See Page 108.
The Confessions of a Publicity Agent
William Jennings Jones Earns his Living in the Grocery Business and Uncle Henry Sprouts an Idea
The first of this series appeared in the April number of MacLean’s when the career of the hero of the story began as a publicity agent for the town of Milham. The flat failure of his methods and his dropping into an obscure position at the close of the article will have drawn the curiosity of the reader into this the second of the series where his apprenticeship in a grocery store is paving his way to success. The illustrations are by Dudley Ward.
MY uncle the night I was fired called me up on the telephone.
“That you, William?” he demanded.
“Got another job?”
“How much money you got?” “What’s that?”
“Get any money?”
“Oh, I guess I won’t starve. How much have you got Uncle Henry?” “Don’t be brash, son,” he returned, his voice a little more placatory. “I’ve been in your place before now and I’ve been broke. No shame in being broke. Called y’ up only to see if you needed anything and whether you still want to keep on try in’ to make little towns grow into big cities, or whether you’d maybe be just as glad of a nice quiet job in the store down here.”
“A job in your store! Down at your place? I guess not, thanks, Uncle Henry. I guess I can make good in the newspaper game. Thank you, though. I maybe might’ve been some use to you, but I’m afraid storekeeping is not in my line.”
“A’ right,” he drawled. “Do as you please, but if you want the job, drop in. “I’ll keep it open, in case you need it.”
“What are you going to do?” asked my wife as I left the telephone. “Are
you sure you were right in refusing Uncle Henry?”
“No, of course I wasn’t,” I told her, petulantly. “As a matter of fact I ought to have taken the job and glad of it. I don’t know, dear, just what I ought to do.”
“Dear,” she said, “you were foolish. Take Uncle Henry’s offer. We — we need it.”
Two days after, when I saw that I wouldn’t even have enough money to move out of Milham, much less waste time trying to get a fancy job, I took Uncle Henry’s offer. “I apologize, Uncle,” I mumbled. “I was upset. I’d like the job you spoke of if there’s no objection.”
“Mean it?” he growled.
“Then it’s yours. I want y’t’ print signs for the goods we put in the windows, keep an eye on the books, because my eyes are getting poor, and help with the customers on rush days. Fact is, you got to do everything and anything, from shifting orange crates to counting the money over to the bank. Willing?”
“I’m game,” I said, clenching my teeth and thinking of the customers who would see how I had fallen from glory.
“Then I’ll give you twenty dollars a week and groceries found.”
Somehow, after the ups-and-downs of the newspaper business, I came to like the grocery trade. It seemed to me to be more substantial than just writing squibs for newspapers. I felt that I was really being of some service to the community, and I knew that in the grocery business, hard times, if they should come, would not knock the bottom out of things quite as badly as if I was onlv a supernumerary on a newspaper. \ liked thinking up attractive notices to put on the goods in the window. I wrote them with green ink on bits of white cardboard—the bottoms of old candy boxes. After a time I began to study the art of window-dressing, and one whole night I worked building a castle out of soap in the big roomy left-hand window. I took more pride in that pile of soap than in anything i had ever created before, and next day people came flocking into the store to buy the soap. Something about that window display made them remember that they wanted soap. They bought out the whole stock in no time. Uncle Henry was pleased.
“Look here, son,” he said one night. “You’re making good. I’ll raise you to twenty-two a week. I like them window fixin’s.”
That summer I learned a good deal about the psychology of the shop. I saw there are lots of things people will buy if you only present them right. Away in the back of the shop I found some old stock Uncle Henry had given up trying to sell—one of the things was a gross of patent mops. I asked him what was the matter with the mops, and he said they hadn’t sold because people didn’t know how they worked.
“Well, how do they work?” I demanded.
“I dunno,’ he said, “Traveller showed me but I couldn’t get onto it. Neither could anybody else, I guess. I marked them down, but there was nothing doing. ^ Folks in this town like the oldfashioned kind of a mop. There’s no use tryin’ anything else on ’em.”
“I think you’re wrong,” I said. “Look here, this is how these things work. See ! It saves work and its neater and cleaner.”
I had secretly been eimerimenting with one of the mops ana had found how it worked. It was a good mop.
“Well,” said Uncle Henry. “Mebbe you’re right. But they wornt sell. Or if they do, I miss my bet. You can have the profits on ’em if you sell the lot.”
“It’s a go,” I said.
