Monday, December 23, 2013

Somebody Screwed Up

Lots of things can go wrong getting an ad on the page correctly besides an advertiser mistakenly using the wrong word. My boss Ronny was relatively understanding about an occasional slip up. After all he was the one who okayed the Toyota ad that read "TOYOYO" in the headline. So it happens. When the old guard was still there you had to go over every line of copy every time because they or the new systems could screw up anytime. The first six months I worked at the Post I found a huge number of mistakes that had been running incorrectly and nobody was the wiser. Once the new hires came in and got comfortable you mainly had to concentrate on just the new ad copy and the areas edited using old ads that were picked up from ads that had run previously. The way advertising operates, is the advertisers normally use say for example, a Christmas ad with a headline that might read, "Happy Holidays" which we would use again by changing just the title, yanking out the Santa graphic for a heart or roses, and some key info then bingo - you have a Valentines Day ad with a headline reading "A Sweetheart of a Deal!"

Advertising has a rhythm which is connected to all of the holidays and occasions. On holidays and occasions people are buying something for loved ones, purchasing pens and papers so the kids can be dumbed down back to school as well as...say - going on holiday. The Washington Post was there everyday to make sure that we all got what we deserved.  I mentioned Happy Holidays because so many of the Washington Post ads, especially in the beginning, were wrong and nobody apparently knew. Not the proofreaders, management, the advertisers or the readers themselves. Nobody complained anyway. It was Christmas right after I started as a temp and I'm reading a big headline of an ad that has been running several years that reads, "Happy Hoildays" I asked myself what the hell is Happy Hoildays? I glanced down at the keyboard with the O the I and the L all sitting there together minding their own business but looking very suspicious. It was a simple type-o and nobody had noticed. I almost let it go myself until I looked more closely. It's funny how the brain works. Everybody was seeing Happy Holidays and not Happy Hoildays. Why? Well it was late December and the graphics in the ad reminded the reader that it was the holiday season. It had the correct number of letters. Both greetings had used exactly the same letters. It was just two letters switched places and they were even right next to where they should have been. So in our busy lives our sub-conscientious knew what was trying to be conveyed and just gave the mockingbird a mental Mulligan then moved on to what this advertiser was hawking - which apparently was selling because they kept running the ad this way. That's to say until I quietly changed it to Holiday. By the way, for the Post it was always a holiday and never Christmas, Hanukkah,  Kwanzaa, nothing from Allah nor Festivist for the rest of us.. The farther back into Washington Post time one goes the more the ads said Merry Christmas rather than the generic Happy Holidays. Anything the Post generated for the Christmas season always said holidays but never mentioned for what reason. They didn't want to anger their Jewish readers not to mention the Muslims. Come to think of it the Post didn't ever mention the Muslims until some terrorists attacked Israeli athletes during the Olympics in 1972. Then there was the fall of the C.I.A. installed Shah of Iran and there wasn't any reason to mention Islamic holy days after these stories. The Post covered the protests in DC and elsewhere of Iranians acting violently at the events but didn't mention that the agency had been running Iran using the Shah since the 1950's. Apparently the Iranians were not happy about it and revolted booting out the U.S. Well the C.I.A. has been pissed off at those Iranians ever since. But the mockingbird doesn't mention these affairs as far as I can recall. I can't say I've read every paper but the father back in my life the more of them I have read. Not now...then. Now to be honest, I have the Internet now. Besides getting information about what is going on in my life right this minute, with the Net I can go back in time and learn of all the interesting events that never made it onto the pages of the Washington Post nor the airwaves of the networks. Instead they started saying these Arabs and Iranians hated our culture so much they were going to kill us. Well I said I'll be damned and was real pissed off at the Iranians for quite awhile. They should just relax and have a happy hoilday.

In those good old days most advertisers could give a damn about politics or even if the ad possessed all the qualifications required of the Queen's English. As long as they had an ad in the Washington Post they were happy. It was the only game in town print-wise. The Post was the town square that could be crammed into column inches and organized in such a fashion as to allow the modern person to be able to thumb through this printed town marketplace deciding what goods, services and ideas might be appropriate for life's daily needs. Advertisers had to book their ads early or the space might be taken by the competition. You better believe Sales played up that angle big time. Sales can give inside information to an advertising client about that client's competition just to be helpful of course in case their client may want to buy a bigger ad themselves - for whatever reason.

