Features In Retail Advertising
( Originally Published 1902 )
Advertising a Department Store.
The advertising manager of a department store is like the managing editor of a great daily newspaper, with his corps of reporters constantly bringing fresh, live matter to his desk. The various department heads act as the reporters, and their constant incomings and outgoings to and from the advertising sanctum renders that den a very lively place at times.
Take it on a Thursday or Friday, when the big Sunday ads are in process of construction, the scene is exceptionally lively, and the man at the head of the advertising department has plenty occasions to exercise his ready wit and level-headedness. He must have very clear-cut and definite ideas as to what's what, and no matter what influence may be brought to bear upon him by the various managers—who are always wanting large spaces and suggesting many ideas of their own relating to the style of set-up and language to be used-the advertising manager must have backbone enough to select what he considers the best and arrange the same as he thinks wise, while at the same time he must have sufficient tact and diplomacy to do these things without hurting the feelings of buyers—who, after all, are the real powers in the department store.
Wonderful are the ideas and remarkable is the advice constantly offered him. And more wonderful still are his countless opportunities to display presence of mind. He must be quick to think and act, and when he does so he must think and act right.
One would imagine it would take a man's whole time to see people alone. There are the advertising solicitors—and their name is legion—with all sorts of advertising mediums and schemes, including, of course, the lady with the charity affair programme. She has traded at the store ever since she was a school-girl, and, of course, must be handled diplomatically. And there is the clergyman, with his religious paper-he is well acquainted with the firm—and would like to talk with the advertising manager all day with a view of getting a large contract. Then the bright, snappy young man who is hustling ads for theatrical programmes would like to talk an ear off, and the delegation from the United Brotherhood of Hard-Working Laborers would be much put out if they could not secure an ad for their annual ball programme. Taking with all these the reputable representatives of the various dailies, weeklies and monthlies who come to secure copy for ads, contracts, adjust rates and grievances, and it will be seen that the mere seeing of outside representatives is a whole duty in itself. Then the various heads of departments must be attended to, and when one adds to these duties the writing and arrangement, the illustrating, the placing of advertising, it can be seen that the advertising manager, even if he has several assistants, has enough matters on hand to sometimes drive him to—well-to his home rather tired at night.
Were I the owner of one of the many big department stores I would be strongly tempted to have the advertising department systematized like this:
I would get an ex-member of the diplomatic corps at Washington and pay him a good salary to handle solicitors and schemers. He should have a keen scent for " good things," and he ought to be able to turn down the "bad things'' in the gentlest and most diplomatic manner possible. He ought to be able to make his salary alone by soothing good customers of the store to whom he could not give an ad. This diplomat would also handle the various heads of departments when they come up with fire in their eyes because their ads were boiled down or because they were squeezed out of their favorite paper. He would also rejoice with them when a bright stroke of advertising brought them good business, and in general would be the buffeter.
I would have a first-class advertising writer, one who could spin beautiful word stories from his imagination, and nicely adjust the same to such prosaic matters as hosiery, dress goods and notions. He would have to be a genius in the matter of headlines and headings, and his descriptions of articles would be word pictures. This writer would not be disturbed in his mental toil-the diplomatist would hand the items and copy to him. He would have to be a master of typographical effect and be able to mark his copy as it should be set.
I would have a good business artist—one who could take a shoe and transform it into a thing of beauty in the fair hands of a fair woman. The artist and the writer should work in harmony-each assisting the other with suggestions.
These three would constitute the bodyguard of the advertising manager, whose duties would be to mouse around the store and push the lagging departments-to enthuse department heads at the right moment, to make the advertising contracts, to see the most important representatives of the most important publications—to pass on the ads before they went to press, and to exercise an all-around supervision over his department. Of course, he must be a good writer, and if he is a bit of an artist, so much the better.
One of the most important features of an advertising department is its systematizing. All the wheels should be running in proper order—each cog of the machinery should do its duty. This is no child's play. An amateur can start off with the idea that he can revolutionize the advertising methods in a month, and at the end of the month he will be likely suffering from nervous prostration. There is much below the surface which only few eyes can see. And the proper handling of this department, where thousands are annually—yes, monthly-spent, requires an ability of a peculiar and high order.
The advertising manager soon knows the buyers. They run the full gamut of emotions before his eyes. From the heights of happiness to the depths of despair is the full keyboard sounded. When, by his skill and a combination of trade circumstances, does the buyer succeed in getting in a lot of goods at a paltry price, then he comes into the advertising office with a beaming face and elastic step. When his department runs ahead he is correspondingly happy. When his trade is dull he is in the dumps. When he feels he should get a double half column instead of the quarter single column allotted him, he is in a resentful mood. And so on. Stretched on the rack of business he is keyed up all the time.
Speaking about emotions, there are three phases of activity that play the Old Harry with nervous systems. One is the newspaper man's life, another the actor's life, the third the buyer's life. And the advertising whirl is by no means slow.
To get the best out of buyers is by appealing to reason. When occasions of dispute arise, quiet, logical discussions are the remedies. Frequently time is so valuable that a lengthy discussion is out of the question. As the advertising man is head of his department, he does what he considers right. Later on, when time is more numerous, the matter may be more thoroughly gone into.
Of course, the advertising manager has a pretty accurate knowledge of merchandise. He knows what other stores are advertising, and so posts his buyers. He sees that the prices that go into print do not run higher than competing figures. He gauges the advertising space for each department according to the advertising appropriation of that department, as well as worth of offerings and weather conditions. As a general rule departments get advertising according to their money-making abilities. A certain percentage of its gross business is given as the advertising outlay. This may be increased or decreased according to exceptional offerings or weather conditions. When a department is sick it must be liberally dosed with the advertising remedy. Then usual rules about percentages are over-looked.
Each advertising department should be a law unto itself. There are a few general rules which apply to all departments—such as paying no heed to competitors' doings in the ads—the use of the best possible business talk—the use of cuts, of display type, etc.-which are already so familiar to students of advertising that I need not here touch upon them.
Each advertising manager should constantly study his audience—which mediums are best—which language is best—he should not shoot too high or too low in this respect, and his brain must constantly be devising new sales and methods to attract the public. It is a study extremely fascinating.