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Meet The New Boss… Same As The Old Boss?

Won_t-Get-Fooled-Again

In recent posts, we’ve been following the troubles of a local Chicago corporation, GKIC (formerly “Glazer-Kennedy Insider’s Circle”). It’s been a lively discussion, with some thoughtful and constructive comments (mixed in with a lot of angry ones).

(Read the first article in the series by clicking here.)

Anyone who knows me knows what a HUGE Dan Kennedy fan I am. That’s why I’ve been rooting like crazy for the company he co-founded – but sold and reportedly has now has no control over – to straighten itself out and start moving back towards a respected, prominent place in the world of direct response marketers.

About six weeks ago, their former CEO left under mysterious circumstances, and an “interim CEO” took over a couple of weeks later.

Their recent semi-annual member events and non-stop barrage of promotional emails have been widely criticized, and last month’s paid subscription newsletters – the very heart of the business – were delivered late or not at all. New and long-time members alike have been cancelling their memberships in frustration and anger.

Many long-time champions of the company have questioned whether they could continue to support it, and others stopped supporting it at all. Most troubling of all, perhaps, is the fact that many people – in public and in private – questioned if the company was going out of business, while the company itself has remained strangely non-engaged in the social media discussions and rumor-mongering.

Then, with Friday’s email announcement, I instantly became hopeful that all the troubles and uncertainty surrounding GKIC might now come to an end.

Maybe all the vicious criticisms, ugly rumors and weeks of speculation about who would or should take over running the company can now become a thing of the past, as Deb Billow has taken the helm as their new president.

So… Who is Deb Billow?

Let me start by saying that I’ve never met Deb Billow, nor have I spoken to anyone who has.

As soon as I read the news, however, I did what many of your prospects do when they first hear of you through your marketing or advertising: they go to the world wide web to search for whatever information they can find.

Here is what I discovered…

POSITIVES IN MY MIND (in other words, similarities to the company’s co-founder and namesake, Dan Kennedy):

  1. Her online resume mentions strengths in “marketing” and “innovations” within the first two sentences. As noted business expert Peter Drucker said, “Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two – and only two – basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.” (*Dan Kennedy has long taught that ALL small business owners are in the “marketing” business, and Ms. Billow’s career appears to have an overwhelming focus on “marketing.”)
  2. Deb Billow resume GKIC

  3. A glance at her Twitter page shows that she has made EXACTLY the same number of tweets as Dan Kennedy himself: Zero.
  4. Deb Billow twitter GKIC

  5. Her one recommendation on Linkedin mentions her “straightforward, no nonsense approach” (*Dan Kennedy is known as “the professor of harsh reality” and he’s authored ten books in his “No B.S.” series.)

Deb Billow Linkedin GKIC

QUESTION MARKS IN MY MIND (in other words, striking differences to Dan Kennedy and the overwhelming majority of GKIC’s current members):

  • That same Linkedin recommendation was posted on August 15, 2011, and describes her as a former employee of her last employer. In other words, according to her online resume, she had been out of work for over 16 months when she got the job at GKIC.
  • Her resume cites numerous incremental gains – numbers like “+5%” and “+11%” – instead of “total business transformations” and multiplying of revenues and profits that are typical among top Dan Kennedy students.
  • According to her resume, she has never started or run even a single business of her own – or even worked in a small business. Instead, we see a series of jobs with large corporations and multi-million dollar advertising budgets.
  • She has not one, but two, advanced business degrees – albeit from excellent schools. Even a casual Dan Kennedy follower knows what he has to say about “academics” and people with MBA’s as opposed to those of us who have graduated from “the school of hard knocks.”
  • I notice a lot of “branding” and “image-building” type of marketing experience, but I don’t see any evidence of the use or knowledge of direct response marketing.
  • She has five “Likes” on Facebook. None are small businesses or entrepreneurs, but one is the big business, corporate-focused Executives’ Club of Chicago. According to the organization’s website, its “Board of Directors is composed of 46 CEOs and senior executives of top companies headquartered in Chicagoland.”
  • Deb Billow GKIC Facebook