When I left the Post the few ads we were generating from private advertiser had to be absolutely perfect or they would demand a write off or a make good. However, in 2000 when they hired me as an employee, the economy was roaring. In the 1970s the Washington Post advertising revenue was one of the leading economic indicators the government used to decipher how good the economy was doing. Not any more of course. That would be a mistake for anyone gauging the size of the economy unless they wanted to tell the truth about it. Not likely when the government is gathering the word of the health of the economy while claiming at the same time the ability to have policies that will make it grow in a healthy fashion. When it doesn't the last thing bureaucrats want to do is tell the truth. The same is true for advertisers. Accentuate the positive - eliminate the negative. But nobody wants to look like a moron. Certainly not me so I didn't want my initials on a stupid write off.

I wondered what a "Slug Wheel" was on this sporty car that had been advertising this unknown extra for months before it was my turn to get the ad. I'm pretty good with cars. I can swap engines and tranny's, do brakes, shocks, etc. so I'm familiar with automobiles. I've never heard of slug wheels in my life and to an auto geek the term "slug" is not one that races to my mind. "Yeah, I was going for the Porsche when I saw this little baby with the slug wheels." I don't think so. Again I check my keyboard and there the S is aiding as well as abetting right next to the A. I had heard of the abbreviation for aluminum wheels however. I changed it to Alum and rejected the ad.

The fly was probably my biggest mistake that really wasn't my fault and I took no blame for it as the error was tiny yet enormous once discovered - on the Jay Leno Show. The chronicle of errors that ensued went like this. Randy Mays, an artist in Ad Ops, runs over to a new advertiser's restaurant with the assignment of clicking some pictures of some of the specialties offered by this Korean place. Then this family owned business would run the photos in some ads that Randy would create for them back at mockingbird fort. The Korean advertisers did their part and prepared several dishes which did appear delectable.  I then got the ad, proofread it and Step Done the copy so it would automatically generate copies for the sales team and the client to approve. The ad Randy created really did look great and everybody was happy and signed off on it. Oh, I'm sorry. I forgot two key bits of info'. Just after Randy had returned to his tripod several feet away from the prepared dish to be immortalized in digital ink, a fly landed on the plate of food simultaneously to when Randy hit the shutter to his incredibly high tech, high definition camera. The darn camera could shoot a fly on a barn a hundred feet away. The trouble was, if you can imagine, we're talking about a relatively small ad. The output generated by the Track-It printers was not a high definition print and the ad had three separate food pictures amongst the ad copy. Yes, it's true that even though my eyes are failing me now I did say to myself while proofing the ad, "Damn...that raisin looks like a fly." I wasn't expected to examine every ad with a magnifying glass although many times I did if I thought it was called for to cover my ass. But I didn't verify the raisin and somebody out of the millions of Post readers did have a closer look. The papers produces high quality output with many dots per inch. Magnified the fly was easy to see sitting on the food. If life has a lesson here it's that raisins don't have wings. Leno thought it was funny but the Korean family did not get the joke. The Korean grandmother went into hiding from the shame to her family. Apparently in Korean culture, fly in the food is somewhat of an insult.

I saw another one of these ad comedy bits on the Tonight show, fortunately not from the Post nor myself. This classified ad was offering a "House with an enormous dick." It said the "dick" was located out back. That's what happens when an "e" gets swapped out for an"i." Those kind of classified ads regular individuals create themselves and they have no one to blame but themselves. You can go on-line at the Post, whip up your own classified ad and boom - it's in the paper. So you better proofread it good unless you want your dick out back to be on Jay Leno instead of the deck. Perhaps you may?

