Frankly, I Cheat. You Can, Too.
I became an advertising salesman so I could buy groceries. A college dropout with no financial safety net, I installed aluminum guttering on houses during the day and changed reel-to-reel tapes in an automated radio station at night. Our format was radio preachers who needed your money to pay for the airtime we sold them.
We were the number 23 station in a city of 23 stations. Our best ratings book showed us with a cumulative weekly audience of 18,000 people in a city of 1.3 million. We had between 400 and 800 people listening at any given moment. That sounded like a lot of people to me. One day I asked the manager why our station played no ads.
“You think you could sell some ads?” he asked.
I nodded like a bobblehead doll.
“Do it,” he said as he walked away.
I asked the back of his head how much I should charge.
“Whatever you can get,” he answered, without ever looking back.
When you sell ads on the tiniest station in town, you don’t compete with the other stations, you sell only those businesses with too little money to afford anyone else. In fact, the money my clients gave me every month was usually all the cash they had. If my ads didn’t work, I’d have groceries in my pantry but my clients wouldn’t. A man learns fast in that environment.
The first thing I learned is that people are bored by advertising for the same reason they’re bored by anything else: lack of relevance.
“If we could see ourselves as others see us, we would vanish on the spot.”- Emil Cioran
When ads are relevant, customers respond. Are your ads relevant, or are they answering questions no one is asking?
My job at the radio station paid $3.50 an hour plus 15 percent commission. Within 3 years I was making about $6,000 a month. That was doctor/lawyer money 30 years ago.
Strangely, I never made that many sales calls. Most of my clients called the station to ask if they could buy ads from me. Usually, a friend had told them how much money they were making as a result of the ads I was writing and they wanted in on the action.
“What does it cost?” they'd ask. These people didn't care about the radio station or its format. They just wanted to grow their businesses.
When the owners of my radio station sold it for 11 times what they paid for it, I decided I’d rather become a self-employed ad consultant than move to Los Angeles and become a station manager for them.
The second thing I had learned, you see, is that good ads work no matter how they’re delivered. I saw my ads work on virtually every radio and TV station in the city and with tiny variations these same ads performed as direct mail letters and fax machine blasts.
The secret wasn’t in reaching the right people. The secret was in crafting a message that would be relevant to the public.
My ads worked because I cheated: I insisted my clients let me deliver a message guaranteed to move the needle on the “Who Cares?” meter.
Ads fail when no one cares.
An extremely common mistake is to believe that discounting the price of a product is guaranteed to win the interest of the public. But I've seen that strategy fail dozens of times. A half-price turd is still a turd.
When a client belligerently demanded that I write some magic words to help him sell a load of crap that no one in their right mind would ever want to buy, I looked down at the ground, dropped a wad of spit on the toe of his shoe, then looked up into his face and said, “No.”
Yes, it was a rude and vulgar thing to do but I can assure you it shortened the argument. Word of my little stunt spread. Some saw it as the action of an egotistical lunatic. It’s possible these people were right. But others saw it as the mark of a young man who had the courage of his convictions. These people may have been right, too.
Every business owner is on the inside, looking out, and what they see is entirely different from what their customers see. Customers are on the outside, looking in.
Great ad writers remain on the outside, looking in. They are advocates, not of the business owner, but of the business owner’s customer. This gives them their great advantage.
Do you have the courage to learn what your company looks like from the outside, looking in? Would you like to know what your customer is thinking?
Twice a year I gather my Wizard of Ads partners from around the world for 2 days of continuing education in Austin, Texas. This year we’re looking for 7 business owners willing to be guinea pigs for us on February 25, the second day of class. These selected business owners will be responsible for their own airfare and accommodations. Since this is not a Wizard Academy event, we can’t offer you a room in Engelbrecht House. Sorry.
In return for your investment of time, travel costs and courage, you’ll receive 1 hour of focused attention from the brightest ad consultants on earth.
If you own a business and are interested, email PaulBoomer@WizardOfAds.com or call Paul Boomer at (573) 268-4109. Please, no advertising professionals.
I hope to see 7 owners of interesting businesses in Austin on February 25.
It is good to be a guinea pig.
Roy H. Williams
Two of my business partners sent me the same email last week. Tim Miles of Missouri and Chuck McKay of West Virginia each reported they're being approached by record numbers of new clients. Their question: “What do you think is causing this?”
Here what I answered: “My take on the current business climate is that a growing number of business people are beginning to realize they must reinvent themselves to survive.”
Small Business Owners (by my definition, businesses doing less than 100 million a year,) hunkered down and hung on when subprime mortgages and the war in Iraq melted the American economy. They tried not to internalize the fact that our post-Enron government watchdogs were still sufficiently asleep to let Bernie Madoff scam 13,500 of America's richest citizens out of billions of dollars. They swallowed hard when China signaled the world, “We're in charge now,” during the closing ceremonies of the Olympics.
They swallowed hard and sighed, looked at the ground, then woke up and began plotting their next course of action.
That’s where we are now.
Or are you still sighing and looking at the ground?
Come to Austin. – RHW