  • Finally, her “Following” list on Twitter looks like a polar opposite of what a Dan Kennedy list would look like. If Dan chose to follow anyone on Twitter (not that I’m holding my breath waiting for that to happen!), who would you think would be on his list? Wouldn’t it be a lot of entrepreneurs, small business owners, direct response marketers, copywriters, GKIC members and strategic partners and conservative businesspeople, celebrities, politicians and members of the media?
    By contrast, we see among Ms. Billow’s 92 “Following” list on Twitter: New York Times, NPR, CNN and seven of their individual personalities, ABC News and CBS News (but no Fox News), and a collection of liberal thought leaders that have been called out and criticized by Dan Kennedy over and over in his books and GKIC newsletters for their pro-big-government, anti-small business, “redistribute the wealth” bias, including Hilary Clinton, Al Gore, George Stephanopolous, Rachel Maddow, Bill Maher, Rosie O’Donnell, Maria Shriver, Joy Behar, Barbra Streisand, Ellen DeGeneres, and more.
    I’m not saying that I think Ms. Billow pays any attention to any of those tweets from the accounts she’s following, but I believe it still says something that those were her choices of who to follow.

My overall impression is that Ms. Billow appears more than capable of handling multi-million dollar advertising budgets and doing brand-building type marketing. But I wonder whether she will be able to relate to and lead a group of small business owners who take that deep breath every time we have to sign an agreement or a check to invest our own hard-earned money into advertising or marketing?

I also wonder whether someone who’s traveled a rather typical corporate career track of ladder-climbing and degree-getting can relate to and lead a group of Dan Kennedy followers, who are taught to think in terms of MAJOR transformations and FAST growth.

Finally, I see a few examples of minor, incremental turnarounds scattered throughout her resume, but I don’t see evidence of her ever leading a major turnaround of a small business. So I’m hopeful – but not overly optimistic – that she will be able to pull GKIC out of its downward spiral and get it back on the path to growth and significance among small business owners and entrepreneurs.

Recently, GKIC’s strategy has been to ignore or deny its problems, telling everyone that “it’s business as usual” or saying nothing at all (there still hasn’t even been a single post by GKIC on its various social media outlets about the naming of its new president!).

So the main issue for me is whether Ms. Billow will be honest and transparent. Will she admit to GKIC’s loyal members, affiliates and fans that GKIC leadership has made a lot of missteps that have caused continuous problems and disappointments for GKIC members for the past year-and-a-half – before she simply starts outlining all the exciting new things that are in the works thanks to the change in leadership?

That straightforward, no-nonsense approach would be a good start in the right direction, and a very welcome change, in my opinion.

I for one am hoping for a return to respect and prosperity for GKIC, so that it can once again be a home and resource for growth-oriented direct response marketers.

I just have to wonder…

At first glance, it appears that GKIC’s new president is eerily similar to their former CEO in terms of corporate-vs.-entrepreneurial background and opposition to Dan Kennedy philosophies. And from what I’ve heard and been told by many new and long-time GKIC members alike, they’ve felt alienated and disrespected by GKIC since co-founder Bill Glazer left the company.

So… Is GKIC making it clear to all of us that they’re intent on going in a whole new direction, looking to attract an entire new herd of members whose beliefs and affinities are in complete opposition to us longtime Dan Kennedy followers and fans?

Or are they putting together a team of “Billow and Kennedy” in an attempt to attract BOTH the liberals and conservatives, the women and the men, the corporate business types and the small business owners?

*Dan Kennedy followers are well aware of the concept that “If your target market is everyone, your customer will be no one,” so of course I hope GKIC – and you – are not attempting that latter strategy.

What are your thoughts?

I’d love to read your comment below.

11 Responses to Meet The New Boss… Same As The Old Boss?

  1. Simon Reply

    January 9, 2013 at 8:16 am

    Steve,

    You said was I’ve been thinking about the need for them to address head-on the criticisms of the organisation that have been levelled since Bill left. It would be the starting point to regain credibility. Even if many members don’t think there’s anything wrong. Even if the Chicago team in charge of GKIC don’t think there’s anything wrong. You cant please everyone but if some members see a problem then they have to deal with it – because no-one had a problem before they took over.

    If they want to win back loyalty of their once lifetime members, a little humility certainly wouldn’t go amiss.

    I have wondered myself if they believe they can lose all the members they had when they bought GKIC and still end up with more by following a new strategy.

    What the critical mass of members gave them was credibility and a list of ready and willing buyers, some of whom will no longer give them any money. They certainly need to arrest the decline because a list, tens of thousand strong, that no longer likes you, trusts you, or will give you any money, is effectively worthless.

