How a Guy Saw a Super Deal and Snagged It!

James Johnson’s $250,000 Lifetime Private Jet Service

In 1984, Peggy and I launched WHO’S MAILING WHAT!—the newsletter and archive service for junk mailers. We started exhibiting at local direct marketing shows in various cities: Milwaukee, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Columbus, Cleveland, et al. We trolled for subscribers and I also got a lot of speaking gigs around the country and overseas.

Everywhere I wenteven LondonI would run into a tall, taciturn, archetypical Texan in cowboy boots and Stetson hat. Often, he would be dragging a roller suitcase with an overcoat stacked on top.

The reason for the impedimenta: The Texan was stopping in town for a few hours and then jetting off to the next stop on his current tour. He would not have a hotel room until that night300 or 3000 miles away.

This was James Johnson, whose business was assembling and renting church listsorganizations and personnel in various denominations around the county. He would periodically stop by our booth and we would engage in spirited conversations about the list business and the state of direct marketing.

He was a good-looking, affable guy with an enviable crown of silver hair and very knowledgeable.

One Day I Asked James the $64,000 Question
Compared to the giants of list brokerageKleid, Direct Media, The Lake Group, American List Counsel, Chilcutt, Ed Burnett, et lists was a niche business.

I don’t remember James ever having a booth. He just showed up everywhere, prowled exhibit halls, networked and moved on.

“O.K., James,” I said to him one day. “How d’ya do it?”

“Do what?”

“How can you afford to fly around the country and attend every direct marketing show no matter how large or small?”

“I bought a lifetime pass on American Airlines,” he said. “I can show up at any airport where American flies, show my card at the ticket counter and if there’s an empty seat, I get it. It’s always first class unless first class is full. With Dallas being American’s main hub, I can fly pretty much anywhere in the world any time I want.”

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at

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  • George Campbell

    Thanks for the great article, Denny. I remember James Johnson very well. Back in the 80’s and early 90’s He was an great supporter of the DFW Direct Marketing Association and a well-respected colleague and friend to all. He was a social networker long before the world wide web was started.

  • Will Ezell

    Denny – another great lesson from Denny Hatch! Warren Buffet’s words are prophetic! First airline I ever flew as a kid was American, and have a brother in law (a great man) who is a pilot w/ American. I am always sad to see any bad news on the airline biz – particularly American.

    A while back, I was quite the sellers best prospect for "bright shiny objects"… Phoebe and I had a Marquis Jet card for a short term – I think Buffet owns Marquis as well. After the first couple of "rides" in a private jet, the glamour runs away fast as reality sets in. The dollar amounts feel like trigonometric skyrocketing leaps. Just didn’t seem "worth it", so we bailed.

    There will ALWAYS be seats available for high rollers – in almost any place in the world, and I truly believe it’s easier to sell value than discount any day of the week.

  • Ben Gay

    Thank you, Denny. I’ve never read anything from you that didn’t teach me something important. Years ago our mutual friend Ray Considine told me you were the very best in the business. Ray was absolutely right!