Saturday, August 25, 2012

My Career in Circulation Part 3 Winding Down

Dennis Concordia, my circulation manager at the Oakville Journal Record came through for me one more time.  Dennis got me into a newly created position  with the Etobicoke Guardian  (with a salary this time). They were part of the Metrospan group owned by the Toronto Star. Unfortunately I learned that he had been offered a job with the paper in his hometown, Hamilton.  I admitted to him that it had been wonderful working and living in one city, Kitchener.  He decided to take the job.  I think if he had been around a little longer my career might have progressed better.

An outsider was brought in and I became an extra person with loosely defined duties.  One manager took a medical leave of absence and then came back before leaving permanently and I ended up with his position which amounted to a demotion, although retaining my pay level and responsibilities.  I was still regarded as an assistant and relied upon for sales promotions, etc.

At one point a consultant was brought in, Doug Klein.  He was tough and was hired to make tough decisions.  We rubbed each the wrong way at first and I will admit that I was resentful.  Eventually I came to respect his honesty, hard work and ability.  Unfortunately he also rubbed other people the wrong way (basically said things as he saw them) and was forced out himself.  I wrote about his farewell in another blog where I recalled this incident at my father's funeral.  Fourth paragraph at:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2012/06/remembering-my-father.html

Another period of anxiety occurred when a merger took place.  It was typical of mergers where two companies realized they were duplicating too many services and beating down their ability to set advertising prices.  My old newspaper the Oakville Journal Record was replaced by the Oakville Beaver.  Choices were made in each market and staffs were re-aligned with many being laid off.  

I found myself working under a new manager, Ken Smith who had worked for the paper that supposedly lost in the merger.  He recognized me as a hard worker and encouraged me to get involved in promotions and a newsletter.  He also informed  me that one of my references actually offended some of the Inland managers.

At the Guardian I met Roma Dempsey and she helped me to overcome one of my weaknesses, that being canvassing.  How she did it was to pair up some of my canvassers with one of her most reliable canvassers that she had used at another newspaper.  This seemed to boost their confidence and motivation. I developed a lot of organization to efforts (with more details to follow), but really if it wasn't for Roma they wouldn't have had nearly the results.

I actually won a canvassing contest that resulted in a trip to Florida for me and my wife and daughter. The effort to win involved a massive program. which I detailed in an earlier blog post.  An achievement I felt especially good about as I was able to share it with my family.  Read about it here:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2011/02/memorable-vacation.html

As a cost saving measure the district managers were given the task of delivering papers to stores and boxes.  I took this as a challenge.  I started out last in sales, but found that the earlier you deliver the more you sell.  Soon I learned that the jobs wanted classifieds section was the same for three papers, but if I could get to a store before the competition those looking for a job would find the want ads first.  This encouraged me to sign up a number of store dealers in Mississauga where the paper was printed.  I went east of Etobicoke and signed up others.  I also went to the hotel strip near the airport and signed up more.  The combination of these efforts resulted in being number one in single copy sales.

Carrier of the Week was a project I had gotten involved in back at the Oakville Journal Record.  I wanted to encourage them to develop good habits for delivering, collecting and selling.   Our paper shared a cartoon with two others and I got permission to put a cartoon character, Fat Cat on a T shirt. It was highlighted in Carrier of the Week with someone pointing to the shirt letting our carriers know there was a reward for being spotted wearing one.  We worked with the national marketing office of Wendy's located near our area and got them to show what their gift certificates looked like.

Looking back, one of the most poignant memories I have is of a young boy, another manager's carrier I drove to the office and asked him what he wanted to do when he got older.  He shocked me by saying that he wanted to go back to India.  Unfortunately he was on the Air India plane that was bombed by terrorists.  His parents had framed his photo for Carrier of the Week and displayed it,in their living room.

One of my proud moments was designing a Carrier Wall of Fame program.  I learned that Alan Eagleson, of Canada Cup fame had been a carrier for our paper.  I wrote a letter and talked to him on the phone.  I arranged for one of our carriers to interview him and dragged newspaper photographers to his downtown office for a shot with our carrier.   I was very disappointed years later to learn of Alan's legal problems, but he was very good to attribute part of his success to having delivered newspapers and was very kind to our Carrier of the Week.

At one stage the Etobicoke Guardian (I think Ken Smith had a lot to do with this) elevated my newsletter to a more official one that went to every one and Ray Panavas was assigned to give some editorial support.  A newsletter was a way of communicating with newspaper carriers who are notoriously difficult to reach.  One of my unique features was having a cross word puzzle that required the carriers to read the whole newspaper and fill in answers that dealt with collections, delivery problems, sales, contests and the paper itself.  I remember my contact in Watertown, New York had a feature on dog bites which we adapted to our market.  I remember getting co-operation from our sports department  (Howard Berger who can now be heard on FAN 590) when I promoted a contest for lacrosse tickets by putting in a phrase in a sports story for one of the crossword answers.

