Friday, 14 November 2008

Tis the season for sales to suck

We're hot and heavy into the Christmas advertising season. I should be working 50-60 hours a week right now. I'm not. This week I logged 45. Sales suck. Advertisers are scared stupid and they are reflecting that with us. The sales reps are freaking out because they can't get the numbers they need for budget, the boss is freaking out because the sales reps are freaking out. I'm freaking out because all this means late copy - building large ads sold too close to press time for comfort. 

The shitty economy has hit our little world.

This week, my parent company announced that it would reduce its Canadian workforce by 5% - 560 people. I thought we were going to dodge the bullet, at least for now, the business of media in all it's capacities seams reasonably safe in turmoil - people still watch TV, use the internet, read newspapers (although not as much anymore). Ad revenue is still there because retailers big and small in times of economic uncertainty only cut back if they're stupid. This is true - studies have indicated that those who cut the marketing budget first are more likely to fall victim first. Don't ask me to quote a source, it's just something I read last week somewhere, maybe CNN, I don't know, but it's not the first time I've heard that. I've also seen that trend first hand after spending almost 15 years doing this for a living.

Retailers want to advertise now - they have to sell they're crap. They have to grab the consumer at the busiest time of year and MAKE them buy their stuff. They have to convince consumers to change their minds. My business is just the catalyst. We provide the vehicle for retailers to beg and plead with those lucky enough to still have jobs to spend their money in their store.

Wonder how it's working so far.

The advertisers in our little corner of the consumer universe are not dumb. They see the benefit of this tactic and use it to their advantage; every time the economy swings around they are still there for us, some using the same ad for the gift guide they've used for years, "just repeat what I did last year, it seemed to work". We love these guys - so easy to please and so eager for the season, regardless of how difficult it may seem, to bring on the inevitable onslaught of last minute gift hounds. They know the drill, they've seen this before and will again. Every year, they will greet our sales reps with the enthusiasm of one who has not seen a good friend in years. They will buy an ad. Here's the problem - that ad only costs them $100, once a year. 

The big guys aren't biting. The GM ads, Ford ads, Zehrs and Sobeys, furniture stores, appliance and electronics stores, major retailers such as Wal-Mart or Zellers, after market car stores, and more. The big guys aren't spending. The little guys are.  So here's the breakdown; small boutiques with reeeaaaallllly expensive stuff are advertising and doing well, the big ones with tons of cash and reasonably priced consumer products that people migrate to in hard times due to the prices, are not.

Years ago when the big box revolution started smaller stores feared being driven out. Nay nay - they're the ones staying open!  Who knows for how long, but for now they're open and providing jobs and tax base, offering quality goods, even with higher prices. Now, if we can just find people who still have jobs to buy the stuff. There's still money in this town, these guys know it, and want it. They aren't giving up yet.

If there are people here in the backwater of Canada who are willing to keep it going in tough times, why can't we get on board with that attitude? It's a monumental problem happening now, but most of it was caused by fear and speculation. Yes, there were stupid business transactions that we will collectively pay for for years, but fear is causing most of the poor sales. People just don't want to spend what they fear they will not have in another few months. This fear has grown into a plague that threatens to consume our economy entirely if we don't buck the trend. This won't fix the mess, but it will give us the confidence we need to carry on, the consumer influence we need to keep the mom and pop shops open, keep the tire shops putting tires on cars, etc. etc. Let's face it - we all need tires, groceries, washing machines, drinking glasses, birthday gifts for neighbour's kids, etc. We still need to buy things. Even when the jobs have gone, the need will still be there. We have evolved into a consumer goods driven society and that isn't changing anytime soon. 

If this attitude is here on the small end of the scale, we can as a society drive it up to the higher end. We can reverse the trend by not being afraid anymore. We can create jobs to replace the ones that have been lost - sure, they may not pay $40 / hour to put a bolt on a firewall, but it's a start, and that's what we need - a new start.

Maybe this mess was a self-fulfilling prophesy. 
Maybe it was bound to happen by the shear fact that we have become a self-indulgent greedy society of entitlement. We have become what we keep telling our kids not to be and it threatens us all. Maybe we are the only ones who can fix it. 

The 560 who lost their jobs yesterday can't yet. More statistics, more people wondering how to buy Christmas presents. More people who have become victims of fear.


  1. LA LA LA LA LA LA....I can't hear you...thinking of snowflakes on mittens and whiskers on kittens...these are a few of my favourite things...No bad news or bad economy here...FA LA LA LA LA!

  2. This problem is compounded by the absolutely suicidal distribution deal we were cornered into (read: trap) and that it's pretty clear that people in a least one of our paper communities are not getting the paper and, it being a small community, that advertisers are well aware of it and are asking about it and we have no answers. I wouldn't advertise, either. If falling advertising revenues aren't motivation enough to fix obvious distribution problems...

    I don't know. Is it any wonder the entire editorial staff is on autopilot?


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