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The Personal Reminiscences Of Albert Lasker
December 1954 | Volume 6, Issue 1
I said, “I have a telegram to be delivered to Mr. Eugene V. Debs.”
He said, “Give it to me, and I’ll receipt for it.”
I’d seen Debs’ picture in the papers, and I knew this man wasn’t Debs, so I said, “No, the manager told me I could only deliver it to Mr. Debs.”
I talked in such a loud voice and made such a fuss, that a door opened just off the entrance and Mr. Debs came out. I delivered the telegram to him, and when he opened it, it read:
I AM NOT A MESSENGER BOY. I AM A YOUNG NEWSPAPER REPORTER. YOU HAVE TO GIVE A FIRST INTERVIEW TO SOMEBODY. WHY DON’T YOU GIVE IT TO ME? IT WILL START ME ON MY CAREER.
That so amused Debs that he gave me the interview. If I remember, I made two or three hundred dollars that night. The News that Sunday morning scooped the Tribune .
”…I suppose I made more money out of advertising than any man who ever lived…”
My father had a dread of my becoming a newspaper-man, because in those days (and this is no exaggeration) almost every newspaperman was a heavy drinker. It went with the line. It was the custom of the trade—even among a great many inspired writers. I was very devoted to my father, and he proposed instead that I go to a firm in what he considered a kindred field—Lord & Thomas in Chicago, an advertising agency, with which he had had some prior business contact.
He wrote to Lord & Thomas, and they wrote back that they would give me a three months trial. Then they would see whether they could keep me on.
That suited me fine, for I was certain I wouldn’t last a three months’ test in advertising. I would be in a big city—I had never been in a city before—and have a good time. It would be a nice semi-vacation, and in ninety days I would be on my way to New York and my father would be satisfied.
Although I had made $20, $30, and $40 a week, they started me at $10 a week! They figured that in three months for $125, they would have liquidated their obligation. My father allowed me—and I wasn’t above it—$75 while I was there, towards my living expenses when I went to work at Lord & Thomas.
I went around the office to one and all to try to learn something about the business, but they didn’t have any system to teach. They let me shift for myself and with little to do, I got into a not-so-good crowd. (And for a biography, this isn’t a very inspiring story.) After I’d been there about eight weeks, I got into a crap game, and lost several hundred dollars I didn’t have and gave a due bill to the gambler.
Then I had to think, and think fast, so I went to Mr. Thomas, who was a very sympathetic man—an understanding man—and I told him what I’d done. I had never before sold anything to anybody, but I did a salesmanship job that day. I talked Mr. Thomas into advancing me $500—which was a fortune in those days. He went with me, and we settled with the gambler. I had to stay with Lord & Thomas to work out the $500. I never got back to reporting.
”…It really was in our office—as the result of a crap game—that modern advertising was born…”
I settled down to work, and I began seriously to try to find out what advertising was. Frankly, there was so much of it I didn’t like, that I just got stubborn and didn’t want to remember, although I might say in passing that I suppose I made more money out of advertising than any man who ever lived has made, or ever will make, in that business. It really was in our office—as the result of a crap game—that modern advertising was subsequently born.
I presume that at the time I went to work for Lord & Thomas there were from ten to fourteen agencies in all the United States. I do not believe there were more than that, and I do not believe that the total of general advertising in the United States through agencies was more than $15,000,000. Today any one advertising firm which does $15,000,000 is merely a moderate size firm—doing well, but nothing special.
While advertising was used somewhat, it was not known what the force was that made it effective. The general conception was that advertising was “keeping the name before the people.” Advertising would pay in some cases, and it wouldn’t pay in others. When I came to Lord & Thomas, their total copywriting staff consisted of one man on half time. He worked mornings for Lord & Thomas and worked afternoons for Montgomery Ward and Company. If I remember, he got $40 or $50 a week all told.
Lord & Thomas did the advertising of Armour & Company, but the total of that account wasn’t very much. They did Anheuser-Busch. I presume Anheuser-Busch spent $120,000 a year, and was one of the largest advertisers in America. They handled Cascaret, which was in those days one of the four or five largest advertisers in the country. They spent $300,000, and Lord & Thomas owned a third of the Cascaret business. It was a cathartic.