The Confessions of a Publicity Agent

James Grantham June 1 1913

The Confessions of a Publicity Agent

James Grantham June 1 1913

The Confessions of a Publicity Agent

Citizens in every town in Canada will recognize either in their own vicinity or in the people they meet, some of the characteristics described in this, the concluding article on “The Confessions of a Publicity Agent.” The first appeared in the March issue, where it was shown how a town and the agent both made mistakes. The second appeared in the May number. In the latter issue the true axioms of town growth were learned through business experience. This article touches on the practical problems that come before urban municipalities as well as detailing some of the clogs that get into the wheel of progress. Every man who has the interest of his community at heart will enjoy these concluding experiences.

James Grantham

I have sold the paper. Uncle Henry has sold the store and retired from the Mayor’s chair after six years in office— he refused to run again. We have a suite of offices in an office building on Dundas Street, Milham. We have three young men assistants and five stenographers, to say nothing of draughtsmen, and a librarian. The

library is a most important part of our business. Uncle Henry is as humorous as ever, but long association with big business men has made him less free and easy in his conversation. When he talks now he talks to a purpose. He wears his clothes with easy dignity. He walks erect. In the Ritz-Carlton at Montreal the other day I heard a man

saying he was the most distinguished man in his appearance and bearing that he had met in years—outside of Laurier. As for me—I receive the clients, do most of the active work such as travelling and seeing the heads of big companies. I drew a little more than, eleven thousand from the business last year and I have a very nice car, which the wife has learned to drive. The children are at boarding school. Mary has a great many more dresses that she used to have in the old days.

Beside our office door, opposite the big express elevators, is a large brass plate which announces in simple characters :

Inside the door is a large room, simply, but well furnished with a rug and a few comfortable leather chairs. Miss Lambert sits at a little mahogany desk, prepared to receive clients and to supply them with newspapers or magazines while they are waiting. There is a noiseless telephone on her desk over which she arranges appointments. To left and right from this central room are our offices, and the library and the draughting room.

We are not the only specialists in this particular line of work, although we were the first. After we had opened these offices and commenced our business other firms followed suit. They had every right to do so, and indeed Uncle Henry and I did not and do not claim the idea as ours exclusively, but the greater part of the business comes to us for Henry Altburg has an asset without which Î fear even I should not get very far:—his reputation for clearheaded honesty. There are plenty of honest men in this world and plenty of clever men, but it is not always easy to find the two qualities well mixed in one man. This is what made Uncle Henry Mayor of Milham, and President now of our firm.

We have clients all the way from Florida to the borders of the Peace river country, and Arizona to Ville Marie in Quebec. We are municipal physicians. We treat towns as doctors treat people. Having first of all made a careful study of the principles on which towns grow, and the causes for lack of growth or for improper growth, we have gathered about us information concerning the cities, towns and villages of this continent which cannot, wTe believe, be had in any one other place in the world. We are in touch with every big industry and every big railway in the Dominion of Canada and in the United States. We have a knowledge of the labor market both on this continent and abroad; which for reliability and completeness cannot be improved upon. We have correspondents in every principal city in the nine provinces and in the United States. We send our specialists from one end of this continent to the other to study at first hand the needs of municipalities. Our clients include reeves of small towns and captains of industry. Our business is based upon our reputation for straight business, and our knowledge of conditions.

This is not an advertisement. Milham grew without a single line of the usual flamboyant material other towns were in the habit of using in those days, and the same principle applies in our firm. Our business card appears in scores of the big and reliable magazines the text on the brass plate outside our door.

So it is not to advertise our firm that I write this. I have disguised our name and the name of our city. I am writing this because it may do some good. I am not giving away any secrets when I tell you our theory of town growth and municipal prosperity. For our success has not depended upon secrets, but upon our system of gathering special and general information, and upon our business integrity. We have not, let me add, succeeded in every case we ever undertook. We have failed several times. But on the other hand, we have won several times.