And it was. I sold those mops in a week—a gross of them, just by asking every woman who entered the store if she’d tried the new kind, and then showing her how it worked. Most of the customers confessed that the mops they had been using were old as the hills, and were always scratching the floor and the sur-base. So they bought I And I made a profit.
Well, I was getting to like the grocery business. I used to love the smell of the oranges and the teas and spices. The clean hardwood floor and the tiers upon tiers of neat-looking cans and bottles and packages were a picture to me. I loved them, and I longed to get a chance at the buying. But Uncle Henry kept me away from that. “Buying,” he said, “is an art, son. I get stung myself sometimes. You talk about your old newspaper business and the writin’ profession needing judgment —Huh! It isn’t one, two, three, with the judgment y’ need to buy raspberries, or golden prunes, even!”
I admitted it, not reluctantly either.
But I was not destined for the grocery business. One June morning Uncle Henry drew me aside behind a big stack of brooms.
“Listen, son,” he said, “you got to quit groceries.”
“You mean--” I was taken off
“No, I don’t mean that you aren’t a good man, or that I want to fire you. But there’s something bigger for you than shop-keeping.”
“What?” I demanded.
“That’s not square, Uncle Henry,” I protested. “What do you want to string me on that old subject for?”
“I’m not stringing you. I mean it.”
“But I was fired because I failed when I had a job here in this very town.”
“I know. You’d be fired again if you took the job now, but that isn’t what I want y’ t’ do. I want y’to learn the trade. It’s the biggest trade out. It’s a bran’ new field and there’s money in it.”
That night Uncle Henry—who was a bachelor—came down to our house and talked business with me while the wife washed the dishes and put the boy to bed,—we had a baby by this time.
“ /’know,” he said, “towns is just like folks. They have characters and characteristics just like you and me and everybody in the town. Towns, if they are any good at all, have destinies, just like people have destinies. The average man isn’t fitted for his business at all. He pegs away all his life trying to become a successful grocer, or an architect or an alderman, when all along he isn’t any more fitted for that line of work than I am for preaching. D’ye get it?”
“Sure,” I answered. “But what’s the application?”
“Application !” with a snort, “why to towns of course. Didn’t I just tell you towns were like people. Look at the scores of little towns springing up all over Canada. Look at the old towns like Milham trying vaguely to boom themselves. Look at the money they waste in bad methods of advertising, and how they waste their lives trying half-heartedly to be something they can’t ever be —just the same as if I went trying to learn preachin’.”
“Well,” I said, “what do you think we could do?” What should these towns do?”
“Do? That’s what you and I have got to show em, beginning first of all with this one—Milham.”
If you think about it long enough and keep your eyes wide open, you will see that my grocer uncle’s philosophy was right. Not every town can hope to
become a seaport, or a manufacturing centre, or a jobbing depot. Not every man with ten fingers can hope to become a great pianist. Not every man with a tongue can hope to become a temperance lecturer or a politician. Now, in the third chapter of our experience Uncle Henry and I had decided to find out just what Milham was good for.
There were two railways running through the town, each with two branches. Then there was a good big river on which, as I told you in the first article, were some old water-mills that had fallen into disuse. The cost of living was modest enough. The two factories we had did just about enough business to keep alive, and that was all. Their owners were old residents whose personal connection kept people buying their small output. One was a flour miller and the other operated a small hosiery factory. They employed all the spare hands in town—about two hundred. The rest of the town was made up of railway employees and retired farmers.
“We can’t get heavy industries,” summed up Uncle Henry. “Because they want water carriage. Steel mills and that sort of thing will squat right down on the water-front—remember that, and let a little town go to pot. Foundries and heavy machine shops won’t come here because the labor market isn’t good here—yet. They get
men like that in Toronto and Hamilton.”
In this wise did Uncle Henry educate me. He had taken up the study of town growth because he had seen me fail as publicity commissioner for Milham, and had been possessed of a longing to search out the real reason for my failure and the real science of town-promotion. What he had leaxned he taught me. Then we went on studying together.
