I was in advertising. Yes, like Mad Men.

The fall of 1980 was a pivotal moment. After a series of misfortunes, my wife and I moved to New York City with the advice of an epidemiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital: Move to New York City and pit your minds against the best and brightest. Leave misfortune behind in Boston. We took his advice, and my wife, who was a successful designer in Madrid, created placemats in the Big Apple that were bright and original and she caught the niche in an exciting market.

On the contrary, bad luck followed me like an orphan dog. I had written two novels, one of which was judged ‘bright and original,’ by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich and made it through various editorial meetings at St. Martin’s Press. Previous employment included Johnson and Higgins, two brokerage firms (Blair & Co, E. F. Hutton).

I pursued copywriting with Young and Rubicam. They had judged the Inter Ad contest at Thunderbird, a.k.a. The American Graduate School of International Management, where I was Marketing Director of the wining InterAd team’s presentation. Young & Rubicam and Ogilvy and Mather expressed interest. SSC&B offered to make my Ad boards. I also interviewed Brokerage firms and was scheduled for two training classes. The job was a critical issue with a wife and a newborn baby.

In June 1981, Condé Nast Publications, under the ownership of S. I. Newhouse, announced it was reviving the icon fashion magazine, Vanity Fair. Everyone wanted to write for Vanity Fair, including me. I sent in my C.V. Not surprisingly, I received no response, so I began calling and leaving messages. Finally my call was answered and I queried about my job application for the staff writing position. I even said, “I can take rejection. If you’re not interested that’s okay. What I can’t take is not knowing.” She said, “Oh.” Then she gave me her name, direct phone number, and suggested I call the following morning at the same time.

Two days later, I entered the office of Don Weadon, a fellow Life Magazine alumnus with the publisher Joe Corr, and his right-hand man on editorial policy to shape Vanity Fair as a magazine of literature, the arts, politics, and pop culture. I was at once struck with his wall-photos of U.S. Marine helicopters. He had my resume on his desk and we discussed my experience, when he asked, “Why are you a member of Navy League in Madrid?” I replied flippantly, “for the ‘cheap medical insurance.”’ Don Weadon roared with laughter, and in that moment we became steadfast friends. He suggested Ad Sales and Public Relations should be my career. Don referred me to each of his former Life Magazine colleagues who were publishers, as well successful Ad Directors.

My first interview was with Seth Hoyt, then Ad Director of Money Magazine and later publisher of Cosmopolitan. Seth and I have been forever friends since that morning. There was nothing there. Money was hot, unproven salesmen were not.

One disappointment followed on the heels of another until Don Weadon referred me to Nick Niles, Publisher of the newly revitalized publication of the Kiplinger Washington Editors: Changing Times. The magazine was originally founded in 1947, as closed circulation publication that refused advertising but offered the best financial advice money could buy. The original publication would now be repositioned as a glossy 4/color magazine that would carry advertising for the first time. The editorial product continued to be priceless but the older demographic base was unexciting on Madison Avenue where yuppies were the rage.

Nick Niles hired me, after seven interviews, and I entered their office on 42nd street where I met the newly hired sales reps that had three-years Ad Sales experience selling People and Time magazines. The women were attractive, the guys were handsome and they all blanched on learning I had no ad sales experience. I chose not to say that I was the finalist for the Public Relations job at each publication they had representated.

Nick Niles took me aside after the meeting and said, “There’s a staff writer’s position open at corporate headquarters. It’s yours if you want it. I declined and Nick shrugged.

I recognized Nick Niles might have put his job in play by hiring me for Ad Sales. Just several days ago the publisher of Vanity Fair was fired. This was the flagship of the Kiplinger family and Washington expected results.

My desk was a half-cubicle next to a malfunctioning copying machine that drew angry epithets that would be embarrassing if I were selling on the telephone, but that was never a problem: No one at the agencies accepted calls. ‘They were in planning.’ Meanwhile, the publisher and the Ad Director, Peter VanLeight were continually asking me whom I had called upon.

I quickly discovered I was Sisyphus pushing a huge bolder up the side of a mountain. The Changing Times demographics were not good. We had a median age in the mid-fifties when advertisers’ pet targets were 30-year-old yuppies. Worse yet, the leading AT&T media supervisor had interviewed for my position at Changing Times.