There are three classes of citizens in our business: those who have lost or who never had any faith in their own town and who have no desire to sefe it prosper or who have lost that desire. These are the first class. Then there are those who think their town is the greatest little old town that ever had a main street, whose ambition for it is unlimited and whose knowledge of the real possibilities of the town are absolutely nil. The third class consists of people who love their town, want to see it grow, boom it in their conversation (at opportune times) and are keenly alive to anything that will cause their town to go ahead. These are the three classes. The first class you will find in what the commercial travellers call “the dead towns.” The towns are “dead” because the people are “dead.” The town has died either because it

should never have been born or because the people who brought it into the world and those who are supposed to take an interest in it from generation to generation, have failed in their duty. You will find such towns in a thousand out of the way places in Canada and in the United States. They are full of grumblers and grouchers. They don’t count. The second class citizen you find everywhere, even in the dead towns, but in greater abundance in the live towns where the third class of citizen, of whom more anon, is predominant. This second class is the type that thinks any sort of publicity is good publicity and that sees no reason why their town cannot have the very same industries a town like Hamilton or Toronto, or Montreal can support. These are the foolish citizens. A town filled with this kind of man is likely to waste many

valuable years and hundreds of opportunities trying to be what it can never be. But it is the third type of citizen who makes the most of a city. He is the intelligent patriot. He sizes up his town and studies out its possibilities. If he can’t find them out for himself he is willing to learn. He doesn’t think his town is necessarily a second Pittsburg simply because it has a railway station and a flour mill, but he thinks well of it and tries to make the most of it. The chances are that such a man, if he happens to find himself in a dead town will move out to a live town, or will try to make the dead town look alive once more. He is the man who takes an interest in the management of his local affairs. He does not sit back and sneer at his aldermen as being notorious incompetents. As a rule, they are, but that is the fault of the live citizens for not taking more interest in the municipal affairs and for encouraging “smart alecs” to make alder manic work a joke. The third class of man is proud of his town, recognizes its limitations, admires its possibilities and tries to make the most of them.

Now let me give you a list of the different sorts of municipalities one comes in contact with. Your town is probably one of this list, for I think it covers almost every type.

1. The village which is merely a convenient spot for the people of the surrounding country to shop. It is a small distributing centre, and to some extent a collecting centre for the butter, eggs, creamery produce and other farm product of the immediate vicinity. There are, perhaps, twelve buildings in the place, including a grist mill, a blacksmith shop, and the post-office. The village is asleep most of its time. It has no ambitions and never will have. It is just as well. It is only a very small cog in the machinery of the nation. The most its people can do is to keep their lots looking nice, keep good stocks in their stores, and see that they don’t fall behind, so that some other nearby village might take away their trade.

2. Consider the same village endowed with a natural advantage. It

may be near a fine clay bed and so be a brick-making village. Or there may be plenty of timber nearby, or talc mines, or exceptional advantages for small mills on the river there. Such a village may grow, by encouraging even - small ventures to start up in the town, such as a good mill or two, a lumber mill, woolen mills, or other small industries. By encouragement, I do not mean bonuses or free sites. These things are inherently bad. Such a village as this, by sheer force of public spirit can build up a good name and take a part in the industrial affairs of the country. By watching the little things, even to such a seemingly small matters as moving picture shows and good hotel accommodation, much can be done.

3. In this class place the county town, the university town, the mining town, the capital city, or any municipality which has, as it were, had fame thrust upon it. It has been arbitrarily marked out from the other towns by the location of the university or government buildings there. This usually ends the usefulness of the town unless it is bigger than the University. For instance, the University does not hurt the city of Toronto, but between the University and the penitentiary in a certain town on the shores of Lake Ontario there is room for nothing else. The town has achieved a certain amount of distinction through the colleges, but like the rich man’s son born without any problems to solve, it lacks ambition. Take for example many a county town, it is content with the honor it has been given. Its petty importance on certain days of the year such as when the circuit judge arrives or somebody is hanged by the sherriff’s orders, are all it cares about. In a certain famous old county in Ontario the county town is a sleepy hollow compared to another town which up to a few years ago was a mere crossroads. At that time trade naturally gravitated to the county seat and it made no effort to hold it. The little village ten miles away first of all got its idea from a new preacher that came to the Presbyterian church there.

