Diary Of An Ad Man

Do you remember that old army recruiting slogan, and I’m sure I’m paraphrasing, that went something like “We do more before 8am than most people do all day?” Working for a newspaper is like that.

No we don’t jump out of planes, clean the latrines, go on 10 mile jogs or run obstacle courses. A typical day for an Advertising Director at a newspaper goes something like this:

Get to work early, make your coffee, get your coffee, sip your first sip of coffee, turn on your computer, check your emails. The average number of new emails since 6pm last night is between 10-20. Delete the spam so you can concentrate on the important stuff. Briefly scan each email mentally prioritizing from ‘most urgent’ to ‘least urgent’. The urgent stuff either comes from the Publisher/President (get on those RIGHT away), then any client emails, then the sales reps emails, then all others. Emails always run the gambit between the good the bad and the extremely ugly. The good can be insertion orders or inquiries for new business, a client testimonial, or sales reps with success stories. The bad may consist of, but is not limited to, the following: reps calling in sick (which means you have to come up with a temporary succession plan to handle their desk for the day), angry clients who have an issue with a sales rep, their bill, their ad(s), an editorial piece that they take issue with (which can lead to an ugly issue, a VERY ugly issue), or any of the above. The extremely ugly stuff is usually about leaving an ad or an insert out of the paper, a sales rep needing to write off a large amount of money due to an error (either theirs or another department), client cancellations (they don’t always tell you why; it’s your job to find out by probing with questions, which can be difficult depending on their mood).

An Ad Director is usually responsible for meeting and/or exceeding the revenue budget which, for even the smallest of papers, can be in the millions of dollars. Circulation (subscriptions, rack copies, etc) are also revenue generators, but account for a much smaller piece of the overall pie. Each budget is broken down into ‘sub-budget categories’. For example, classified consists of legal advertising (fictitious name statements, foreclosure notices, etc), private party stuff (garage sales, etc), commercial real estate (sales/rentals), online, telemarketing, service directories, and many, many more obscure headers. Retail, or the main paper, has budget categories like Run Of Press Ads (the big ads with borders around them), online, special promotional pieces (special sections, etc), church/non-profit, color revenue, national preprints (those grocery and big box store inserts you see in your paper), local inserts, etc. Unless you work for a VERY small newspaper you’re usually in charge of a number of publications in surrounding markets as well so overall, as an Ad Director, you are responsible for knowing where you’re at, money wise to budget, at any given time during the month for between 50-60 budget line items. If you’re over budget, well good for you, your worries are nil. If you’re under budget you better have a damn good reason why, and come up with a plan of action how you’re going to make it up in the following weeks/months. That means the creation of new revenue streams: “blitz” type sales efforts, the creation of new special sections, bundling opportunities (either with other publications, or online initiatives), territory analysis and maximization, new business generation and competition initiatives.

In addition to the above, you need to make sure you are visible in the community. You should be a part of a service group (for me it’s Kiwanis), go to ribbon cuttings/grand openings, attend Chamber Of Commerce events (here we are members of four), see and service your larger accounts, go out on what we call ‘4-legged calls’ with your sales staff to either handle issues or solicit new business.

In preparation for your trips to the ‘outside’ you draft up client proposals, create rates and get said rates approved and implemented, create goals for your staff, monitor all of the above, usually in an excel spreadsheet. Getting out of the office and interacting with clients and members of the community is, for the most part, a good and mostly very rewarding part of the job.

What’s not as rewarding are the internal issues: inter office squabbles, human resource stuff, billing issues, discipline, etc. It’s draining, man!

What you need to understand is that all of the above happens in a typical day in the sales department of a newspaper. Some days are less stressful than others, of course, but each day is a variation on a billion little issues. The good news is that it’s never boring; the bad news is that it’s never boring. You’re going a hundred miles an hour and are juggling up to 20 balls each and every day. Balls get dropped, but given today’s economy you better catch more balls than you drop, let me tell you. Each and every client is precious and should be treated as such; I don’t care how small their budget is.

I know what you’re thinking.

This is a music blog, Uncle E. What has all of this got to do with music?”

Well, nothing, and everything. An old mentor of mine used to describe working at a newspaper as riding a maniacal horse through a burning barn, and man was he right! At the end of the day, if you’ve chosen this as your profession, you need an outlet, something to take your mind off the issues. Some drink, some take drugs, some work out, some beat their spouse or kids, some jump out of windows. I listen to music. I listen in the car in between all of this stuff and it helps me recharge my batteries. When I go home, before bed, I read books, blogs and magazines about music.

If all of these things seem like a lot, well, they are, but I must let you know that even when things seem their overwhelmingly impossible, or terrible, 9 times out of 10 they get fixed by the end of the day. We’re professionals, creative thinkers, after all, and we can usually come up with mutually beneficial solutions to almost any problem or issue that arises in a given day. We get it done. Period. We admit when we’re at fault and like to brag when we do something special, because newspaper people are good people, and above all we’re human.

People are quick to say that newspapers are dying. Although no one really wants to say it I believe that some of the bigger newspapers in our industry are in the shit because of their arrogance. They poo-poo’d the small businessman and rejected their business by pricing themselves out of that particular market. They didn’t think any upstart online competitor could touch their 150+ year dominance, subsequently didn’t prepare, and lost billions of classified dollars in the process to folks like Craig’s List. When the classified cash cow started to disintegrate, and disintegrate rapidly, they panicked. They cut and they cut and they cut. They came up with online plans and partnerships that they thought would replace that revenue. Way back when all this started online revenue represented about 8-10% of the overall money generated. Guess what it is now all these years later? 8-10%, if they’re lucky.

I am extremely lucky to be working for a well oiled, privately owned and operated, Newspaper Company. They are more forward thinking, and more committed to the community in which they serve than any other paper I have ever worked at. It’s a hell of a lot more difficult than it used to be when I got into this business some 20 odd years ago. All you had to do back then was stick out your hand and someone put money in it. Now you actually have to earn it.

My newspaper chain is not dying, and I firmly believe that if it wasn’t for the overall economy being in the toilet we would actually be thriving. I thank my stars each and every day that I don’t work for a television station (DVR’s are killing their profits) or a radio station (Satellite radio, MP3 players, ditto). At least here, locally, I have the autonomy, and support, to make a difference.