), makes Kris’s unorthodox tactic official store policy following an avalanche of public support.

As a result, Macy’s not only skyrockets financially, but sets an example for their competitor, Gimbel’s, to adopt the same policy. This feeling of charity and helpfulness leads the two stores to mend fences.

As I’ve written before, Old Hollywood was made up of people whose sense of morality bled into their art.

This principle is evident in Miracle on 34th Street‘s depiction of commercialism as a problem. Unless I’m very much mistaken, it’s the first in a long line of films to decry this particular ism.

The difference between Miracle‘s take on commercialism and others is that it presents a realistic motivation for someone like R. H. Macy to not be a Grinch.

Macy sums it up nicely when he says that by being “known as the helpful store,” they’ll make more profits than ever before. Mr. Macy is hardly a villain.

In fact, there are practically no villains at all in this charming picture, aside from the sleazy pseudo-psychiatrist Sawyer (Porter Hall).

Speaking of Sawyer, this leads us to one of the hallmarks of Old Hollywood: Justice is always served. Miracle is no exception.

In the course of the film’s events, the vindictive Sawyer is fired after orchestrating Kris Kringle’s unjust insanity hearing.

Fred Gailey (John Payne), the lawyer who defended Kris at the hearing, gets together with the Doris Walker (Maureen O’Hara), the leading lady who rediscovers faith in the good things in life.

Even Alfred gets a direct commendation from Mr. Macy himself, a fine reward for a kindhearted boy who enjoys dressing up as a street corner Santa Claus and giving kids presents.

Things have certainly changed since then. Businessmen are almost invariably portrayed as bad guys in the movies.

“Corporation” might as well be a portmanteau of “corrupt organization.”

The question isn’t whether change has occurred. (It has.)

The question isn’t even whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing. (It’s a bad thing, no doubt.)

The real question, the one I want to know the answer to, is why this change happened at all.

Image courtesy of hark.com.

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A Groundswell Review: Old But On-Point

Note: This review is adapted from an article I wrote on LinkedIn on November 4, 2016, which was in turn adapted from a review I wrote for Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies on my Goodreads.com account.

I checked this book out from the library when I saw it on a list of books about “social media marketing.”

In my quest to learn everything about the subject, I had consulted books by Guy Kawasaki and Gary Vaynerchuck. This was something very different.

Written in 2008, my second edition of Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff was released in the slightly-less ancient age of 2011.

Although Groundswell is admittedly a little dated, it does provide much insightful advice regarding social media marketing.

This book was plainly written as a guidebook for executives in established corporations who are trying to navigate the brave new world of social media.

It provides several case studies regarding the issue. Li and Bernoff are a decidedly more technical in their approach to understanding social media.

Thankfully, they avoid the common mistake of focusing on the particulars of the internet and technology.

It is foolish to spend close to two years writing a book about a field which changes every two minutes. Messrs. Li and Bernoff are not foolish.

It was nonetheless rather jarring to hear the book refer to things such as MySpace as significant factors in the realm of social media.

It was even more incredible to find that YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook were hardly mentioned at all. Regardless, I’ll hardly fault the book for failing to predict the future.

Groundswell has two main strengths.

First, they manage to present their findings, research, data, case studies, and advice in a manner that is easy to understand and accessible to everyone, from the average person to a C-Suite executive.

It’s largely free of corporate-speak and industry jargon that might have hindered a lesser book.

The book’s other big strength is that although the future of social media was made of Playdough when this book was written (and still largely is now), Li and Bernoff do manage to give mountains of good advice regarding what is still a very new subject.

It’s good to know that there’s someone from the old school of doing business who “gets it.”

For example, they perceptively note near the end of the book that it would be foolish to force everyone in a company to be part of social media. It would not only be ineffective, but might backfire.

It’s smarter instead to empower people who are already engaged in social media and let them do their thing.

This and other good pointers, combined with interesting case studies, make Groundswell a book that should be read by all corporate executives at big companies that are still trying to tell Retweets from Likes.

Any that are still having trouble with that are going to be desperately in need of help. Luckily for them, Li and Bernoff have written a book in their language.

Image courtesy of netchange.co

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Goodreads Review: Showcase Presents: Justice League of America, Vol. 1

Showcase Presents: Justice League of America, Vol. 1Showcase Presents: Justice League of America, Vol. 1 by Gardner F. Fox
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was my first taste of Silver Age comics, I having only previously read as far back as the Bronze Age story “Superman: Kryptonite Nevermore!” It’s definitely a change from modern comics, what with all the heroes speaking with perfect grammar and long-winded exposition accompanying every other panel.

But reading this made me remember that in the old days, comics were written for kids, plain and simple. I imagine how your average ten-year-old boy might get a kick out of seeing all these colorful heroes and villains cavort about on the pulpy magazine pages. I actually caught myself laughing at some of the cornball dialogue and over-the-top visuals.

But as I slogged through this phone book-thick digest, I realized that if a kid is going to read something, this is a pretty good thing to have them read. Us jaded adults might find it a tad dull, but a kid is going to see well-mannered heroes fighting wacky crooks while learning how to read in a fun way.

They’ll pick up all sorts of unique vocabulary words, such as “experimental” and “gladiator.” It will also turn on those little tykes’ imaginations, getting them to think outside-the-box and develop creativity. Plus, it will be just darn fun.