He was a hustler and he preached fine sermons. He stirred the town up, and without meaning it, set people talking about his sermons. People drove in from miles around to hear the new preacher. When the preacher was translated to a bigger church in Toronto, people began to look for some other stimulus to the town. Between them, five of the leading men erected a moving picture theatre and bought films for it. The county town “hadn’t any use” for moving pictures! But the farmers came to the smaller town to see them and to do their shopping! By this time the town was alive to still other possibilities. It improved its market place and built a horse-watering trough which was the marvel of the country-side. People came to see it—and remained to shop. The fame of the place spread and men who wanted to sell goods in that county tried them first in the shops of this town; the county town got the new goods second. It soon dropped into second place, simply because the people of the other town were more lively and were not the sort to be content with being even as big as the county seat.

4. In this class place the town with natural industrial advantages. It is remarkable how few people to-day know just what factors enter into the making of a good industrial town. First take shipping facilities—rail and water, if possible; then take the question of convenient or inconvenient raw materials for the manufactories; then take the labor market and in that connection, the cost of living. The cost of living means much to a manufacturer and a good industrial town should be surrounded with a good farming—mixed farming country. There are two towns in northern Ontario lying side by side, which have a great many advantages but one .great handicap : they have to bring their food supplies from great distances; consequently the cost of living is high, wages have to be proportionately high and scarce. A man who falls idle in one of those two towns must needs go somewhere else very quickly. It costs more to be idle there than in even Winnipeg or Toronto.

In connection with the question of shipping facilities I find in my work that a great many towns quarrel with the railway companies merely on general principle. They have read magazine articles about the railway and how they are alleged to have oppressed the people. They have read the rabid editorials of newspaper editors who sometimes are more zealous than wise. These attacks on the railways are, nine out of ten times, exaggerated. What is true against them is often pretty ugly. But the point is this, towns need railways, and railways need towns. It is folly either for the town to be too eager or too suspicious of the railway. Suppose the C.P.R. is building a new line across the country and a certain town lies fairly well within its path, a glance at the map and the character of the country ought to be all the townspeople need to tell them whether the road will come to them or not. If the town is worth anything and is not out of the way the road is bound to come and will come, but if it thinks, by a little pretending, it can scare a bonus out of the town, it will. It will take everything it can get for nothing just like a good many people in this world. But. if a railway, proposing te come to a town requests certain concessions, an effort should be made to meet those requests \s far as possible. When two acute business men meet to make a bargain, the one watches the other pretty closely and secures the best he can. This must be the attitude of the town. But to listen to the talk of cranks and agitators who continually heap abuse upon the roads and cast doubt upon their motives, is worse than folly. It creates bad feeling between the town and the railway which is bad for both of them. Railway men are usually shrewd, but honest. They are as willing to help a lively town as not because, the more business the town does, the better for the road, but it does not do to needlessly antagonize the railway. The President of a Canadian railway swore to make the grass grow in the streets of a certain town because, in a rash moment, the citizens “seized” one of the trains

for taxes. And the grass did grow, and the town was dead for years. It made a mistake by taking spectacular methods where' others would have been more effective and would have left less rancour.

I want to speak of certain other fallacies I encounter in my work. First: this town bonusing business. I think most towns have begun to realize how bad it is. Free sites, exemption from taxation and so on, are false stimulants. They encourage ill-balanced men who have probably failed in other ventures to take advantage of an ambitious town to get another start. If the town is not quite suited to that particular industry these men are apt to force the industry to go there in order to get the bonus. The result, too, often is that natural obstacles overcome the little factory. It soon collapses. It is worse to have one empty idle factory in your town than none at all. It shows somebody failed there and business men don’t like following in the footsteps of failures. The industry that has not in it enough inherent strength to stand on its own feet and live without the aid of bonuses and free sites, etc., is a delicate affair and should be left strictly alone. If a man comes to your town with a proposition for a factory and if you believe he is a good man and that his proposition, after thorough investigation, is good, then there is no harm in the leading men of the town getting together and buying stock in the thing, but that is all. Bonuses are notoriously bad.

