You can teach a new dog old tricks
May 9, 2016
Marketing is what you make of what you have
By Peter W. Wagner
The N’West Iowa REVIEW
My wife, Connie, and I decided to enjoy some Cuban sandwiches while traveling through Ft. Myers, FL, last March. We had managed to find a parking place downtown and had just sat down at an outdoor table when I saw a man and his dog.
Normally I wouldn’t have given the pair a second look. The only thing more normal than a man walking around downtown exercising his four-legged pal is his female counterpart out walking her dog. Usually the only difference is the size of the dog.
But this dog wasn’t walking. He was comfortably seated and tethered in a custom built carrier, which I later learned was an upgrade from his original milk crate. The metal and vinyl carrier was attached to the back of a huge Kawasaki motorcycle.
The dog, named Whitey, was a Jack Russell Terrier who accompanies his master Eddie McCarthy just about everywhere the man and motorcycle go.
That Sunday afternoon Whitey was dressed as a World War I, flying ace in his wrap-around protective eye goggles and fitted bomber jacket. He even had a doggie-sized fake machine gun attached to the frame of his carrier.
For a while I thought the pair, parked along the nearby curb, were there to promote some veteran’s help organization. That incorrect conclusion came from seeing Whitey in his aviator costume with Whitey’s Services painted on the carrier. I presumed the man and dog were part of some motorcycle group that joined funeral processions saluting deceased veterans and other heroes.
I watched with interest as group after group of locals and tourists approached the bike, greeted the docile pup and exchanged words with the cup-of-coffee-in-his-hand owner. At the end of each conversation, McCarthy would give his new acquaintances a business card.
“He must be soliciting donations for his support group,” I told my wife.
Then McCarthy, free for a moment from conversations over the dog at his motorcycle, walked over to greet us. Whitey stayed quietly in his custom-built container, but did turn to watch where and how far his master was going.
It turned out, Whitey’s Service had nothing to do with veterans or the military. The costume was just one of many in Whitey’s wardrobe. Among others were a cowboy outfit and fireman’s uniform, complete with fitted red fireman’s hat. The purpose for the costumes, McCarthy told me, was to attract the attention of downtown visitors so he could give them one of his home repair specialist business cards. McCarthy, who had moved south from New Jersey just five years ago, has built a good business using his dog on a bike as bait to gather a crowd to tell them about his services.
There is a good lesson here for all of us. In this new age of electronic communication—Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube and a growing list of so-called free ways to advertise—it is not easy to stand out from the crowd.
McCarthy does it with his best friend, Whitey. Others, already well known and accepted, do it other ways.
Diet Coke is currently spending millions of dollars on a promotion featuring hundreds of differently designed cans that are a throwback to the 1970s. Those of us who remember back that far recall the famous and effective “Lucky Strike green has gone to war” campaign.
During the mid-’50s, Packard motorcars, now long gone from the scene, were famous for their “Ask the man who owns one” slogan. Apple computers stand out everywhere because of the glowing Apple logo; CBS Morning News calls us to attention with lilting opening musical notes.
Every one of the above, and thousands more, are simply gimmicks designed to attract potential customers. It’s no surprise you have to attract a buyer’s attention before you can present him or her a product, idea or service.
In the newspaper industry, that means creating smarter design, using more of the non-traditional story-telling style of writing, publishing bigger and better color photos, and incorporating new technology, such as breaking news video screens on in-store, single-copy sales racks.
Some so-called prophets scream newspapers are dead. Most of those claiming so are the newspaper industry’s biggest competitors: TV networks, advertising agencies that make large profits on creating digital media from afar, fly-by-night web page designers, etc.
But the current and future demise of newspapers is not true and will never be true in smaller communities and rural markets. The people there want to go beyond just the headlines and weather. They want to stay in touch with their neighbors. They want to know what is happening at the local school and at city hall.
That’s where newspapers with strong local content still stand tall as the most effective way to report an event, tell a story in depth, sell a product and create consensus.
But like Eddie McCarthy and his dog, Whitey, newspapers need to get out to the people, to tell their positive stories.
Newspaper publishers, editors and the entire staff must become their own best marketing clients. Newspapers still reach a larger, more prosperous, smarter and more consistently committed buying group than any form of digital media.
And we’ll continue to lead the pack as long was we offer solid, well-balanced coverage of all that happens in the community. Only the printed newspaper, of all forms of public outreach, can create uniform consensus, true commitment and a broad community spirit across a city or region’s various neighborhoods, age groups and income levels.
We may be old dogs in the promotion and information scheme of things, but we’ve still got a number of new tricks we can show you.
Peter W. Wagner is the founder and publisher of the award winning N’West Iowa REVIEW and a featured columnist in Publishers’ Auxiliary. He is often called “Newspaper’s Idea Man” and is an expert trainer and speaker at numerous newspaper conventions. He will be the featured presenter at the July 14 Southeast Missouri Press Association meeting at Cape Girardeau, MO. Contact Peggy Scott at email@example.com if you would like to attend.