So if you’re thinking of a fun Christmas present for your kids, consider a bona fide comic book classic. Maybe they’ll even let you borrow it! If they watch any of the animated TV shows, such as “Young Justice”, they’ll get a good idea of where it all came from.

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Goodreads Review: Comics and Sequential Art

Comics and Sequential ArtComics and Sequential Art by Will Eisner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In what is probably the most academic text on comic books I have ever read, I was introduced to the works of Will Eisner in “Comics and Sequential Art.” I’d heard of Eisner before in passing, but had never given the man much thought. But after being twice recommended to read this book, I am now glad I finally did.

Simply looking at Eisner’s sample work from “The Spirit” and his other works featured in this book made me realize that he wasn’t just ahead of his time. Rather, comics have fallen backward. From what I’ve read in various comics from the 1980s to the early 2000s, Eisner’s influence on comics as a storytelling medium was strongly felt during this time period, but has slowly faded.

Chuck Dixon continues to lament to this day that the writing in American comics has weakened while the art has made leaps and bounds. Eisner, who wrote this book in 1984, foresaw this trend thirty years ago. He not only boiled down the raw principles of comics into a coherent whole, he noted that new technology will create both new challenges and new opportunities for comic book artists and writers.

In addition to that prognosis, he suggests that comic book writers and artists focus on crafting a good narrative in order to take advantage of a world where digital rendering and computers allow perfect coloring and shape-forming to be available to all, thus considerably leveling the playing field. I swear, this guy was a genius!

I now look forward to looking into his works with more detail, such as his graphic novel (a term he coined, I believe) “A Contract with God.” As someone who can’t draw to save my life, I would respectfully dissent from this great master’s judgement that the duties of artist and writer be vested in one person. However, I now know that such an arrangement was once the norm, not the exception. The more you know!

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Casablanca: Old Hollywood’s Take on Being the Good Guy

I recently watched the 1943 film Casablanca, as part of my current preoccupation with old movies.

Set during World War II, it depicts the struggle of an American expatriate (Humphrey Bogart) who runs a Moroccan nightclub when his long-lost lady love (Ingrid Bergman) suddenly shows up with her husband, attempting to evade agents of Nazi Germany.

What interested me about Casablanca was how it presented a world far more tangled, wretched, and realistic than any modern depiction I can recall. Inception and The Dark Knight are creampuffs in comparison, even losing in terms of how tight their respective plots are.

At the same time, however, this mature, flesh-and-blood cinema manages to do all this without sinking into the thrall of violence and profanity. It tackles mature content with class.

Most importantly, it elevates the values of an older class of hero. This isn’t done to mockingly kick him from his pedestal, but to present him for serious study and reflection.

Casablanca provides a window into the world of the Greatest Generation, a world far more complicated that today, contrary to those who have inherited Hollywood might say.

To begin with, this film was created in the thick of an event which defined the twentieth century and continues to reverberate into the twenty-first. The Second World War influenced our art, our economy, our foreign policy, our manner of education, and even our eating habits.

For too many people my age it is little more than a mythical backdrop to the careers of Captain America, the Flash (Jay Garrick, that is) and Indiana Jones.

But when you realize that every piece of art reflects the worldview of the artist, as I believe Francis Schaeffer noted, you must conclude that the opinion of artists about that time concerning the war will color every form of art, including film, created during that time.

Suffice it to say, Casablanca firmly plants its feet not in the camp of the Allies or the Axis, but in the camp of Good as opposed to the camp of Evil. It is decidedly apolitical in a context and narrative backdrop where contemporary politics is pervasive.

To say this may sound strange, considering that in this case, Good is clearly personified by the Allies and Evil by the Axis, particularly the Nazis.

But when I say that Casablanca is apolitical, I only mean that it would make no difference whether the Allies or the Nazis won the War, either within the realm of fiction or in reality. What matters is that one side was Good and the other side was Evil, and the identity of both is obvious.

Rick, the protagonist played by Humphrey Bogart, emphatically cracks down on “politics” in his bar. But he unreservedly sacrifices his own personal happiness to make sure his former lover and her husband, an anti-Nazi journalist, can escape to safety.

Later, his reward is to join the fight against the Nazis on the side of the Free French, along with the lovably corrupt Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains), who turns over a new leaf in the final minutes of the film.

Columnist Mark Tooley wrote in a 2010 piece in The American Spectator about the differences between Old Hollywood and New Hollywood. According to Tooley, “Old Hollywood privately misbehaved but publicly was glamorous and classy. New Hollywood is proudly trashy.”

Casablanca is very much a product of Old Hollywood. I’m no scholar of film history, having only the most rudimentary knowledge of the subject. But as I understand it, Old Hollywood knew that it’s easy to be decent when you inevitably get the girl at the end.

But when being good means not getting the girl, not coming home covered in glory, and not getting the commendation of your peers and mentors, it’s a little harder.

Casablanca plainly tells us that if you keep deciding to be one of the good guys until the end, despite all that, you’ll at least be one of the good guys. And that’s it.

As a Christian, if one translates “being one of the good guys” to “trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ for eternal salvation,” then one’s eternal reward will be far greater than anything that I just described.

Aesthetically, the film is stunning. Morally, the film is saintly, perhaps in the manner of David, in keeping with the Jewish heritage of Michael Curtiz, the director.

Most importantly, it’s a film that every man, woman, and child should see, and that is final.

Image courtesy of irishnews.com

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