I didn't and did my best to avoid it mostly to keep my job. One of the outgoing union cats who's name shall go unmentioned got me right before he took the buyout. He reworked an ad meaning he was just supposed to be moving stuff around but not changing anything. Instead of grabbing the telephone number and dragging it to the new location on the page he felt it wiser to delete the number and just retype it at the new location. One number was supposed to be an eight but he put down a six. Bam! Five thousand dollar write off and I'm sitting in Ronnie's office explaining what went wrong. Until this idiot left I proofed every pixel of his ad copy. There was always certain ad-makers who I knew must be given extra scrutiny if I knew what was good for me.

Mostly I made many good catches as they say in Ad Ops. No matter who's fault the guilty are happy it didn't publish in the paper looking like that and they would come by my work station saying, "Good catch, man. You saved my ass." One night I was reading part of the Metro section of the Post when I realized I had already read it the day before when it published then. Somehow the wrong plate was run or something because today's page never made it to press. I'm sure somebody's head rolled but not in the direction of my cubical so I would notice it.

The head of Ad Operations herself came over to thank me one time. It was my biggest save. I was in digital pagination moving ads onto the page and I noticed two full page Real Estate ads in the same big section when the market was being hyper inflated by the Federal Reserve and home prices were exploding. Even though prices were going through the roof I thought there is no one rich or stupid enough to run two full page fifty thousand dollar ads that are exactly identical in the same Real Estate section. Sure enough Make-up had typed a couple numbers wrong. So that one day's work save the Post over one year's worth of my salary. As long as there were lots of ads they wanted me around. Even when there were hardly any ads they still wanted me around but the mockingbird had been exposed to me several years earlier by that juncture. Working at the Post at the end had become a dirty job which I shall go into more detail about eventually. But I can say when I walked out the L Street door of the Post that last time - I felt cleaner.

But mistakes are made. Once, I decided to call the 800 number because the hand written copy wasn't great from this mom and pop store. Sure enough I dialed up a sex line. I rejected the ad and sent it back to sales to get a correct phone number. In QC we were the offensive line of the operation - there to block mistakes from getting into the paper. As long as your number isn't called everything is fine. Let even one advertising sack, slip by and you are sitting in a manager's office explaining why you have been so stupid. If it's a big one like a full page ad then managers could be sitting in upper management offices then eventually returning to theirs to remove their belongings.

At one point in my mockingbird career upper management decided on the self evaluation system for performance reviews which operated in tandem with our manager's review of our usefulness to the company. Basically, I'd say I was doing a good job. Then my manager if I was lucky would say I was doing the minimum required to skate by. Then we had to agree to a goal for me for the coming year. So I would agree that my manager wanted me to "Try harder!" and "Work harder." So when personnel was training us again how to use this system the instructor was commenting on how our managers were supposed to give us guidance on how to achieve our lofty goals which the manager has set for us - ah, for me to be achieving. So I asked him what if the management tips were to try harder and work harder? He said the managers weren't supposed to do that. I said mine already had, he wrote something down on a piece of paper then we moved on. In the not too near future that manager of mine was one of the ones who landed on the buy out chopping block. The mockingbird does not tolerate managers that won't do as they are told.

Sometimes there were differences of opinions like when one other proofreader confused the word hybrid in a car using hydrogen fuel. I caught it, then she got it once more and rejected it again back to the incorrect version. That was time for a manager to step in like Ronny. He's a car guy too and understood the vocabulary.  He signed off on the ad my way and the other proofreader had to head Ronny's way in his office for a chat.

Other times when I reject an ad but the ad maker insists they are correct, I let them have their way and Step Done the ad. When the write off comes back they took the hit that way and not me. Then they were less likely to insist on doing it their way and having to head Ronny's way.

All of the mistakes are funny to me now but at the time as the mystery of any mistake led a trail directly to me then it was very scary. With the new systems the Post was using there was no way to escape blame if you let it go into the paper. I'd seen people getting fired for a number of things including mistakes. There would be lots more of that as the economy turned south and all advertising revenue dropped except that from the U.S. Federal government. It's a cosy affair between these lovers that might be called more of a tryst if the details be known. The mockingbird still flies with federal advertising dollars while interestingly enough the mockingbird only sing federal government tunes.


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