Books are ideally entertaining and/or informative. When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead: Useful Stories from a Persuasive Man manages to be both. You may not know Hollywood producer Jerry Weintraub by name but you know everyone he’s worked with: Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Led Zeppelin, George Clooney, and hundreds more.
Weintraub’s stories (as told in memoir form with co-author Rich Cohen) combine to create an inspirational business book—not about making spreadsheets or writing a business plan, but about relating to people. It’s like a modern How to Win Friends and Influence People.
Advice Worth Stealing
If you want proof of its value, take a look at the photo (above). I folded the corner of the page whenever I took a note about something really resonant. As you can see, that’s a lot of folded corners.
Jerry Weintraub’s schtick is charm, persistence, and clever improvisation:
For years, I handled the Moody Blues, a British group that went through various incarnations before breaking through in 1965 with the song “Go Now.” (They are best known for “Nights in White Satin” and “Tuesday Afternoon.”) I had a brilliant pitch for these guys: I sold them as everyone’s second-favorite band. Are you a Beatles freak? Well, you’re going to love the Moodies sound. Are the Stones your thing? Great, then, check out the Moodies. You’ll like them almost as much.
Sales & Marketing Tip from Elvis
He shares another sales-and-marketing lesson, about how he bought 35,000 logo’d scarves to sell at an Elvis concert in Detroit but no one in the sold-out 75,000-person audience was buying. He mentioned his problem to Elvis, who said he’d handle it:
He goes onstage, does a number, gets the crowd going wild, stops, puts his hand to his forehead, salutelike, as if trying to make out something far away, then says, “You know, I can’t see anything or anyone from up here. Turn on the lights.”
The lights come on. He blinks, eyes asquint.
“I still can’t see,” he says. “Tell you what. I’m going to take a five-minute break. Go out to the concession. They have scarves. I want everyone to get a scarf and wave it so I can see where you are.”
In those five minutes, the concessionaires sold every scarf in the arena.
The Power of Relationships
Introducing his chapter about meeting future president Jimmy Carter, Weintraub makes an intriguing comment about how the world works:
People think that Hollywood and politics operate in different spheres—they don’t. The world is very small at the top, with a few thousand players running everything. For a producer, an actor, a banker, a politician—name your celebrity—crossing genres is less a matter of making connections with the leaders of other industries than of climbing high enough in your own to reach the place where all the lines converge.
A Few Ethics Questions
I don’t agree with everything he says. Some of the anecdotes about his methods—like tricking a petulant Led Zeppelin into thinking a stack of freshly-painted wooden boxes were the extra speakers they demanded, or faking a heart attack to grab the Broadway rights to the Canterbury Tales—raise ethical questions.
And I’ve seen for myself that one of his themes—tell the truth to your boss or client, instead of saying what they want to hear—doesn’t seem to work everywhere. Early in my career, I was a little too eager in suggesting ideas of things the company could do to improve operations and make more money, based on what I’d observed. One of my managers took me aside and said: “Just because you’re helping row the boat, doesn’t mean you get to steer.” Clearly, some managers—and clients—prefer pandering.
Read the Book!
All in all, I highly recommend reading When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead (what a great title!). Thanks to Melissa Breau for bringing the book to my attention. I hope you’ll find Jerry Weintraub to be as entertaining and useful as I did.
Question: Have you read it? What did you think? Add your comment below.
An earlier version of this article appeared at KarlSakas.com in 2010.