I work every day. Compulsively. Being a political junkie, I'll take a break Sunday morning if any of the talk shows have interesting guests. What I want is a quick, down-'n'-dirty schedule: 1) Name of the show; 2) who are the guests; 3) the panel of babble-heads. With that information, I can make a view/no-view decision in 20 seconds.
Many mornings around 4:30 I am awakened by the clack and thump of The Philadelphia Inquirer and The New York Times coming through the mail slot downstairs and hitting the floor. I don’t like these two suppliers of my morning news.
The type is smallish and the news perpetually grim: endless and expensive wars in three third-world countries, terrorist threats, Washington mired in name-calling and gridlock, massive unemployment, poverty, $14.8 trillion national debt, hurricanes, floods, droughts, starvation and earthquakes on a planet rebelling against our appalling stewardship.
Yet over a mid-September weekend these two dreary rags—plus a fascinating email offer—gave me six jolts of sheer delight.
Can you do as much for your customers?
Every weekend I receive PARADE as an insert in my Philadelphia Inquirer. Being a direct marketing junkie, I scan it for the bright, busy full-page coupon ads from:
- Bradford Exchange: Disney and Elvis plates and figurines, coins and Thomas Kinkade artistic kitsch
- Lenox: Sculptures and Christmas ornaments
- MBI/Easton Press: Sports collectibles, die-cast model cars and leather bound books
It was with astonishment that I came across a black-and-white full-page ad in PARADE looking for all the world like a personal note from a member of the Johnson family that makes well-known household products—Windex, Ziploc, Drano, Saran wrap, Fantastik and Pledge furniture wax to name a few. The body copy is set in a courier font that looks like it was generated on an ancient office Remington. At the bottom is a faded snapshot—presumably of the author—that could be the product of Kodak Brownie Box Camera from the 1930s.
You can read the entire text of the ad in the section titled "IN THE NEWS" to the right. And if you click on the illustration in the mediaplayer, you’ll see what the ad looks like.
Running a retro black-and-white ad amid PARADE's brash color is what they call in show business "casting against type."
The question: Is this a smart way for an advertiser to spend his money?
Our local convenience store a block away has a loopy name that took some getting used to: Wawa.
Started as a dairy in 1902 in Wawa, Pa., the company has nearly 600 stores in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, with a total of 17,000 employees.
Our Wawa is open all the time, spotless, stocked with basic foodstuffs you need when you need them and manned by incredibly nice people. In addition, 157 of the stores sell gasoline.
We recently returned from 12 days in Italy, and the bankers nicked us for an international transaction fee on top of every credit card charge, even though everything is electronic and automatic. The financial services industry is basically a business of sharks eating its customers alive any way it can.
Wawa is not in the financial services business. It is a world-class retailer. If a customer uses one of its ATM machines, chances are some of the cash will be used for an in-store purchase. So in 1996 management opted to charge no fees on Automatic Teller Machine usage by customers. The result:
- 1 billion ATM transactions in 14 years
- $1.3 billion in ancillary income forfeited
- Happy Wawa customers spent $4.7 billion in 2007
I also call it CRM—customer relationship magic.
Are you doing anything to make your customers feel real good about doing business with you?
If not, why not?
As I get older—and my time on this planet gets shorter—I go berserk when people promise one thing in writing, deliver something else and waste my time.
At right "IN THE NEWS" is the lede of Howard Shapiro's review of "Death of a Salesman" by Arthur Miller at the University of Delaware, roughly an hour's drive from my house in center city Philadelphia.
I wanted to know one thing quickly: was this production worth the trip?
Of the 403-word review, the first 88 words are devoted to the excruciatingly dull details of how Shapiro got stuck in stop-and-go 8 mph traffic that caused him to miss Act I.
Shapiro spends the next 94 words dumping all over Arthur Miller's first act—which he has not seen:
Ah, yes, the babbling, daydreaming Willy Loman, aging badly from a hard life of sales on the road, is in his Brooklyn house, frightening his wife with his erratic behavior. He's also yelling at his grown boys—particularly Biff, who had been Willy's great hope and now is his constant disappointment.
In all, 182 words—or 45 percent of this supposed review—are expended (1) highlighting Howard Shapiro's self-described inability to keep an appointment and (2) wasting my time.
Shapiro and his editor—if such an animal exists in the bankrupt Philadelphia Inquirer—should be fired for letting this irrelevant drivel see print.
My message to Howard Shapiro—and to everyone that writes for public consumption (as opposed to private diaries or journals):
- Consider the readers needs and wants before your own
- Ruthlessly self-edit, because most businesses do not have professional editors.
For several weeks during May and June, a series of wildly exciting full-page ads ran in The Philadelphia Inquirer for a seminar titled GET MOTIVATED! to be held in the massive Wachovia Center, home of the Philadelphia Flyers (hockey) and 76ers (basketball).