  2. David Reply

    January 9, 2013 at 9:16 am

    Very good article, very good

  3. janelle nagy Reply

    January 9, 2013 at 9:49 am

    It looks to me that “the wolf is in the henhouse”. Ms. Billow is the antithesis of the Glazer/ Kennedy culture. We are a believers in self reliance, lower taxes,a strong military and smaller government. We pay our own way through innovation and hard work. No nanny state for us, no thank you. Her political leanings reveal her heart and it is not in line with us or the history of this organization. What a disappointment. Don’t you think Dan would have carefully selected a leader from the best among us? Why would he allow his legacy to be left in the hands of owners who are obviously left-leaning, elitist and everything we are not? There isn’t enough money to justify this.

  4. Phil Brakefield Reply

    January 9, 2013 at 11:20 am

    Unlike my pal Steve who has remained steadfastly loyal to arguably the worst collection of professional sports teams in recorded history, I am only going to maintain my subscription to GKIC Gold Member status until July 1, 2013.

    Unless something dramatic happens, I can redirect those subscription dollars towards masterminding with Steve and be GUARANTEED a huge (and immediate) ROI.

    With that said…I am still pulling for the GKIC band to stop playing on the quarterdeck while taking on huge water below.

  5. Grant Reply

    January 9, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    Steve,

    As always, you are very insightful and spot on with your thoughts and comments. Lets hope for the best with the new CEO.

  6. Jim Broline Reply

    January 9, 2013 at 5:16 pm

    Steve’s analysis is dead on.

    A brilliant leader that I worked for a couple decades ago was accustomed to say, “… pull a rabbit out of your hat.” Meaning, think change, think outside the rules, take a risk. These leaders always surprise the world. That is just the way they do things.

    GKIC followers crave inspiration and mind-systems to pull out rabbits.

    On the other hand, Deb Billow appears to be very reliable and very expected. But can Billow pull rabbits?

  7. Henry Alegria Reply

    January 9, 2013 at 6:16 pm

    Lol Steve! Isn’t this horse dead yet?! I have read some of these posts and responses and am shocked , SHOCKED at some of the BS, anyone have any BS spray left I can use? Steve my friend is doing a fantastic job of getting a conversation going ,but him being a serious Dan Kennedy student makes me sure he doesn’t really believe some of what he’s saying but it sure does get some folks riled up.

    The BIG problem here is that everyone Is humanizing a company, when Bill was around I could understand because he was the face and a guy that went from student to owner/operater of GKIC and some people’s emotions over it this whole thing is true comedy. I’ve seen a few say “they owe us an apology” and my favorite “I’m downgrading from Gold to Silver to show them I’m unsatisfied” …hahaha!! Yeah that’ll teach’m, Seriously?

    Stop The Insanity!

    And then there’s those who yearn for the “good ole” days before they sold GKIC and I quote “no one had a problem”…yeah i can hear the violins playing in the back ground- you obviously didnt ask enough people cuz a lot of people had a problem even then you can start by asking the IBA’s.

    Anyone who REALLY believes 1) that they are owed an apology and 2) that you will get it – are smoking high volumes of crack.

    Come back down to earth.

    I don’t remember anywhere in Dan Kennedy material where it says – apologize when people don’t like how you run you’re business. Don’t remember reading about make sure you don’t piss people off…in fact I remember reading the exact opposite. Also don’t remember DK saying anything about listening to the Herd when it comes time to hire a new company President.

    But perhaps my favorite part of all of this is how everyone is yearning for the “perfect” times when Bill was around and are angry at the new ownership – well guess what guys- Bill sold the company to THEM. He knew what they were going and not going to do with it – he sold it to a corporation. Do you think he spent a lot of sleepless nights, tossing and turning , worried about YOU the “Loyal Members” or whatever you want to call us, no. Did he think about how this would affect the IBA’s? No. Not one thought was given- his thoughts were on how many digits were going to be on the check and you know what? I wouldn’t expect anything different and I and everyone here would do the same because if I build something and I get cashed out they can do whatever they want with it. That’s business.

    I don’t care who runs GKIC and I will continue to be a member and at InfoSummit i signed up for Platinum mastermind even with the changes- why? Because I will get the value out of it.

    So I will stay a member – go to some events and that like anything ,can change in a second.

    GKIC will of course never be the same, might be better might be worst I have no idea. and what they do with the company is none of my business. I learned a long time ago that everyone can run their business anyway they want and can burn it to the ground if try want.

    Lastly I’ll say, I joined GKIC more than 10yrs ago and it changed my life in many ways and I’m very grateful to Dan Kennedy and eventually Dan will call it quits and that will be a sad day. But I’m glad I was involved when he was around.

