Feb 262021

As I recall, I was somewhere around 27 or 28 years old when I started my first weekly newspaper. It was quite an experience, and I learned a lot about the newspaper business and business in general, in a relatively short time.

I was always fascinated by how successful business owners advertised. I learned fairly quickly that there are a couple of different types of advertising in print media. One type of ads are from the big guys, the car dealers and grocery stores who ran full-page ads, and sometimes more than one, that changed every week with the latest specials or new arrivals. Those ads sold for a lot of money, and there was a certain amount of work involved in putting them together because they did change every week. Our production department was kept busy typesetting and laying out the new ads, then giving them to the salespeople to take back to the business to approve or make any last-minute changes before publication.

The other type of common newspaper advertising is what I came to call institutional advertising. This is basically a smaller ad that runs week after week and never really changes. This might be something as small as a business card or as large as ¼ page, and might not have more than just the name of the business, their address and phone number, and a slogan about what they do. These types of ads were always popular with service businesses like plumbers, auto repair shops, towing companies, and the like. And many retail businesses also ran the same type of ads that seldom changed.

The newspaper doesn’t make as much money from those smaller ads every week, but they are the bread-and-butter that keeps you afloat because they appear in every issue, so a salesperson doesn’t have to call on them week after week, and because they seldom if ever change, the production department puts them together once and that’s it. I always said that I would rather have 20 customers who ran a business card sized ad week after week than one car dealer that bought a full-page ad. If you lose that big guy, you take a big hit to the pocketbook, but the smaller customers stay with you forever, and if one does go away, it doesn’t affect your budget that much.

One advertiser I had was a pet shop. He ran the same 1/8 page ad with me week after week for years. And all the ad said was, “Bring this coupon in for a free goldfish” along with the shop’s name, address, and phone number. When I first started the newspaper, I could not understand why the shop’s owner would spend money on an ad giving away free goldfish every week. That didn’t make any sense to me at all.

One day I asked him why he did it, when goldfish sold for 25¢, as I recall. He told me it was no big deal, it was something a lot of pet shops did, and the goldfish only cost him a nickel apiece. Still, he probably gave away a hundred fish every week, so that was $25 he was giving away, not counting the cost of the newspaper ad.

I asked why he would do that, and he laughed and said, “Kid, those free goldfish pay the rent on this place. Think about it. Mom and dad bring their kid in all excited, and I give him or her a free goldfish in a bag full of water to take home. What are they going to do with that goldfish? They can’t keep it in a bag forever. So they buy a fishbowl for five dollars, and then they need some gravel to put in the bottom of it, and that’s a dollar. And you just know they’re gonna want a little pirate ship or something to stick in the bottom, and that’s two or three dollars. And that darn fish has got to eat, and I sell fish food, too. That’s another buck in my pocket. So they came in to get a free goldfish and spent $10. Hey Nick, you want a free goldfish?”

No, I didn’t take him up on his offer of a goldfish, but I walked out of there with a little more knowledge about ways to advertise.

Be sure to enter our latest Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an RV camping journal donated by Barbara House. Barbara makes several variations of these, and they all have pages where you can list the date, weather, where you traveled to and from that day, beginning and ending mileage, campground information including amenities at RV sites, a place for campground reviews, room to record activities, people met along the way, reminders of places to see and things to do the next time you’re in the area, and a page for notes for each day. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening. Note: Due to the high shipping cost of printed books and Amazon restrictions on e-books to foreign countries, only entries with U.S. addresses and e-mail addresses are allowed.

Thought For The Day – Do I get bonus points if I act like I care?

Nick Russell

World-Famous, New York Times Best Selling Author, and All-Around Nice Guy!

  5 Responses to “Newspaper Days – Free Goldfish”

  1. I just love your little gems of wisdom like today’s story about free goldfish. Thank you for starting my day with a smile.

  2. Great Friday morning story.
    Stay safe.

  3. You just brought back memories and nightmares from my journalism career.. In 9th grade I first started selling those “business card” ads for my neighborhood monthly newsletter. During college I worked in the back layout room for a chain of nine weekly newspapers called “The Green Sheets”. You know the “shoppers” that were thrown on every driveway (and elsewhere) every Thursday. The nine papers each had a local name reflecting the community and the ads could be bought in various circulation combinations. What a nightmare to make sure the BIG ads were updated to the appropriate combo set of papers based on their particular inventory. The LITTLE ads would sit on a drawer shelf in multiple copies for paste-up to the desired edition. When it was possible, I moved to the editorial department to write or rewrite press releases, wedding stories, obituaries, and “installation” stories and captions for civic and fraternal groups! Ahhh, the foundational memories that made it to my professional resume.

  4. That’s what you call smart advertising. Cute!
    Be Safe and Enjoy!

    It’s about time.

  5. Love the Barbara House journal we won, thanks

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