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Mitch Anthony's Intuitive Advisor

The Practice Doctor is IN

The Inimitable Phynque

by Al Depman, CLU, ChFC, CMFC, BH
Practice Management Consultant

Al Depman photoDuring a recent consultation, an advisor asked, "How can I really differentiate myself from the competition?" While we went on to discuss a variety of marketing tools and techniques, I found myself flashing back to the early days of my career with Prudential in Minneapolis and the legendary career of Gary Fink, a master of market differentiation.

It was 1958 and Gary was new in town, had never sold a thing previously, knew maybe three local people, and didn't own or know anything about life insurance—all the elements that boded well for a rousing, record-setting career that lasted through 2000. He pioneered life insurance concepts that, when mastered and systematized, made him very wealthy. Gary was not without controversy: his innovations in executive deferred comp and financed insurance earned him the title "Antichrist of the insurance business." His success, however, earned him the right to broker products outside of Prudential as well as the lifetime achievement award within Prudential.

During his tenure, Gary won countless awards and trophies, which he eventually had an artist friend take and melt into a massive glob of art that had a spot-lit place in his office space. I had the privilege of touring the entity known as Phynque Inc. in the mid 1980s, and can bear witness to this and much of what is to follow.

Gary Fink (still alive and kicking at age 80) made his reputation in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In the world of staid, conservative, and boring life insurance sales, Gary sported long hair, a Fu-Manchu-style moustache, sideburns, aviator glasses, wooden clogs, bell-bottoms, jumpsuits, and safari suits. All this, and he always carried a leather bag (Gary referred to it as his "purse").

This iconoclast marketed himself with the same élan. Let's take some of the specifics and compare them to what we see around us in practices today.

Birthday cards: Gary sent one with a photo of his elderly mother scowling, smoking a cigarette, and muttering, "God forbid you should have a happy birthday!"

Office décor: He had a "no ducks on the wall" rule. Consequently, the walls were hung with posters of the Beatles, Janis Joplin, the Marx Brothers, and Mickey Mouse. The office furniture was "garish." The reception room featured a large stuffed gorilla sitting on a park bench next to an artificial tree bedecked with rubber snakes lurking in the limbs. His dog, Hortense, had an office and a business card. The employees all received black cardigan sweaters for Minnesota winter-wear that featured Gary's caricature on one sleeve, the year they started on the other sleeve, and the employee's name on the front.

Business card: Gary's read: "Problem solving for corporations and estates" in addition to the contact information.

Letterhead: Phynque Inc. stationery featured the Fink caricature and was on bright orange paper stock. It also included his "Board of Directors" that consisted of the names of famous characters played by Groucho Marx.

Client testimonials: "Gary Fink is my insurance agent. He's a little crazy but he sure knows his business!" and "He's very thorough, extraordinarily creative, might just be a genius, and is great fun to work with."

Newspaper ads: One featured Gary's hirsute, aviator-wearing photo with the caption: "Would you let this man in to your home?"

Another full-page ad led with "On Top of the Rock Scene" and followed with a photo of Gary and a quiz: Gary Fink is: a) the lead guitarist for the Jefferson Blintzes; b) the Frito Bandito; c) Prudential's leading salesman in 1970; d) all of the above; e) none of the above.

The text reads:

"Long hair, mod clothes, aviator goggles, and competence. Prudential's number one salesman in 1970 is far-out, leading the company's 24,000-man sales force for the second time in three years with $7.5 million in production. When you come right down to it, that's Gary's favorite kind of rock. Can you dig it?"

Premium due notice: Again featuring his mother, when a premium was overdue, the letter received by the client read: "If you don't send in your premium payment, the Mother of Phynque will call and guilt you until you do."

Client event: Gary hosted a highly successful and nationally publicized t-shirt logo contest for clients, friends, and business associates. The winners got a contribution to their favorite charity and dinner with Gary and his wife.

And so, how does your marketing stack up? Gary had to fight for much of this. While there were no compliance departments at the time, the Prudential home office filled the role nicely, trying to suppress his non-conformity.

Gary's success led him to be a platform speaker at the 1977 Million Dollar Round Table conference. His 230 lb. 5'10" frame clad in bell bottoms and a pink jumpsuit appearance prompted The Wall Street Journal to feature him in a front page article the following year.

While the audience at first didn't know what to make of him and his entrance to the 2001: A Space Odyssey's Also Sprach Zarathustra theme, his final message brought the crowd to their feet in a five-minute standing ovation.

His message resonates even today:

"I've found that those who live by the production ethic alone die a little bit at each year's end when the annual achievements evaporate, leaving them unfulfilled, insecure and committed to repeat the same damn insanity next year."

The legend of Gary Fink is a good study in pushing the limits of marketing, remaining true to yourself—and most importantly, doing the right thing for your clients. In retrospect, much of what he did in the early 1970s has analogies in the mid 2010s. Innovative case development coupled with outré image-building.

I wonder what Phynque, Inc. would have been like with the power of the internet and viral networks? The mind boggles.

The Doctor is OUT


© 2014 Al Depman

Al Depman, CLU, ChFC, CMFC, BH, a.k.a. "The Practice Doctor", is MitchAnthony.com's Business Practice Consultant, and contributor to "The Wall Street Journal." He is the creator of "The Practice Management Assessment" tool and materials and has authored numerous articles in professional publications on practice management, and author of the book, How to Build Your Financial Advisory Business and Sell It at a Profit, available from McGraw Hill. Al combined his Liberal Arts studies with 10 years of management experience with McDonald's Corporation to enter the financial services world 25 years ago. Since then, Al has evolved from an MDRT-level sales rep into a full-time consultant specializing in helping others engineer their business practices to the next level. Contact him at al@mitchanthony.com.


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