Advertising, hmmm. Never thought I’d be an advertising salesman, but it comes with the territory. When COSMEP South — the newsletter of the Committee of Small Magazine Editors and Publishers — asked for my thoughts on advertising, I pulled this out of my bottom drawer.
Why I agreed to write several hundred helpful words on selling advertising is as much a mystery to me as why anyone buys it. My attitude about advertising is ambivalent. It pays for my magazine; I pay for it, in anxiety, indigestion, and the other dividends of promiscuous cleverness and charm. But this, as they say, is the nuts and bolts.
“The advertisements are paid for by merchants disguised as benefactors,” The Sun suggests, “but their real identity may never be known. Many are scarred where their names were written. These ads may be understood as a liquid remembrance of the American Dream: one part oil to two parts water, your purchase a match struck in the name of freedom.”
If, in the name of freedom, or art, or plain boredom, you’ve decided to publish a magazine, you must, to pay the bills (1) shimmy up to one of the corporate tax evasions known as a foundation, (2) plead for a grant from the government, the same government you distrust or despise, (3) reach for some other institutional tit, being prepared for the inevitable strings attached to such generous intimacy, (4) ask your readers to pay whatever it takes (the least realistic course, unless your periodical is mimeographed or you’re also the printer), or (5) sell advertising.
Selling advertising has these advantages: it marries you to the economic system of which you’ve been contemptuous for years, and thus teaches you humility; it compels you to relate to businessmen as human beings; it makes you see yourself as a businessman, which is more than most writers/artists/editors can bear.
I don’t offer any rules, strategies or sales philosophies, except for the most obvious — appeal to enlightened self-interest; design, or insist, on ads that are as handsome and intelligent as the rest of your magazine; be honest — about your circulation, who reads you, your naivete about advertising. My theory is simple: if your journal is worthwhile, it profits the soul and pocketbook of a merchant to advertise. Good karma, in other words; and I say so to those who understand.
Don’t expect someone who can’t relate to your publication to spend money with you. This may peeve or challenge you depending on your prejudices. Just as you have a right to vote with your pocketbook, so does a businessman. Don’t expect to be carried by the mainstream if you’re sitting on the left bank.