A VETERAN’S VIEWS OF ADVERTISING.
THE following “retrospection,” sent out by J. H. Bates, the well-known advertising agent, may be read with interest and possible profit by all business men, and we especially commend it to managers of insurance companies and to agents of companies:
I set a high value on newspaper advertising. For more than thirty years I have as an agent disbursed many millions for advertisers throughout the press of the United States and Canada. I began as a clerk with S. M. Pettengill, who is still in business in this city, was his only partner for ten years under the style of S. M. Pettengill & Co., then formed a partnership with D. R. Locke of the Toledo, O., Blade, under the style of Bates & Locke, and now for eight years have gone on alone.
This is a good while to be steadily in one business, and as I have succeeded fairly well in it, gaining at least a large experience, it occurred to me, as these active years of my past life came up in review, that neither publishers nor advertisers would take it amiss if I set down some conclusions I have formed at the end of so long a period of work, bearing on the whole subject of newspaper advertising. These I will place in a detached sort of way, without any pretense to orderly composition.
1. When I began, newspaper advertising was not as respectable as it is now. Respectable is, perhaps, not quite the right word to express the status of a business, looked on as rather irregular and queer, but no other so good occurs to me just now. Regular, steady-going business houses, thirty years ago, felt something like shame in advertising their goods in the newspapers. This feeling has pretty much worn away, although some of it still lingers among old-fashioned business men.
2. I should judge that the people of this country expend at least thirty times as much money in newspaper advertising as they did thirty years ago. The vast increase of population and newspapers explains a considerable part of this, but it mostly comes from the more general and freer use made of the advertising columns by the general public. All classes have come more and more to believe that the newspaper is the most impersonal, self-respecting and effective way of getting before the public with what anyone wants to say to it.
Thirty years ago a man who should spend $25,000 a year in the newspapers, would attract attention as a large advertiser; now there are houses expending almost as much monthly, right along through the year, without attracting attention. Robert Bonner, whose undertakings in all directions have been characterized by breadth, boldness, precision and success, was the first to make the public famdiar with large advertising applied in the most original manner, to build up the circulation of his Ledger to a point never attained before or since by any journal in this country. Although Mr. Bonner’s largest newspaper advertising was done twenty-five years ago (for he rapidly made his paper successful, and having accomplished his purpose, cut down his expenses in that channel), still no one has come up to the “ splendid audacity” of an order for one insertion of an advertisement to cost over $60,000. And yet in pecuniary matters he is a very exact and careful man.
3. It agrees with my experience that newspaper advertising is profitable. As I look back over the very considerable number of those whose advertising I have done, I do not now recall a single one who judiciously, perseveringly and freely pushed good articles, ol whatever kind, in the newspapers, and did not make at least a fair success, while a great many have gained ample fortunes. I will not mention names in support of this statement, as I could easily do, but the list is a large one. Indeed, it has been my observation that it is easier for large advertisers to make money than to keep it. Often it comes in so fast that the head gets turned, and lavish, personal expenditures and unprofitable investments swallow up the fortunes which, had they been longer in making, would likely have been more permanent.
When business men come to look on the cost of steady newspaper advertising as an investment, sure to pay as well as any other, and not unlikely to be exceedingly profitable, they will use it more systematically than heretofore, and regard it as a necessary item ot expense.
4. Ever since I have been in business, there have been wide differences of opinion among advertisers as to the best mediums and methods, and never so great as now in consequence of the rivalry between advertisers and agents ; and whenever anyone succeeds by the use of certain mediums in a certain way, he naturally concludes his method to be the best, notwithstanding another may have made an equal success by using quite another class of newspapers, in quite a different way. Twenty-five years ago, large advertisers, as a rule, contented themselves with a well-written and displayed advertisement taking its run on the advertising pages, or paid something more and used a “special notice” in a position for a long time the only preferred one in the general run of newspapers, and having no other advantage over the ordinary advertisements than being nearer the reading matter. Now the struggle is to get preferred positions with displayed advertisements, or to work in notices and reading articles so that the readers of a newspaper will think them either written or selected by its editor. Still I do not know that advertisers now make it pay them any better than those did a quarter of a century ago, who used simpler and cheaper methods and told their stories in a plain way over their own names, and used the same advertisements year after year, until the public came to look on them not unkindly as old acquaintances. Having seen success obtained by so many different methods of advertising, I have learned to be modest in urging on customers this or that way as the. only possible one of succeeding, and content myself with suggesting what would seem to be a way suited to the particular case in hand, and this with a feeling that other ways might possibly be as good, if not better. Twenty years ago I thought I knew more about all this than I do now, and I leave confident and positive advice to the younger agents, who can speak with the happy and often winning assurance of a more limited experience.
5. Finally, I have found my business more pleasant to carry on than the average of the trades and professions. The large newspaper advertisers in mv time have been, and are, as a rule, intelligent men, comfortable to do business with, and I can certainly bear testimony to the honorable sense of obligation among them as a business class, when I say that I habitually take verbal orders amounting to many thousands of dollars, and do not now recall an instance where the giving of such informal authority was disputed. I doubt whether many, in other lines of business, after thirty years’ experience, can say this ; and it pleases me to think that the fact speaks well for both parties. I never expect to engage in any other line of business, and am quite content with the confidence of those who deal with me, and the modest profit of my’ transactions.
J. H. BATES.