Another ticklish point: the media planners and the media supervisors were young women and a few young men who knew their parents (our demographic base) no longer engaged in sexual activity.

Professional etiquette should require media people to read their mail. So I decided to present our audience in a way media people might appreciate. The good news: ours was a very affluent ‘older’ audience that owned their own home, had more than one car, frequently purchased a new car, had an incredible investment portfolio, enjoyed plenty of disposable income, traveled frequently at home and abroad, stayed many nights in hotels, had zero children living at home, and zero college loans to pay back. The only trouble: our audience was perceived as crusty old, sexless codgers, when Money Magazine Yuppie readers were the sexy darlings of Madison Avenue.

The media kit was thin yet contained the stunning new cover of Changing Times with bold red, upright arrows (Which incidentally matched the three smokestacks outside the publisher’s window). Our sales meetings were productive, yet I failed to visualize our audience. What was the identity of this mysterious reader who waited with baited breath for each issue to arrive and would then spend two or more hours with the publication. I wondered: ‘if I couldn’t identify the reader, perhaps no one else could.’

My plan: mail out daily vignettes with romantic episodes featuring sexually active couples that enjoyed the finest things money could buy.

No one knew what I was doing other than writing stuff to the agencies that wouldn’t work. Sales representatives were making multiple sales calls on accounts they called upon from their previous positions, while I sat at my desk writing sales vignettes. None of my accounts would schedule a meeting. I had already been told by the agencies and the clients, ‘they had everything they needed. There was no pizzazz in what we were marketing, despite our truly affluent audience.

Three weeks later, Nick Niles came up behind me and grabbed my shoulders with his powerful hands. Tears came to my eyes. I had had failed Nick’s confidence as well as the Kiplinger family. I knew I was being fired, and I froze when he said, “do you want the good news or the bad news?”

“I replied, the good news please!” I assumed that meant, ‘being walked out the door versus being thrown out.’

He proceeded to place many, bewildering pieces of paper on my desk. “Mike, these are advertising insertion orders. They come to a very big chunk of money as in seven figures.

I looked up and smiled, “What’s the bad news?”

“We’ve significantly raised your advertising quota.”

Changing Times is the forerunner of Kiplinger Personal Finance.

Profile I.

  1. “Darleen, do you know anything about imaginary friends?
  2. “Relax, they’re harmless. Psychologists say they’re even good for you. Jimmy will be fine.
  3. “It’s not Jimmy, but Fred.”
  4. “At thirty-two, he’s a little old.”
  5. “He calls it “C.T.,” and he’s been behaving very strangely. For example, we bought a new car yesterday, and Fred said it was thanks to “C.T.”
  6. “Yeah, we saw it. Fred must have made a killing in the market of won the lottery.
  7. Investment wise, he has done very well, but we were planning to buy the car in a year. Yet Fred said he and “C.T.” had a session, and he decided to act now.”
  8. I wish George would act now.”
  9. Then yesterday, he was staring at the fire—silently watching—when he started laughing out loud for the strangest reason. I asked him about it, and he patted me on the shoulder with that irritating way men do when they’re not about to share a secret.
  10. “Well, I have to tell you I could see it coming. Fred has always been a super achiever. I suppose that’s why you have been so busy lately.
  11. “Not exactly, I’ve recently discovered something that is everything! There’s a wonderful magazine with a personality. It’s almost like having another individual in the house—sort of a polite guest who’s loaded with information but never lectures. I mean, it’s my personal source for the financial and the everyday advice our family requires to live well in these Changing Times. Strange, but I can’t explain it. Sort of like having a friend…”
  12. “Jeanne, what’s the matter?”
  13. “I just discovered Fred’s imaginary friend!”

 

Profile II.

