Big mistake: Tough lesson from a one-time sale


Early in my sales career I made a huge mistake by selling a two-column by 10-inch ad to a well-established furniture store that had not previously advertised with our newspaper.

There was no problem with the store's credit. The ad looked great with a nice layout and no errors. Still, this sale taught me a lesson that I hope you don't have to learn the hard way.

I had been calling on Carlton Furniture for months. Mr. Carlton seemed to kind of like me, though he refused to advertise in the free weekly newspaper I represented, even though we had twice the local circulation of the daily news paper in our area. He spent thousands with the local daily, but wouldn't even give me a crumb.

I took spec ads to him. I brought him ideas for furniture ads that I found in other newspapers. I laughed at all of his jokes. I showed him testimonial letters. We discussed who his best customers were, and I told him how our newspaper reached them better than any other media. I was determined to get a good share of his advertising budget, and I really believed we could get the same good results for him that we got for our other advertisers.

Week after week, month after month, I got nothing. Then, finally, Mr. Carlton agreed to give me a shot. He pointed to a corner curio cabinet and told me that he wanted to run that in my paper. The cabinet, he said, was normally priced at over $2,000, but that he was going to let me advertise it for only $700. Mr. Carlton went on to explain that several months ago a customer had ordered the cabinet as part of a much larger set, but at the last moment had decided not to include it in the purchase.

I rushed back to the newspaper office to tell my advertising manager the good news, certain to be the star success story of our next sales meeting.

To my dismay and anger, my advertising manager told me that running that ad would be a huge mistake on my part, and that I should refuse it. I don't recall my exact reply, but suffice it to say that it questioned his sanity .

After all, I expected to be the hero for having my hard work pay off. I made a sale using the techniques my manager had taught me.

When I calmed down, my manager explained why he wanted me to turn down the ad. He explained that Mr. Carlton was giving me a "white elephant" to put in the paper. If the odd cabinet hadn't sold in the store over the last several months, it probably wouldn't sell in our newspaper either. My manager further suggested, to my amazement, that I go back to the store and tell Mr. Carlton "no thanks" on that ad. I seem to recall again questioning my manager's sanity, thinking that I was going to throw away all my hard work by refusing the ad. After all, if the cabinet sold, this could be my big break for getting more of Carlton Furniture's ad budget.

My manager told me that I needed to tell Mr. Carlton that if he really wanted to see if our newspaper could deliver results, that he needed to put his best-selling living room group, dinette and bedding in a series of half-page ads, and that he needed to run the ads every week for a month. What?

Now I knew my manager was nuts. It had taken me months just to get this one small ad, I wasn't about to blow my chance at this account by suggesting anything of the sort.

I ran the one-time ad for the cabinet, and not a single person responded.

Mr. Carlton cut the ad out and pasted it into his ad notebook. After that, every time I called on him and tried to close a sale, he simply turned to that page and told me that he was sorry, but that he gave me a chance and that my paper failed to produce any result. He said again and again that clearly no one that he needed to reach read my paper.

From then on, I had a better respect for my sales manager's experience. I learned that if the ad doesn't make the right offer, the odds of results are slim.

My advice to you is to never let your big chance to prove what your paper can do be an offer that probably won't pay off for the advertiser.

Political line-ad warning

After 33 years in classifieds I recently had a new first. An ad-viser at a shopper publication accepted a nice number of politically oriented line ads. This was a nice sale, but the ad-viser was not aware of the rules and laws that govern political ads. These ads had brief political messages and encouraged readers to visit websites for more information.

Unfortunately, the ads did not have the usual "paid political advertisement by..." disclaimers, because the ad-viser had no idea that certain disclaimers are required on political ads.

Be sure this same mistake isn't repeated at your publication by telling every classified, inside-sales and outside-sales rep that a manager must approve "any ads that involve politics in any way" before publication. The Federal Election Commission has a brochure on this subject that can be downloaded at

© Richard Clark 2010

Richard Clark is the owner of Classified Development. It is more important than ever to win every battle in classifieds. Clark can teach your team how to make that happen. With more than 200 successful projects during the last 13 years, his nuts-and-bolts recommendations, training programs, and rate-structuring techniques have never failed to pay off. With his help, your classifieds will thrive again. Find out more at, or call 423-929-2243.

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