There are in Ontario two inland towns, whose careers serve to illustrate how two communities, given the same chances, can ruin or make themselves. Neither of these towns is bankrupt. Both are good enough. But one is a
better business town than the other and will achieve a great future. The first of these towns is a railway divisional point on two railways—a splendid location as far as shipping facilities are concerned. The second town has only one railway service. But by sheer pluck and enterprise it has so won the respect of the railroad company, that every train stops there, and the freight and express service by that one line are unexcelled. The first of these towns is filled to over-flowing with wealthy retired farmers, men who have money and who know by grim experience how hard money is to come by. The second contains rich, retired fármers, but they are German or of German extraction, and this fact accounts for a very great deal. The farmers in the first town are conservative in their interests. They have enough to live on and a pleasant town in which to live. If it is not quite as busy as other towns, they do not see that hurts them.
All they ask is the right to live comfortably and educate their children comfortably, before death intervenes^
There is a great deal to be said for this-point of view. When you stop to think about it, you may very well be found saying to yourself—“Well, whv should the town grow? Why shouldn’t I prefer to live in a cjuiet modest town if I like? What right have townboomers and promoters of manufacturing concerns to come here, erecting factories that keep up their noise all day and all night, and raising great chimneys that only belch dirty smoke into the sky?”
Why should your town grow? Whv should you not continue living in a quiet municipality? What right have the town boomers? Just this. Every citizen and every town in Canada owes it to the country, if not to itself a«»d himself, to grow and achieve the most it is capable of achieving. What was
trae of the unprofitable servant in the Bible story, is true not only of men and women to-day, but true also of the towns they live in. It is up to you and your town to do your best and play the game, to the end that Canada may the earlier reach full nationhood.
As to the quiet neighborhood -that, true, is your own personal affair, but this much has to be remembered, that the mere fact of amassing a fortune or a comfortable bank account, does not entitle any man in Canada to creep off into a corner—unless he is very old and sick, or has troubles of his own—and sav, “I’ve got all I want. I’m done ” If a man has made enough to retire, he should retire from active life only in order to be able to encourage and advise others younger than himself.
As to the town boomer’s right to “boom”—so long as he is honest and earnest, he should have full play, save only for this point; watch him! That is where the old head can make itself felt. Check him up when he goes off on false starts, but when he strikes the right scent—cut the leash and urge him on.
Now in the English Ontario town there is so much conservatism that scarcely anything can be done. Any new industry that comes, or talks of coming to the town, is received in silence and suspicion. But the little German town—welcomes the new-comer, watches him kindly, and when it can, lends him a hand.
This matter of lending a hand is a pretty important consideration in discussing town-promotion, and a very delicate one. There is such a thing as lending too much help. That is bad. But of this, more elsewhere.
Uncle Henry’s plan for the immediate future was to make me the editor of the Milham newspaper and educate Milham up to being a good town. He wanted to get the farmers out of their rut and get everybody talking about Milham. Few people realized, as the old fellow weighed them out half a pound of cheese, or a bar of N. P. soap, that behind his grizzled old temples lay such an audacious scheme.
“But can we buy the paper?” was the first question I asked ,when he had explained his proposition. “Will they sell out?”
“Yes. I bought it three weeks ago —understanding—present management keeps in power till I’m ready — a month’s notice to them.”
The details of how we took over the Milham paper and how we started our campaign, do not matter. First of all we determined to get the paper on a paying basis itself. This we did by getting a better advertising man. Then for circulation we interested the boys of the town—and the rest was, in our case, at all events, a matter of editorial contents. Don’t think we fed the readers nothing but town booming stuff. We made a contract with the Canadian Press for a good telegraph and cable service. This didn’t cost us any more than the old system the previous management had had—and which they had refused to change on account of a personal tiff with the press service promoters. Then we bought a syndicate picture service from a Toronto paper and bought new type for headings. All around we improved that paper one hundred per cent. And when the big dam on the' Bredit burst—a month after I took over the work—and wiped out a couple of our old mills and damaged a lot of property, I went out myself, got the story, and between Uncle Henry and the foreman and myself, got the first “extra” the town had ever heard of.
Uncle Henry wrote the editorials, that is to say, he would drop over from the shop the night before and dictate the stuff to me—sitting on our office safe the while.