A man came into our office one day from a Canadian city most of my readers know very well. There are two towns together—side by side. There is no reason in the world why they should not be one town. This man wanted to know how he could make his town grow faster than the other town. On the face of it, it was one of those cases Uncle Henry and I don’t like to touch.

I called in the librarian and secured all our data with reference to the two towns, everything that had ever been printed, and much that had not been, about them was under my fingers. I

knew just how old they were, all their early history, how many factories in each, miles of railway siding, wharfage, depths in the harbors, tax rate, assessment rate, brief descriptions of all the leading men in the towns, and everything—right down to the latest fact that Ottawa had voted $600,000 for harbor improvements there to be spent in the next few months.

I went into the question of taxes. For one thing, this town was assessing all property at only fifty per cent, of its market value, although the law of that province distinctly says all land must be assessed at its full market value. However, most cities and towns in Ontario make this mistake.

I told the man that was wrong—he was the mayor.

“Why?” he demanded.

“Because it is misleading and against the law. Moreover, it makes a manufacturer think your tax rate is higher than it really is—also, if he is a good manufacturer, he thinks it is unbusinesslike.”

I let the point stop at that. I knew that the real trouble, and the real handicaps on both these towns were: first of all, that there was intense jealousy and rivalry between them; second, that there was no farming being done in the vicinity—at least, none worth talking about; and thirdly, the towns were boosting themselves against one another without any real thought as to what their respective possibilities were.

“You should join the next town,” 1 said.


“Join the next town. That’s what is the matter with you.”

“But we couldn’t. W-what good would it do?”

“What good? Listen. I have here a clippin g showing that you paid a bonus of $100,000 to a certain company to establish yards in your town. You did this because you knew if you didn’t v you would see the yards go to the next town where the natural facilities were much better. So you decoyed the shipyard into your town and it cost you $100,000. Isn’t that so?”

“Yes, but what-”

“Listen. You know that that yard has not yet declared a dividend. You know they have discharged the first two general managers and are not very well satisfied with the new one. Why? Because those general managers are bucking against the natural obstacles and

disadvantages that go with site in your town. The character of the shore is different in the other town. That yard should have gone there.”

“You mean—”

“It should be in the other town, two miles away. What is more, it will either move there—or another one will

be built there which will take away all the business from your yard.”

“You mean it?”

“Of course I do.”

“But what has that got to do with any jealousy there may be between us?”

“Just this. If you hadn’t been jealous you wouldn’t have seduced that company into making a bad mistake. If you hadn’t been jealous you would have been one town long ago and the yard would have been in your town and in the right part of your town. Your city debt would have been $100,000 less instead of having in five or six years, as you may have, an empty shipyard, marking a failure in your town, you would have had more industries.”

That man came to our office only the once. He thought we could prepare for him some sort of magic pill or piece of paper that would drive all the industries out of the other town into his town. A great many of our clients think that at first until Uncle Henry and I “wise them up” as the saying goes. I did not tell that man everything about that town either. The longer those two towns stay apart the more money they are going to waste on double administration expenses. One mayor and one city council would do better for those two joined, if they were joined, than the two of them now do. They would save half their present expenses. They could carry more weight as one city than as two when they go to Ottawa for concessions. The make of the one big city would carry twice as far as the two names of the two halfsized cities. It was and is exactly the case of St. Paul and Minneapolis over again.

One of our first cases was that of a small city which had a number of heavy industries. The employees in the smelters and the moulding shops had families who needed employment. Instead of getting after light industries that could use the lighter labor of the sons and daughters of these laborers the city was always asking for heavy industries and coaxing them in by every means. They soon found their mistake

and brought in whitewear factories and knitting mills. That filled their needs.

In another instance, a certain town was trying to secure industries—this was a Carolina case—when it was no more suited to industrial life than to flying to the moon. At the head of this little town was a pompous old fellow who had a southern drawl and called himself Cuhnel, in the old Kentucky fashion. It had occurred to him as mayor of the community that other towns were progressing and that it should be progressing too. He had interviewed manufacturers and had sent out the usual advertising literature. All he received was snubs from the manufacturers, who were rather amused at his little mannerism, and silence in response to his circularizing.