  1. “You look great!
  2. “It shows? I’ve finally taken control of my life!
  3. “You’ve thrown that no good, free-loading bum out of the apartment!”
  4. “No, I’m rather fond of him at the moment. It’s just that I’ve found a friend.”
  5. “Ann, that’s kinky. Ménage a trois is weird stuff.
  6. Hank doesn’t know, at least not yet. But I’ve been spending a lot of time with my friend lately, sort of to catch up. I thought when I really knew him, cover to cover; I’d be spending less time. But it hasn’t worked out that way. The more I know my friend, the more I can’t wait to be with him.
  7. “Hank doesn’t suspect something?”
  8. He knows things have changed. Hank’s nostalgic, he’d like to keep things the way they were. But I can’t. Everything’s happening so fast. I mean last night, I couldn’t keep away from my friend, and Hank…”
  9. “I don’t want to hear about it!”
  10. “That’s crazy, Nancy! I want to share my friend with you… Wait, Nancy! He’s here in my handbag. Look. He’s handsome, intellectual yet never pushy and well, when you know him better your life will never again be the same. He brings all the personal advice—financial and general—that you would ever need to live well in these Changing Times. He’s the friend I’ve always needed and… Nancy, why are you looking at me that way?”

Profile III.

  1. “Susan, aren’t you going to open the door?”
  2. “Ah, yes. Of course.”
  3. You act as if you don’t want me to come in! What’s going on? Where’s Paul?”
  4. “He’s …indisposed. You can’t see him now. I mean, I won’t allow it. I mean we can’t afford it. I’m not making sense, but Paul won’t see you.”
  5. “Just tell ‘old indisposed that Saturday tennis courts are like hen’s teeth, and he better be prepared to lay down the forfeit penalty! And…Wait a minute. Paul’s never ever missed a Saturday match. I mean he’s been on those courts in the rain, in the snow and even with the flu. What have you done to him?”
  6. “I’ve locked him in the bedroom where no one can disturb him.”
  7. “What’s that? Sounds like a tennis ball hitting the wall! You’d better let him out, Susan.”
  8. “He does that when he has an idea. Each time he reads something with a source for action, he throws the ball against the wall. It’s a nervous habit he started since he began reading Changing Times.”
  9. “This is uncanny. I mean Paul can read a 400-page novel in three hours. What could be in one magazine to so completely absorb him? Wow, listen to him throw the ball now! You know, I’ve been thinking today might not be a good day for tennis.   Do you mind, Susan, if I wait until he comes out? Better yet, do you have a Changing Times I could read while I wait? And, ah, you don’t have to lock me in, okay.

 

Profile IV.

Two men in their mid-thirties are walking into an exclusive suburban country club.

  1. “I want you to meet Chuck Thornton.”
  2. The Chuck Thornton.”
  3. “Only one I know. He joined our foursome last year, nice guy…”
  4. “Wait till I tell the guys at work about this! Thornton’s famous. You don’t know? (Pause) Why he convinced the Old Man to replace the office machines!”
  5. “He did say something about new copiers…”
  6. “Copiers. computers, typewriters…even the communication system! He was stuck in the elevator yesterday, and the receptionist said he came out with a look that was assuredly bad news for the elevator… (Thoughtfully) I’ll have to say the copiers haven’t broken down lately. Maybe a new elevator is a good idea.
  7. The Thornton I know is a casualty adjuster.”
  8. Same one. Funny, but that’s how he described the way the firm was being run. They also say he told the Old Man the business didn’t have both oars in the water.”
  9. “I don’t believe it.” (Hesitant) “Well. He is aggressive. But the Thornton I know majored in English Lit. What business does he have in office machines?”
  10. “Said he got the idea from a magazine he discovered. At the end of the year, he put a sign over the receptionist. It read: TIMES ARE CHANGING.”
  11. “You mean the Kiplinger magazine. I’ve heard of it. All about personal finance and everyday hints for living well.”
  12. For Thornton, it’s more than a magazine! In the firm’s newsletter, he was quoted as saying, “Once you take hold of your life, you can’t stop there. It’s shameful to tolerate things not working.”
  13. “Hmmm.”

(Enter G.)

  1. “Hey Sam. Thornton just left. Wife called. Seems his neighbor is about to buy a computer, and Thornton wanted to catch him before he made a mistake.
    S. “What does Thornton know about computers?”
  2. “I don’t know. Said he had a philosophy though and Changing Times.

 

End

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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