“Tell ’em,” he’d say, as I sat there ready with my pencil. “Tell’em they’re slower’n all get out. Tell’m, the man that sets back in his bought house an’ snoozes out the rest of life just because
he’s made a fortune, is a-a menace
t’ the community. Tell’m it’s up t’ them t’ take an interest in things same as other folks an’ not sit back ?n say
things is good enough, when they know durned well they ain’t. Tell’m— Oh, give em-” and he fell to think-
didn’t put these editorials into fussy newspaper editorial language either. I created a mythical character whom I cailed “Old Squidge” and under his supposed name I ran a little “sermon” or “talk” every day. I disguised “Old Squidge” so that they wouldn’t suspect Uncle Henry, but if they had been lively people they’d have recognized his way of speaking from the first—all but the expletives. No two editorials were alike. Sometimes we’d leave our pet subject out of the paper for weeks, and Uncle would dictate things he had seen in the store that morning, or funny little episodes from the street. Sometimes we’d get a good joke on some well-known man and Uncle Henry would tell it in his dry cackling way— but without hurting anybody’s feelings. Then we’d come back to the question of Milham and how enterprising it was getting -to be and how it was nearly as lively as certain other towns we could have mentioned but didn’t. Whenever we criticized anything we blamed it on “a minority of narrow-minded fellows” in the town. Whenever we praised anything we gave the credit to the people of Milham.
And our little home-made campaign caught on. Our circulation went < up from twenty-two hundred to thirty three hundred in five months. Everybody in town got to thinking well of the town. Folks would write in and kick about sidewalks that hadn’t been mended and that were “a disgrace to a town like Milham!” The townspeople began to take a real interest in things. People kept their lawns better and even took more care to wash the mud off their buggies before going out driving on Sundays. Pretty soon, instead of reporting that “Milly Briggs had a most delightful party for her cousin Nellie from Pike-town” we wrote “Miss Mildred Briggs was the hostess at a charming bridge given in honor of Miss Helen Briggs who is spending a few days in town from Piketown. The charming rooms in the old “Castle” (that Is what
they called the Briggs house) were tastefully decorated with yellow daffodils,” etc. The whole town began to take a pride in its existence. A couple of people bought motors and took to giving afternoon teas under their apple trees. The town was in the first stages of regeneration.
In the midst of all this, the Mayor and Aldermen revived the idea of getting a publicity expert to go after new industries for the town. Several of the Aldermen and the Mayor dropped in to see Uncle Henry about it. I happened to overhear a part of the conversation one night.
“Look here, Henry,” said one of the Aldermen, the one who had engaged me, “that nevy of yours was no good as a town boomer, but that don’t say town-booming’s no good. What’d ye think of gettin’ up a good man an’ payin’ him a good salary—an’ booming the town right? What think?”
“Nothin’ ” said Uncle Henry. “Nothin’. My nephew failed because he didn’t know his job. He hadn’t studied it. Neither ’ve you. You leave the experts alone just now.”
“’S that what you really think?” asked the Mayor, timidly.
“I do,” said Uncle Henry,” and if you’re wise you’ll think so too.”
From that moment on I knew who was “Boss” of Milham. It was my old Uncle Henry Altburg, the grocer. I conceived an idea then too—quite a good idea.
Now a town that thinks well of itself in a bubbling-over and enthusiastic way, is on the road to success. Mind it may stray off the road and get into a blind lane, but a feeling of pride in your town is the first step in making the most of it.
Three months after the deputation had quizzed Uncle Henry, I sprang my idea.
“Harry Altburg will run for Mayor!”
That was all that needed to be said. If he ran, he would win. The only thing was that nobody had ever thought of his running, any more than he had himself.
He came into the office puffing.
Son,”-he panted. “Son! what
“Well, why not?” I demanded.
“Why n-not—why—Oh what’s the use?”
“Everything’s the use, Uncle Henry,” I retorted. “Just because a man has built up a comfortable business and is doing well, is no excuse for him shirking his duty.” (He winced.) “You’ve got to run.”
He shook hi^ head and mopped his brow with an old red handkerchief.
“Never made a speech in my life,” he muttered.
“Ÿes you have. You talked to them at the lodge one night till folks nearly died laughing.”
“Yes, and they did what you told ’em to do, too.”
“Old Henry,” as people called him, though he was not old by any means, ran, and was elected. Dressed up he was a distinguished old figure. On his his feet he could hold an audience for an hour at a time. With his installation began the last stage of Milham’s decadence and the first stage of her prosperity. The town had learned to take a pride in itself and an interest in its own welfare. Uncle Henry now became its unofficial publicity ’expert, as Mayor.