    Ok , now everyone stop whining, read the books buy a product and implement something! Anything!

    PS Steve – keep the craziness going – just stop getting thrown out of events…maybe they didnt like your tie?

  8. Steve Sipress Reply

    January 9, 2013 at 10:44 pm

    Henry: Thanks for adding to the discussion. You obviously put a lot of time and thought into your comment.

    But YIKES! Most of your comment is 100% dead on; but some is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay off base — in my opinion.

    Dan has in fact taught me and many others to be upfront and transparent over the years — not to act as if nothing is wrong when it most obviously is. The reason you may not think Dan Kennedy says apologizing for major screwups is not necessary is likely because Dan is such a man of his word and so dedicated to the success and positive experiences of his customers and members that he almost never (in fact never, that I can remember) has to apologize for not doing as he promised.

    GKIC, on the other hand, has been smart and honest enough to do it in the past. Here’s just one example: About a year ago, they posted this message in response to their shopping cart crashing during their first-ever product launch: “If you have tried to get your hands on a copy of Dan Kennedy’s Game Changer DNA System today, you may have had some difficulty. We are sure many of you must be very frustrated and us [sic] here at Glazer-Kennedy apologize for the aggravation.”

    Many of us loyal members, affiliates and strategic partners are waiting for the point when they are honest and smart enough to do that again: Hit their current troubled situation head on, apologize for lack of fulfillment and the lessened quality of their events and products (how many previously-satisfied returned the aforementioned “Gamechanger DNA” product and complained because it merely consisted of three old GKIC products simply bundled together into a new package?), and try to win back the support of disappointed customers, affiliates and strategic partners with a promise to make things up to them?

    Of course you’re right to point out that everything was not perfect when Bill Glazer ran the business, but I don’t believe you’re correct to think that Bill didn’t care about his loyal customers when he sold the company. If, as you say, “he knew what they were going and not going to do with it,” then why would he suddenly up and leave before his contract was up — less than a week before one of GKIC’s two major events of the year (the 2011 Info-Summit)?

    Are you aware that many GKIC Diamond members have still not received their December Diamond Newsletters? (I say “many”, but I haven’t heard of a single person who has gotten his or hers.) You know, the one they pay about $260/month for?

    Do you really think those people don’t deserve at the very least an apology? I have no doubt that if Dan were in charge, he would not only apologize to these loyal members, but would likely not charge them for their next month of membership. At least that’s the kind of smart customer service he’s taught his followers, and it’s the least many of us would do.

    And how much longer DO you think dissatisfied members should “beat a dead horse”? How long do you think Americans should keep complaining about the rising costs of healthcare, increased unemployment and higher taxes because of Obamacare? Should we stop criticizing our current congress for continuing to overspend and letting the national debt spiral out of control? Should we as a nation just sit back through all our government’s stumbling and bumbling and just accept our country’s current financial mess and continuing march toward bigger, less-efficient and more intrusive government as “business as usual’?

    Bill Glazer and Dan Kennedy did a great job of building a super-loyal, super-passionate, super-responsive herd. In my opinion, all the passionate responses here and in the many other public and private conversations going on all over the world about the recent missteps and decline of GKIC say a ton about their relationship-building skills.

    GKIC’s worst nightmare would be a situation you describe, where no one complained. In that case, members would just keep quietly leaving and their new leadership would have no idea why they left, or what to do to get the lost customers back and retain the ones they still have.

    Congratulations on stepping up to Platinum, my friend! I know you’ll get many times your investment back — and quickly. Somehow I don’t see YOU being happy with any 11% gain in revenue, or going back to school to get another degree, or making it just one more step up a career ladder. Dan has taught you well — even if, in my opinion, you forget or mistake some of his brilliant business lessons.

    Hope to see you again soon, Henry. Oh, and thanks for all the compliments — yes, we certainly are getting and keeping the conversation going here…

  9. Ben Young Reply

    January 11, 2013 at 11:21 am

    I love this post!

  10. Stewart Cole Reply

    February 4, 2013 at 1:42 am

    Considering he talks all about drugs and losing his clients’ money it’s not a mystery that ceases to amaze me!

    http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/the-im-sorry-i-failed-to-make-you-rich-letter

    • Steve Sipress Reply

      February 5, 2013 at 4:24 pm

      Stewart: Not sure that’s the same Dan Kennedy of GKIC fame.

      But the letter is amusing.

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