January 5, 2017 Last Updated 11:28 am

2 lines, 10 days, 5 dollars and making the phones ring again

To compete in a fragmented, crowded media world, publishers of legacy products would be wise to remember that, before digital, media companies aggressively marketed themselves

The other day I was in a conversation with someone regarding a life in the media business. Over 30 years I have been in this crazy business, but what, I was asked, actually got me going. Not what inspired me to get a journalism degree, but what occurred that insured that I would stay in this business?

I thought about it for a moment and realized that there was an easy answer: 2 lines, 10 days, 5 dollars.

The first job I took when I joined Hearst in Los Angeles was in the classified phone room of the Herald Examiner. I didn’t want an ad job, but when I received several editorial job offers, none of which I calculated would pay LA-level rent, I knew I should look outside of editorial. A job listing for a position in the classified department at the Herald appeared and I applied and was called in. I had to take a typing test, and as soon as the hiring manager saw the way I typed – with two fingers, in the style of a reporter – they said they had a better job for me, as a phone room sales person. I didn’t think that sounded very good until they told me the pay and I realized I would not be moving back to Detroit.

At that time the Herald Examiner was all over the radio airwaves with an ad promoting classified advertising – 2 lines, 10 days, 5 dollars – and the phones were ringing. That first day, which included training, ended with me on the phones, taking my first ad. I sold a three line ad to a woman who had heard the ad and didn’t mind paying $7.50, the price for three lines. I had up sold the person, I guess, and proudly told my boss (who is still in the newspaper business, working for Gannett).

I quickly got tired of selling “voluntary” advertising and started calling out to sell real estate ads to those selling by owner. At these low rates I could sell someone a display ad for their home on Sunday, followed by nine more days of advertising, all for around $50. I sold a ton of ads and eventually was promoted to run real estate advertising.

No need to go further, except to say that if it was not for those radio ads, I wouldn’t have eventually become a classified ad manager, then an ad director, then a publisher, then a group publisher – it’s as simple as that.

When I moved from Southern California to the Bay Area this is what was on local TV:

Now, a question: when was the last time you saw ads like this on television?

I think you know where this is going, right?

It has been so long since publishers promoted their brands like any other consumer product that many have simply come to believe that somehow publishing products are different. Newspapers and magazines aren’t allowed to be marketed and shouldn’t be.

Like the end of the newspaper hawker, the local newsboy, promotion is part of a bygone era. If you think that way, then maybe that is why profits are also becoming a thing of the past.  To those folks I can only say “get over yourself, and start selling.”

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