In my previous post I went to some length to ’splain why and how I began having conversations with self-help industry insider Peter Wink, “The Marketers’ Marketer,” as he has described himself. I hinted at some of the topics we spoke about, and even that little teaser of a post opened up quite a discussion, which became a bit heated at times. But that's part of what this open conversation is all about. Presumably most of the ruffled feathers have been smoothed out, just in time to be ruffled again, perhaps.
Before I get into the meat of our discussions about the self-help industry in general, I’ll address some questions about Peter’s past stint with Joe Vitale, as well as his current association with flamboyant infomercial pitchman Kevin Trudeau. I know many of you are curious.
Peter told me his side of the Joe Vitale "Escape from Russia" story, which at the very least seems to be an example of differing perceptions. (I’m trying to be charitable here, though I have my own opinions, based on personal experiences, observations, and information from other sources.) But what the heck; you’ve read Joe’s side so I’ll tell you Peter’s. To begin with, Peter insists that he never actually read Joe’s “Escape from Russia” blog post in either its original or revised form, but he said several people emailed him about it and told him what it said. He also said a few folks told him they’d emailed Joe about the matter shortly after the piece was published, and Joe had replied to those folks rather snappishly. Peter told me he was entertained.
As for the trip itself, Peter said that about two weeks before Joe was to depart for Russia, when it looked as if things were not going to come together as planned, Peter advised Joe that he should just cancel if he did not want to go. In fact, at one point he strongly advised him to do so. He said Joe decided to go anyway; he had signed a contract and meant to honor it. At any rate, the trip apparently left a bad taste in the mouth of more than one person, although Peter indicated that Joe made a lot of money from the Russian trip. (When and if one of the other parties involved decides to come forth with his side of the story, perhaps we’ll have an even more complete picture.) Despite any bad feelings there might have been, however, Peter told me, “Joe was very good to me during the time I was working with him.” And during our second phone conversation on December 20, he mentioned that he and Joe were on friendly terms again, and had been exchanging emails.
I was curious about Joe’s Operation Y.E.S. program, because Peter’s name is still listed on the web site as a participant. Joe has described Operation Y.E.S. as a way to end homelessness and foreclosures in the United Sates. In some interviews he has said his program can end homelessness and foreclosures in one day. As of now, however, the program’s web presence is still largely confined to a one-page teaser/sign-up page, though recently Joe wrote that he flew to Houston and talked with a CNN radio host; he says they are making plans to “make a reality TV show out of my helping homeless people with the Law of Attraction and my other work.”
To the best of my recollection (although I can’t seem to find any relevant links any more; maybe my Googling skills are slipping), there were some missed flights and other incidents that apparently led him to the conclusion that the Universe was telling him to back out of that deal. My first guess was that the jaded and recession-weary community leaders in Camden were searching for a program that would actually have measurable and concrete results, and Joe G. feared that the nascent Operation Y.E.S. (or Operation Maybe, or even Operation Probably Not, as one wag calls it), couldn’t deliver the goods. When you boast that your program is going to solve, or at least make a big dent in, a serious and chronic social program, people do tend to demand a certain degree of accountability, darn it all. Or perhaps Joe just didn’t see a way that being involved in the Camden project could possibly be profitable for him and his main partner in Op-Y.E.S., Craig Perrine.
But let me stress that those are my speculations only. Peter’s only comment when I asked him about Camden was, “Jon Bon Jovi got involved in the Camden project and is doing a marvelous job! Joe could have been working with him. Self-sabotage...” Indeed, New Jersey native son Bon Jovi, of whom Peter has been a devoted fan for many years, has his own charitable gig that actually seems to be getting some work done, “one soul at a time.” However, Peter is not sure what’s going on with Operation Y.E.S. these days and is not involved with it at all any more.
Shooting themselves in the foot
That self-sabotage monster alluded to above does tend to rear its ugly head now and again, and Peter says he has seen his share of self-saboteurs in his career. When talking with him about this, I noted that as a book editor/ghostwriter/re-writer (in my “day job”), one of the most important tasks Ron and I have is not only to help writers look their best in print, but also to keep them from making themselves look bad. But one can only go so far in offering suggestions. Ultimately, the client makes the final decision about what goes to print. Similarly, one of Peter’s jobs as assistant/adviser to his clients/partners has always been not only to help them put their best foot forward but also to help them avoid making unwise decisions. As has been the case with Ron and I and our own clients, Peter has had varying degrees of success with his preventive and proactive measures, as some clients seem to be all too willing to shoot themselves in the foot despite his best efforts.