It was an off time and I thought I would go myself, so accompanied the Colonel to his home town. And it was a delight. It was one of the simplest, kindliest and sunniest little spots on all the earth. It lay snuggled in among some rolling hills. There was river and a fine old road winding through past its quaint old houses.

“How about making this a resort, Colonel?”

“A resawht !” He drawled. “What do you suggest, suh? What kind of a resawht?”

“ A summe1.1 and winter resort. Pity you haven’t some mineral springs or something.”

“Springs, suh? Springs? Why my old niggah man has a spring on the back of his lot, some strange sort of watah—I don’t just know what, but my niggah sur, he sells it to the other niggahs for a cuah.”

To make a long story short, we analyzed the niggah’s spring water and found it had medicinal properties which have since made that little town famous. Other wells were drilled and a hotel erected. The town is now quite famous—and rich. A good many people don’t realize the value of a tourist trade. It is the biggest money-making trade there is. It makes shop-keepers and hotelmen rich and is good for the railways, but it also benefits the whole

community. The cities of Vancouver and Victoria in British Columbia receive not a little support from the enormous volume of tourist traffic carried through the city by the C.P.R.

Just one more instance. A man came to us from a western Canadian town. He was the editor of the only newspaper . in the place. He had bought it under a misapprehesion. The man had told him, by mail, that the town had natural gas, and fine shipping facilities and so on. He had neglected to state that these things had not been developed. Arrived in the town to take over his newspaper the poor dreamer found himself in what was little better than a village. All the possibilities were there but they were worth nothing until the town woke up and developed them. The people were content to be a retail centre for ranchmen, and to gamble in real estate in the next town.

This man wanted to know what to do, and Uncle Henry told him. He told him the story of Milham, Ontario. He charged the man nothing and it was a good investment of his time. For six months afterward the mayor of the town came in to us, having been roused by the first man’s subsequent editorials, and hired one of our men at a hundred dollars a day to take an economic survey of the town and the adjacent country and map out the things needed to be done. We followed this up at head office by putting some live manufacturing men in touch with this town, so that they eventually located a number of industries there. To-day, that town is rich. Two railways have made it their divisional point and a main centre for all their activities in that province.

The relation Uncle Henry and I have established between ourselves and communities is that of a middleman between town and industry, or a town and its future. By our long experience we are better able to size up a town than the ordinary citizen who has lived in it for years. By our connections with

the railway managements and the manufacturing interests we know industrial conditions and are able to advise accordingly. We can now tell any manufacturer the labor conditions in a given part of the country, current wages, kind of labor most easily obtained, power conditions and power rates; cost of fuel; shipping conditions for raw and finished materials, in all directions; whether the taxation is stable or fluctuating, whether the city financing is good or bad—and so on. We can, as a rule, give the price of necessities. We know the nearest competitor to each town in each line, and so on. When a man needs this sort of information, he can get no better source. We advise manufacturers and railroads and capitalists of all sorts. But our big work is in advising towns, preparing plans of campaigns for them and bringing their advantages to the ears of men who are likely to be interested.

As I said before, this is not an advertisement. We do not need it. We have more business than we can handle. I have written this because I think hundreds of municipalities are making mistakes in their efforts to progress and because I think possibly by rehearsing a few commonplaces they may be helped. Edmonton, the other day, paid thousands of dollars to a railroad to come to their city, which was bound to come anyway! That was a lamentable mistake. Another city I know of persists in sending me pink circulars setting forth the advantages of the town. Those pink circulars are no good. They are a waste of money. I throw mine, as I venture to say most people throw theirs, into the waste paper basket. About once a month I see the same kind of envelope in my mail, the same splurge about the same city on the seal—and I don’t even open it. I know what it is and I know that town is wasting its money. It was the thought of so much money wasted in pink circulars that set me writing this article. These cities will learn some day, even as I learned —by being fired.