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My call with the “founding father” of online marketing

Ken McCarthy was teaching about email marketing and banner ads as far back as 1994. He was implementing sequential auto-responders… in 1996. His online marketing career spans almost 30 years, which in this industry is an eternity. He is considered by many the “founding father” of internet marketing as we all know it. 

I recently had a call with him;  he even had me as a guest on his podcast. I found Ken to be a curious, genuine, and interesting person. 

He offered me a great deal of personal marketing wisdom which I will share below.

How Ken McCarthy became online famous 

When he came to San Francisco in the 90s and experienced the potential of the internet it all clicked for him. He realized he could do what he was already doing with direct response but on a massive scale. 

He was very skilled at marketing but was not sure how this whole internet thing works. 

So he did what many storytellers, musicians, and innovators do. He brought two worlds together.  

He connected marketers with internet geeks. He sponsored and organized the first-ever conference on doing business on the web in 1994 with the co-founder of Netscape Marc Andreessen as the featured speaker.

Now marketing on the internet not only clicked for him but others as well. He had created a community. And became very influential in the process. This is similar to what Elliot Bisnow did with Summit Series, a gathering of the world´s top internet entrepreneurs. 

But there was something else he credits as being the “ultimate door opener”. 

He interviewed many of the early internet figures and published the interviews. He told me that sharing other people’s stories is a guaranteed way to build your stature… wait what is stature?  

Stature and structure 

He told me about his friend, a jazz player who had played for 10+ years. He did not have major success but playing every day and nurturing his skill was a great reward for him in and of itself.  

His consistent practice gave him the foundation that he needed to become an exceptional musician. That gave him his structure. Nothing will take structure away from you. It will be there — for the rest of your life. Structure is your skills, knowledge, and experience. 

But he missed something.   

Although he was an exceptional player, he was still unknown.

This changed when he was discovered by a major record company in New York. But hadn’t he had structure, the discovery would have been in vain, his playing would not have gotten him a lucrative music deal. 

By the time he was discovered he had already achieved mastery. He just needed to play in front of the right person. 

Now he had stature as well. He was known, played in front of large audiences, and made a lot of money. 

When you have the right structure you make it possible for the right person to discover you. 

Committing and practicing your craft will give you structure. Once you have that, promotion will give you stature. 

But you must not necessarily have to be “discovered” to get stature. 

Manufacturing your brand 

You can also manufacture stature. 

What Gordon Ramsey is for cooking you want to be for whatever it is you do. In your city, region, language, or the world.  

Every field has people who instantly pop into your mind. The “obvious experts”. 

When Ken mentioned this it sounded nearly impossible. But you can grow pretty tall in stature being the biggest fish in a small pond. You don’t have to be known as the top copywriter in the world. You can be the top self-improvement copywriter in Latin America or the top health and fitness copywriter for women in Nigeria. 

Our economic system allows us to really niche down. You can be top of consciousness for a very specific niche in your area and still make a good living.  

Michał Szafrański is a personal finance expert from Poland. He is not known worldwide — those titles go to the likes of Ramit Sethi or Dave Ramsey. But he wrote the top personal finance book in Polish. Making him top of consciousness in Poland, which is still quite lucrative.   

Ken recommended me to find the space in my category where I can become top of mind. A great way to start is how Ken started — by sharing other people’s stories and providing value. 

Once you become top of mind clients and opportunities will come flooding to you.

I kind of developed this — unwillingly — doing Facebook Ads for coaches and info products in Panama. And in the past year, it’s been hard to keep up with the stream of clients flowing in. 

You have to find a space where you can become a rock star. You become one by being really good and getting your name out there.  

Ken´s advice is: create your structure then build your stature. 

Final takeaway

The last takeaway is how this unexpected call happened. Which illustrates how amazing the internet is — if you give it the right inputs. 

I was doing research for an info product and Ken´s name came up. I followed him on Twitter…. and the next day was on a call with him. 

Books recommended by Ken McCarthy:


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