Jan 222012
 
Bulawayo

Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, where I lived in 1979-80

I grew up with a fascination for journalism and newspapers.  Despite extreme social skills limitations, at age 20 I discovered The Ubyssey student newspaper at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, where I grew up.  The student publication had a rather powerful apprenticeship program.  Junior students learned under the supervision of seniors, who often obtained part-time jobs at one of the city’s two daily newspapers.

While my peers didn’t think I could possibly succeed at the business, I discovered through an open posting at the student employment office a job as a “city desk clerk” at The Vancouver Province newspaper.  The newspaper, seeing that I had worked on the student newspaper, quickly put me on track to be a part-time police reporter, surprising my peers who thought I would never succeed.  For three summers, I chased police and fire trucks around Vancouver on Friday and Sunday nights — for rather good money, at that.

Graduation time:  The newspaper told me they wouldn’t hire me full time, and the city editor suggested i travel and maybe learn a bit about the world. I had saved up some money but didn’t want to take the standard European trip.  So I went to Africa, initially in an organized overland trip from London England, through the Sahara and central Africa to Kenya.  Then I carried on my own down south, ending up for a month in Rhodesia, in 1976, as the civil war began heating up to its final stages.

I returned to Canada, got a job at the Medicine Hat News, and watched events in Africa closely, ultimately deciding to return on what proved to be the most important journey of my life.  I obtained employment as a sub-editor on the Bulawayo Chronicle, and lived through the final transition from Rhodesia to Zimbawe, returning home after a wild and wonderful evening on Good Friday, 1980, when I managed to get wildly drunk and set of a chain of events ending when four guys were thrown into jail.  The newspaper fired me the next day.

Returning home to a major recession, I could not find any employment in journalism.  So I took a job washing dishes at McDonald’s, and visited the government employment office (a federal service in Canada.)  A counsellor asked if I could type, and when I said “yes,” he arranged to test me — and placed me in a job in the word processing centre at the employment department’s regional headquarters in Vancouver.  He said this would open the door to other civil service competitions, and it did.  Eight months later, I moved to Ottawa, to become a writer/editor for the communications branch of the employment ministry.

This led to five years of angst.  Good money, yes, but what is an entrepreneurial journalist doing in a government bureacuracy.  Finally, I summonsed up enough courage to quit — and sell real estate for two years.  I quickly tired of the new occupation, but saw an opportunity:  Could I publish a special newspaper just for real estate agents?  I tried to make it work with a formal business plan, but in the end decided to take the leap on faith — provided I not spend a cent of real capital on the new business.

This meant, since the printer and graphics designer expected to be paid immediately — by certified cheque — that I would need to sell the advertising to the sight-unseen publication and obtain payment in advance — undoubtedly a true test of market potential and my advertising sales ability.

I did.

We published the first issue.  To say the least, the new publication stirred up something of a storm, because it contained real news and controversial content.  I thought it would be my last.  Then I visited the first issue advertisers.  One advertiser said: “I’ve never received such good results form an ad in my life.  When can I sign a contract?”  Another said:  “I’ll contract if you cool it a bit — and maybe write some profiles of our company’s agents.”  I was in business.

Things didn’t go perfectly well.  I really didn’t know the eocnomics of the business and the real estate market — and page rates — were far too low for sustainability.  But, through a bit of luck and observation, I sensed another publication focusing on the construction industry might be viable, and it worked.  In fact, we still publish Ottawa Contruction News today — more than two decades later.

As the business evolved, grew, contracted, had near-death experiences and evolved, I began to learn a bit about how to hire and manage advertising sales representatives.  (I’ve never seen myself primarily as an ad rep; I’m still a journalist at heart who just happens to own the newspapers.)  We’ve set up systems for recuriting, training, and evaluating salespeople but we can always improve.

This special website is dedicated to the process of understanding and improving the state of the art regarding advertising sales.  Now that media is much more integrated, the skills for television, radio, web and other media are far more integrated than before. Can we learn from history, new trends, and each other?

I think it will take at least six months to a year before this site begins to reach its potential.  It will begin thriving when I can take the time and apply the resources to interview and connect with great advertising reps in a diversity of media outlets.  Stay tuned.