• One day a quiet-looking man descended from the noon train from Toronto and went to the Bellington Hotel for lunch. The hotel had benefited by the recrudesence of civic self-respect to the extent of a complete overhauling and re-organization. It was one of the best little hotels in the country. Commercial travellers; unable to get home for the week-end, used to spend Sunday at the Bellington Hotel. It was a good hotel.
The town owed something to that hotelfor what followed.
The quiet traveller who honored it with his presence, was a big business man who wanted to locate a plant for making light castings. The hotel service was good. The luncheon was good. The place was clean and cheerful. When that afternoon H. B. MacKenzie,
of the firm of MacKenzie and Smith, sent his card in to Uncle Henry, he was in a good mood.
“Mayor Altburg?” he said.
“I’m Altburg,” said Uncle Henry. That was all the stenographer overheard. But that night we were able to announce the new industry come to Milham—one that would employ two hundred men.
Let me explain how Mayor Altberg became our publicity agent. In the first place Milham’s reputation for being a bright, cheerful town, was due to his secret influence in our paper. That reputation spread over the whole country bv means of the commercial travellers who enjoyed the Bellington Hotel, in contrast with the other hostelries they had to endure, and they recognized that Milham shop-keepers treated a travelling man, not like a dog, but as a welcome guest, with whom to exchange ideas, if not always orders and goods. Some of those same merchants used to be the grumbling sort that give a town a black eye for miles -around, through the naturallv disgruntled commercial men, but they had had a change of heart, thanks to the revived spirit of the town.
As for me, whenever I had a chance I sent in good healthy, cheerful storie? about Milham to the big city papers, and when we had a slight outbreak of small-pox—two cases—I confess the telegraph men and I did our best to keep it from getting to the outside papers—until the scare was over. Little by little Milham became known all over as a bright town. • One of the first moving picture shows to open in Ontario. outside of Toronto and Hamilton, located in Milham. That brought us quite a bit of local trade on account of the farmers who came in for entertainment. Then we got the favorable attention of the big banks, and away back in the heads of the managers thiev began to remember Milham as “a bright little dump,” and when it came to ffifing a vacancy or increasing the local staff in Milham, our town received ih' bright fellows from head office, instead of the sleepers who once were railroaded into our midst. Wholesale jobbers
no longer put off their old stocks at Milham. It was known for a wide-awake town.
We still had, up to the time the new foundry came, only our pitifully small laboring population. It was to increase this Uncle Henry worked, and somehow pr another he managed to join a club in Toronto, a big business men’s club. Every time he got the chance, he spent a day in Toronto, and little by little he came to know the big men of the city. He was a story-teller and a capital maker of little informal after-dinner speeches. Every now and then he would drop a word about his town—Milham, not a flamboyant advertisement, but just a quiet word. Sometimes business people would ask him questions. On those occasions he told only the truth—and always took pains to understate it rather than over-state things. He found in the big city, men who felt that the overhead expenses were too high, and that the cost of living was too great in Toronto to suit them.
“Come out to Milham some day,” said Uncle Henry to one of these men. “I’ll take you fishing. Nicest little trout stream you ever knew of.”
They came to fish—and remained to absorb small doses of knowledge of Milham. The foundry was the first fruit of Uncle' Henry’s “fishing” excursions. Then came a carriage works; then a knitting factory. A boom in industrials began to grow up all over Ontario, and first thing we knew Milham had doubled its population and was still growing. Sometimes men came who wanted bonuses or free sites, or exemption from taxation.
“Nothing doing,” said Uncle Henry.
With Milham everything in the town prospered. The paper grew so big and there was so much advertising, that I bought new presses and hired a city editor from Toronto. We prospered— Mary, and the baby and I.
This is the second of the series, the first having appeared in April issue. They conclude in the June number.
I am longing for the marshes and the meadows,
I am lonely for the sand-dunes and the foam,
For the night-wind crying free on the heaving moonswept sea,
For the orchard-lawns and clover blooms of home ;
In dreams, Elysian East, again I see thee,
For the rapture of thy forest-bowers I yearn,
Take me back and let me rest on thy tender motherbreast,
Where my longing, lonely heart must ever turn.
When the sea-gull builds his home in reeded shallows, When the vernal violet gleams with rippled rain, When the sweet arbutus twines in the shade of sighing pines,
When the robin tells his tale of love again,
Then distant East, in dreams again I see thee,
Take me back at last to lie amid thy fern,
Take me back and let me rest on thy tender motherbreast,
Where my longing, lonely heart must ever turn.