Among the speakers with star power were Gen. Colin Powell, Rudy Giuliani, Steve Forbes, Zig Ziglar and Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. The cost:
Only $4.95 PER PERSON. Or Send Your Entire Office for Only $19! That’s almost free! Admission at the door: $225 per person. Call immediately to take advantage of this limited time offer.
After seeing this ad three or four times, I did the math. The Wachovia Center seats a maximum of 22,000 people. If completely sold out at $4.95, gross revenue would be $108,900.
That amount would be completely eaten up by speakers' fees. Colin Powell: $100,000 plus private jet. Rudy Giuliani: avg. $80,000. Zig Ziglar: $25,000 to $50,000. Donovan McNabb: $20,000 to $30,000. I could not find Steve Forbes’ fee on the Internet, but it has to be at least $50,000.
The “GET MOTIVATED! Workbook” was an additional $4.99, so the final tally for me was $10 and change (tax). A full house at $10 each would generate $220,000. But speakers’ fees, hall rental, staff, audio-visual, etc., would create serious negative cash flow.
I smelled a rat and decided to sign up.
On Tuesday, March 31, my daily Web prowl came across the mention of a major story about The New York Times Publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. in the upcoming May issue of Vanity Fair.
I hied over to VanityFair.com and found the story, which I downloaded into my archive. The tedious, 11,415-word piece could be compressed into a four-word sentence: “Pinch is a weenie.”
But Pinch is not the story here. While I was at it, I downloaded articles about Rush Limbaugh; hottie cover girl Gisele Bündchen; Christopher Hitchens’ piece on Lebanon; a long story about the rich, conservative and powerful who attend summer blowouts in Northern California’s Bohemian Grove; and James Walcott’s “What’s Wrong with Washington.” I also swiped some terrific illustrations. Whereupon, I went away to ponder my loot—33,339 words plus pictures, the entire worthwhile contents of the issue.
All this was free from Vanity Fair. I paid nothing—nada, zip, niente. Were any advertisers on the scene hoping for a clickthrough? I didn’t notice.
What’s more, this material was in my computer and in my head a good week and a half before the May issue of VF hit the newsstands and two weeks before subscribers received it in their mailboxes. Meanwhile, VF’s insecure publisher and editors are so desperate for affirmation and buzz that they're happy to screw paying customers, causing them to be one-upped at cocktail parties by computer geeks like me.
Which takes us back to the lede from IN THE NEWS elsewhere on this page:
Multiple sources tell us that 20 or more employees were laid off at Condé Nast Digital today.
What’s wrong with this picture?
My wife, Peggy, and I overdosed on the 2008 election.
Eighteen months ago—with 10 Republicans and eight Democrats vying for their respective nominations—we started slowly. By August of this year, we were hooked. We'd start the day at 6 a.m. watching MSNBC's "Morning Joe" and his happy crew—Mika Brzezinski, Willie Geist, Pat Buchanan, et al. At 1 p.m., over a sandwich in the kitchen, I'd look in on Andrea Mitchell. After work we'd surf the dials, hitting Chris Matthews, David Gregory and Keith Olbermann on MSNBC; Brit Hume and his wonderful roundtable on Fox News; as well as checking in on Wolf Blitzer and Lou Dobbs at CNN. Compared to the energy and excitement of the cable shows, network evening news was a cure for insomnia.
The cable folks parsed every speech, analyzed every gesture, trumpeted every miscue, interviewed everybody and anybody who might shed some light on the outcome, and involved viewers in the minutiae of political campaigning. It was a giggle while it lasted.
Now Obama is in while McCain and Bush are out.
The suspense is gone. Life is normal once again.
So whither cable? Will it wither and die?
Welcome to the new shadow government.
For some time, I've followed the spate of newspapers planning to fire the Associated Press and getting their news elsewhere, thank you very much. Papers planning to opt out:
Aug. 20, 2008: The Spokesman-Review of Spokane, the Yakima Herald-Republic and The Wenatchee World—all in Washington state—and The Bakersfield Californian.
Aug. 28, 2008: Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Oct. 16, 2008: The Tribune Co. (Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Fort Lauderdale's Sun Sentinel, the Orlando Sentinel, Red Eye of Chicago, Hartford Courant, the Baltimore Sun, The Morning Call in Allentown, Pa. and the Daily Press of Newport News, Va.).
Yes, newspapers are taking a beating as a result of the lousy economy and, more importantly, advertisers migrating from print to digital. "The decline in [the top 25] newspapers' paid circulation is accelerating, according to new statistics today from the Audit Bureau of Circulations" wrote Nat Ives in AdAge.com this morning. "Papers' average weekday paid circulation fell to 38.2 million copies across the six months ending Sept. 30, down 4.64% from the equivalent period a year earlier. That's a faster fall than was seen this time last year, when the audit bureau reported just a 2.6% decline."
But is it smart for a newspaper (or any business for that matter) to commit hara-kiri—disemboweling itself in the scramble for savings?