- Historic Sites
The Personal Reminiscences Of Albert Lasker
December 1954 | Volume 6, Issue 1
This resignation gave me an opportunity to make my second sale to Mr. Thomas. I said to him that while he was looking around for a trained man, why didn’t he let me cover the territory. I would not ask more than the $10 a week I was currently being paid. I told him that I wanted a chance to learn. I thus became an advertising solicitor.
I had three assets—energy, dedication, and luck. I was a success from the first—from the time I was nineteen. The main things in my favor were dedication and energy, because I wanted to work to pay off this debt.
The first town I covered, after Mr. Thomas gave me a territory, was Battle Creek. There was a prospect there who was going to spend $3,000. That was a big account. The agencies fought for it in those days as they would today over a $200,000 account. They worked just as hard. The sights weren’t so high.
I was lucky. I was full of energy and determination. I was a young boy—and that intrigued people. The first day I was out in my new territory I was awarded this order of $3,000 to which I have referred—which my predecessor could have landed any time before. He was a fine man, but he wasn’t a “closer.”
I went out on the road and got these accounts largely as a result of the good work done by my predecessor. That made me quite a figure, because by the end of six months I had $40, $50, $60,000 worth of business. Any man who handled $150,000 worth of business at that time was quite a figure in the line. If he received for the firm ten per cent commission on the accounts he landed or in major competition worked it around to ten per cent, that meant he was bringing in $15,000 in commissions. The expenses of the firm were not very great. We had just the one copy writer to whom I referred, one artist at $35 weekly and a few clerks to send out orders and check insertions. They could afford to pay a man who got $150,000 worth of business $3,000 to $5,000—even in those days. If he traveled on the road, they had to pay his expenses, but travel expenses then were very small.
I wanted to find out what advertising was. I had the reporter’s instinct that never left me. I kept asking, “What is advertising? What is advertising?” I couldn’t find out. After a bit I concluded, “Advertising must be created to look like reading matter. Post had made this type of advertising pay, and the patent medicine people had made it pay.”
Lord & Thomas turned over to me to handle—but didn’t pay me anything extra for it—the business that they previously had in the territory assigned me. Any raise I would get had to come through new business. Lord & Thomas had perhaps $100,000 worth of business in my territory.
Sometimes I would drive in a sleigh through snow fifteen miles to a school in Indiana that was going to spend $300 a year. The place could not be reached by train. If I landed the account, we made ten per cent on it—$30. It might take me the whole day to get there and back in the sleigh, and out of the $30, the sleigh might cost $6. However, there was no copy expense as the school prepared their own and $24 net profit was $24.
I quickly saw that I would get nowhere under the status quo, because it took so much of my time to handle the business Lord & Thomas had in the territory when I took hold. I didn’t expect them to pay me much for that. They had it already. The $40,000 or $50,000 worth of business which I got took a lot of time to handle because I had to write the copy.
I found that Lord & Thomas had, among other accounts in my territory, one in Louisville that was spending $3,000 a month. The commission was ten per cent. Lord & Thomas wrote the copy, and it was very successful. This advertiser made an ear drum—a small device to be inserted in the ear to aid hearing. The ads were three-inch ads. These ear drums were sold by mail for only $5. All of the business had to come from people who responded to the ads.
I thought, “If we run copy for this ear drum like Post uses it should increase results. But if I tell the client I’m a great copy writer, he won’t believe me, for he looks on me as only a solicitor.”
There was a young man named Katz on a Chicago paper who had worked on papers in the South with me. I went to him and said, “How would you like to be a professional copy writer? Maybe I can make you a good deal of money. I want you to study the structure of copy such as Post and others use, and write me some ads for this ear drum along those lines.”
Without saying anything to my firm, I went to the man who owned the ear drum business—Mr. George Wilson. I said to him, “Look. Suppose Lord & Thomas could multiply your sales. That would be very good for you, and it would multiply our volume of business with you, because you would spend more money. We will write a new kind of copy for you, but you must pay us fifteen per cent commission on all ads that contain the new copy. If at the end of ninety days the results haven’t increased, we’ll give you back the money, and your account will still be on a ten per cent basis. But as an earnest that you are interested, you will have to pay me a fee of $500.”
I talked him into it, and he paid me the $500, which I in turn paid to Katz (my young friend) to write the advertising. It didn’t cost my firm anything. Then I brought Katz (on a railroad pass) to Louisville and introduced him to Wilson as the great copy writer who was going to do this job.
Inside of a year, Wilson was spending $20,000 a month with Lord & Thomas. He had been spending $3,000 a month when I made my proposition. Instead of getting ten per cent on $3,000 a month, we were getting fifteen per cent on $20,000 a month.