For example, Peter shared during one of our exchanges that he can’t stand it when authors say or imply that people attracted tragedy to themselves, a theory that has long been a part of New-Wage lore, but became even more popular in the wake of The Secret/Law of Attraction craze. Peter thinks that saying people attract horrible things to themselves is “just plain sick.” In his view, writing in this vein almost always does an author more harm than good, stirring up ill feelings in readers and making the author appear callous and uncaring. He also said he has told several authors in the past to never blog about murky or controversial topics unless it has some benefit to someone. And he casts a wary eye at self-help authors and workshop leaders who make too many confessions about their personal lives – either boasting too much about their near-perfect relationships, especially when it can easily be verified that their personal lives are dysfunctional, or sharing T.M.I. about failed ones. Either way, he says, those confessions often have unintended consequences.
I also want to add that I think I understand why some self-help authors would want to address the “murky” topics head-on despite advice to the contrary. At least I can speculate about the reasons (and these are my own speculations again, not Peter’s). Some self-help leaders, for example, are genuinely concerned about ethical issues. Some want in their own way to do damage control for the industry, or, in some cases, to deflect negative attention from themselves.
My strong sense from talking to him was that Peter learned some pretty valuable and sometimes painful lessons about friendship, betrayal, and forgiveness from some of his recent work experiences and from hearing about some of the experiences of others. He didn’t seem to be ready to open up completely about that, however. No big surprise there. He did say, “One thing I’ve learned is that people will judge others on what they (see in themselves).” And that will have to do for now, for that topic. As I noted in my previous blog post, I’m not going to try to force anything. Nor, contrary to various accusations from some of my snargets, am I going to just make stuff up, a la Rita Skeeter (although there are times I would seriously love to have her magic quill and note pad).
The joy of giving
Peter seemed emphatic about letting me know about the “other side” of some self-help gurus he’s worked with – the big hearts behind the big egos, if you will. On the surface, this is not all that surprising to me, especially since, to name but one example, various friends and business partners of Joe Vitale have made it a point over the years to let me know what a goodhearted and generous guy Joe can be when he wants to be. And, setting aside the whole issue of “conspicuous altruism” – acts of generosity that are used either as marketing tools, deflection of criticism, or both – it is true that a big heart and a big ego often go hand in hand. Case in point: the late great consumer advocate and Texas legend Marvin Zindler, whose death – and life – I blogged about in 2007. Of the altruism/egotism issue, I wrote (if you’ll pardon my quoting myself):
There are so many ways in which Marvin Zindler differed from the New-Wage/self-help/pop-spirituality gurus I love to skewer on this blog. True, Marvin had an ego that could easily have put the lot of the New-Wagers to shame. From a very early age, he was an inveterate publicity hound and would do just about anything to get his name and picture in the news. But he wasn't just another fame whore. The man had a heart that was even larger than that ego of his, and he touched countless thousands of lives – not by selling vague promises of enlightenment or unlimited wealth via self-help books and DVDs and weekend workshops, but by actually solving everyday problems for everyday folks.Of course Marvin Zindler was no self-help guru, but the example is relevant nonetheless because the big-ego/big-heart phenomenon can be observed among moneyed folks in all industries. Peter’s point in bringing up the altruism issue with me was that he wanted to ensure that I – and my readers – were aware of a facet to many self-help stars that, in his view, often gets overlooked in the process of criticism. Forget Operation Maybe for the moment. There are other ways to give of one’s self besides trying to tackle social problems head-on. For example, Peter said that during the time he was working for Joe he was personally aware of hundreds of fan letters and emails to Joe – emotional outpourings from folks who were grateful to Joe for how his work had changed their lives.