I was surprised to learn that the contest Dennis had started with the Toronto Blue Jays had been dropped.  I was given permission to revive it on a chain wide basis, involving ten or so Metroland newspapers.  The big incentive was to throw out a pitch just before the game.  One boy picked for the Carrier of the Week was leading in the race to throw out the first pitch, but my write up was changed to state he was the chosen one.  He wasn't,  and that was explained to him, but he was so strongly motivated that in fact he did win.  Different papers handled the opportunity different ways, but the results were a huge number of carriers attending the game feeling a comraderie not too often found.

Three bonuses came to me. I was given custody of the actual trophy which I took home the night before.  Both my kids were fans and I took their photo with the trophy.  I am not too sure who won it that year, but I think it was George Bell.  I had met Danny Ainge and Cecil Fielder in other years.
Third while waiting I met Hazel McCallion, the dynamic mayor of Mississauga who was also throwing out a pitch.

After the merger, plans were to emphasize free delivery to all homes in the different markets.  At one point I helped design routes based on postal walks as they had decided to compete against the post office for flyer delivery.  Lots of problems getting carriers to deliver the free papers and still collect from those who had subscribed.

Ken was forced into an early retirement at least partly because he wouldn't fire staff.  Upper management wanted to clean house and seemed to be especially looking at high salaries.  I was being paid more than the average district manager and they didn't see the value.  They also got rid of some other district managers who through seniority had become paid over an arbitrary line.  A change in management seemed to favour some who had been trained in a different (easier) market.  I felt the process was very dishonest and will recount my version of it.

We were all being marked on how many down routes (those with no carrier to deliver) we had.  I had lots, but was also involved in extra activities.  The day that actually counted, one fellow who had no other responsibilities (no canvassing, no deliveries, etc) apparently had the least number of down routes.  After these results were published--the very next day the situation was reversed.  I did a more thorough job of starting carriers and the other fellow didn't.  It didn't make any difference--the other guy got promoted and shortly after I got fired, but with a nice settlement.

Yes I am bitter, but years later I also look back on it and wish I had made the move earlier on my own.  Aside from the fact that it seemed to be a dead end job the newspaper business is no longer what it was.  I did get a chance for revenge which I will cover below.

After being forced out of Metroland I worked for a few months with a flyer distribution company that experienced cash flow problems. Ironically this flyer company worked with the Etobicoke Guardian and he had a lot more faith in me.  Part of the deal was to help set up the Financial Post in Hamilton. Mostly dealing with stores and boxes.  After I left they evolved into the National Post.

I changed fields at this point and worked for two different companies in the same field (office supplies).  It was educational and paid relatively well, but unfortunately my timing was bad as big box stores eventually resulted in a lot of us losing our jobs.  Read here:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2013/10/my-career-selling-office-supplies.html

I was very fortunate to pick up a spot at my brother in law's ad firm.  While there I started as a buyer and one of my buys was from Metroland (a division headed by the fellow who authorized my firing) where I modified the deal to be to the advantage of our ad client.  I then acted as an agent which included selling things like lip balms and pet supplies and ads.

I have been working with The Rider as an agent for over 15 years mostly selling ads, occasionally contributing to editorial.   Now I mostly sell ads and deliver a small run.   I am conscious that what pays is the response to our ads and that is at least partly dictated by how many people read our paper how soon. The concern with all newspapers today is that the inter net is taking over and The Rider is working with it.

From The Rider I got another perspective on Metroland as one of my bosses Aidan Finn, the founder of The Rider had actually started two newspapers in what became the Metroland group.  He got to print business cards for some of the staff.  He often commented on the turnover which steered a lot of work his way.

Ironically the print contact for The Rider has been Rick Ribble who had been the advertising manager for a Metroland paper, but had been forced out.  He has proved to be a very good man making me feel in good company as an ex Metroland employee.

One of my concerns was that MetroSpan and Metroland put an increasing emphasis on free distribution at the expense of paid circulation.  It makes sense when you are selling advertising reach, but definitely lowered circulation efficiency and I would also say editorial integrity.  I lost that battle as too many advertisers became more concerned about penetration and now that battle is being fought with social media.

Although some people thought newspapers exploited youngsters I think newspapers provided an opportunity for young people to learn about business.  Overly protected I suspect many of today's youngsters will get a shock when they are made to understand what the boss really expects and how annoying customers can be.   I enjoyed working with young boys and girls and like to think some of them were better for the experience--I know I was.

One irony is that I have done business with one of my former carriers who now runs his own business.

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