I have a lot of empathy for the kids who are graduating from college during this recession. My graduation year was 1982 at the height of the last big recession. Most of the people I hung out with did get jobs, but I don’t recall anyone being really happy with what they were doing.I did the interview rounds but no one was really hiring and I really didn’t want to work for them. Graduate school held no appeal to me: I wanted to “be out there.”
In the end, I talked with my dad who was general manager of a local magazine, book and newspaper distributor (http://bit.ly/aSoAKI) and he gave me a list of companies in our business who were frequently in the market for field representatives. A field rep is exactly what it sounds like: A warm, disposable body.
I was fortunate to find a small national distributor who needed a representative in the Midwest. They were even good enough to hold the spot open for me until I graduated and could get set up in my base town.
A few days after I graduated, I packed up my car, hitched up a U-Haul, and moved out to Chicago. Two days later I landed on my cousin’s couch. A day after that my trainer arrived from Texas.
“Ed” had been with my new employer for more than 25 years and in the single copy distribution business for more than 30 years. While we were at least half a decade into the use of computers and scanners to determine our distributions, marketing and accounting, Ed was having none of it.
“I don’t think the darn things can count worth a damn, “ he declared shortly after we shook hands. “Have to deal with it, though,” he said bravely. “But I don’t know why the hell you’d want to get into this fool business, sonny. Damn things will replace us all soon.”
OK, so it took about 25+ years for his prediction to sort of come true. Does that mean he was right? Or early?
A big part of a reps job back then was filling out forms that showed how your company’s titles were selling against the competition. Then you used the information to see if you could get more copies and retailers for your title. This was especially true when putting together a proposal to launch a new title.
As a friend of mine says, it’s a “simple, practical, complicated business” (http://bit.ly/aFOeiB). Within a few days, Ed showed me how to fill out the forms. But I had no real idea, even with my background, what exactly it was I was supposed to be doing with them.
In the middle of all this, Ed was in a whirlwind because he had caught a rumor from the home office that we were launching a new title. He was convinced it was going to be a huge success in his home state of Texas. After all, the title was called “Stallion.”
If you launch a magazine on the newsstand today, you’re going to need to do your homework. Before you even show it to a retailer, a wholesaler or a national distributor, you’d better have your demographic data down pat. You’re going to need a cover sample,and even better, a trial issue. If you don’t have a promotional budget, forget about getting more than a few thousand copies out the door. And for some retailers, you’ll have to show what your overall national marketing program is. If you hire me, we’ll be talking about social media.
But back then, you really could pick up the phone, call some people you’d known for a long time, and get them to take an order sight unseen. All you needed was to know the UPC code, price and when it was coming into the warehouse. I watched old Ed work the phone like the maestro he was. He called all of his wholesalers in Texas, charmed the socks off of them, and racked up a huge order.
“This is going to be the biggest horse magazine launch ever, sonny!” he told me as he phoned his orders into the receptionist at the home office .
Later that day, I dropped Ed off at the airport. With my head still swirling with confusion about my new career, I headed back to my half furnished bachelor apartment. Sitting on the landing under my mailbox was a huge mailing carton full of the sample magazines from my company. I brought it into my apartment, opened it up, and pulled out the premiere issue of “Stallion” Magazine.
It was what we call in the business, a “Men’s Sophisticate” title. More specifically, it was in the “Gay Adult Sophisticate” niche. Meaning: It was not a horse magazine. It was gay porn.
I later heard that somehow or other, all of those orders still got shipped to all of those Texas wholesalers. Not all the copies made it to a magazine rack. And a lot of wholesalers had fun ribbing old Ed for the last few years of his career.
The moral, of course, is try to not get ahead of yourself. I’ll say it again, I’m not opposed to, and in fact I embrace the new digital age. But I want to know what I’m selling. And I want to know that it works. I’m not so sure that many of the aficionados who promote this new age know what they’re talking about.