This revelation wasn’t a surprise to me, and I told Peter it probably wouldn’t be to my readers either; after all, Joe himself has mentioned more than once that he gets lots of fan mail, and he is always publishing thanks and kudos on his blog. I have no problem believing that the complimentary blog comments are just the tip of the iceberg, praise-wise. The same goes for other New-Wage leaders. If they’re even moderately successful and well known, they are almost certain to be inundated with praise from sincerely grateful fans and starry-eyed hero worshipers (as well as, inevitably, from sly wannabes who wish mainly to further their own agendas). I will concede that to really give a fair and balanced portrait of any guru, the praise and kudos should be factored in with the complaints and criticism. Life is just not all black-and-white. Even the self-help authors who dispense the most vapid and simplistic advice are, in reality, complex human beings.
But I’m guessing you knew that.
I do understand Peter’s wish to drive home the point that in my snarking, I sometimes overlook the kindness and heartfelt actions of those whom I delight in calling hustledorks (a neologism coined by my guy Ron), even though I think most of my readers are aware of the generosity of many self-help leaders. This awareness comes in no small part because the gurus themselves often go out of their way to publicize their good deeds (e.g., Joe and “Little Kirk”). As one wag put it, "No good deed goes unpublished."
I hasten to say that self-help leaders are hardly alone in touting their own goodness; after all, rock stars, athletes, and Hollyweirds are very much into conspicuous altruism, and the social-consciousness shtick is a great marketing strategy these days for every type of company from auto manufacturers to big oil (uh-huh) to insurance companies. (Sometimes I find myself actually yelling at the TV when a big insurance company runs a commercial touting “Aha! Moments” or that “Do the right thing” mantra.)
Where self-help gurus are concerned, though, Peter said there are other unpublicized everyday acts of kindness. He spoke, for example, of times he walked through the streets of downtown Chicago with Joe, and Joe would just hand out money to homeless people, no questions asked. Again, I have no problem letting anyone know about things like that. Nor do I have a problem with Peter’s attempt to present a more nuanced view of Joe and other industry leaders. In my observation, however, few critics of the New-Wage leaders actually think the gurus are completely heartless and selfish; that’s really not the point of their criticism. The question is: Do these acts of kindness and generosity make up for the extravagant promises and unfounded claims about products, services, and events? Or for the greed and the egotism? Or for the lamentable way some of these folks treat those closest to them? Or, in some cases, for the real harm they do to others?
I asked Peter about these matters, and while he didn’t directly address them in relation to anyone specific, he did have a few things to say about the issue of extravagant promises and unfounded claims from self-help leaders, versus the sometimes unrealistic expectations and demands of consumers. It’s a two-way street. I reminded Peter that consumer expectations are both created and earnestly nurtured by marketers, as well as by our entire “we want the world and we want it now” culture. The self-help industry doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it is as much a product of our culture as our culture is of self-help. As it happens, this is one point on which Peter and I pretty much agree, even if we are coming at it from slightly different directions. But Peter believes we also have to consider internal factors – an individual consumer’s personality, experiences, and predisposition – when evaluating the potential benefit or harm of any self-help expert or product. “You just can’t make a blanket statement either way,” he says.
Since I mentioned extravagant promises and unfounded claims, I think it’s time to turn our attention briefly to Peter’s current gig.
Earning some true dough
If you’re searching for dirt about Kevin Trudeau on this post, then I am sorry to disappoint you, because Peter Wink is the wrong person to ask. “Kevin is one of the warmest, sweetest, sincerest people you’ll ever know,” says Peter. Yeah, that’s pretty much what Joe Vitale said about Kevin too, and for that matter it seems to be the way Kevin is painting himself, more or less – and I wasn’t impressed. Peter gets that. He knows I’m not exactly a fan of Kevin’s. He knows that when it comes to True-dough I’m a serial snarker. It doesn’t seem to bother him, but it is clear where his loyalties lie.
At the time I first spoke to Peter, Kevin had just stepped up his efforts to promote a fourteen-CD set, Your Wish Is Your Command, which supposedly contains some of the information Kevin learned as a member of a “secret society” known as The Brotherhood. He had enlisted Joe Vitale in his efforts to promote the set. Needless to say, I had quite a bit of fun with that on my blog.
And that’s really the extent of our conversations about KT. As I noted in my first post, Peter considers Kevin to be a friend as well as his employer, and he’s loyal to the end.
We’ll get into that – Peter's points as well as some of my counterpoints (and Peter's thoughts on the latter) – in the next "Wink Wednesday" post(s).