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Selling Ads in the West Point Bugle Notes – How Email Marketing Turned Annual Dread to Delight
I have been selling ads for the famous military yearbook, the West Point Bugle Notes, for at least 16 years (since 1995 or earlier). Selling advertising for this publication has been a thorn in my side since I first took the job and, until this year, has been a source of annual dread. That’s because there are a number of hurdles to overcome that rarely exist for other types of ad sales. First, the book is only 2.5″ wide and 4″ high, a hardcover pocket size book. In addition to being given to West Point’s entering class of cadets each year, it is sold in bookstores to tourists or history buffs for about $40 each. With over 300 pages, it is called the “Plebe Bible” or “Book of Knowledge” because it contains vital information that cadets must memorize in order to graduate, and has been published annually for this purpose for more than a century. Only 16 pages are allowed for the sale of advertising on a first-come, first-served basis, and these are grouped together at the back of the book in black and white, although there is color used elsewhere in the book. With approximately 4,400 cadets within the student body or “Corps of Cadets,” Bugle Notes plays an important role in the success of every future enlisted soldier at West Point; hence its small size and substantial construction. This book is viewed hundreds of times at any given time during a cadet’s residency at West Point to allow ample exposure to absorb its contents. While most of the information is serious or historical, there are bits that could qualify as entertainment. Advertisers would like to think that their ads also provide a “relief.”
Unlike ads sold to accompany editorial issues in a consumer magazine, for example, ads that appear in Bugle Notes accompany text about West Point’s mission; Code of Conduct; famous speeches; the role of sport; basic, individual and tactical skills and values; building; monuments; ranks, medals and insignia; academics; history; tradition; the songs; cheering; label; and other essential military information. Since its founding in 1802, West Point has been an integral part of American history with famous leaders such as Generals Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, John J. Pershing, Douglas A. MacArthur, Dwight D. Eisenhower, George S. Patton, Norman Schwarzkopf and David Petraeus among more than 67,000 graduates. It takes a special kind of person to appreciate the privilege of running one’s ad in such a company.
According to the United States Military Academy website, “Nearly 3 million people visit West Point each year,” which includes families and friends of West Point cadets, alumni, senior citizen tours, school groups, and American tourists and internationals from all over the world. . This website also states that West Point is one of the top three tourist attractions in the state, according to the New York State Department of Tourism. With those kinds of statistics and interest in West Point, it’s no wonder the Bugle Notes sell out in bookstores every year.
While Bugle Notes is thought of as more than an encyclopedia that requires memorization, given the widespread belief among graduates that its wealth of valuable information provides a proud legacy with which to face life in any situation, usually is not considered a clear means of reducing value for local advertisers. Until I point out that parents and other visitors will need lodging, dining, shopping, and tour suggestions during their many trips to visit for a host of annual events, soccer games, or just a chance to see the kids their venerable Bugle Notes suddenly becomes a coveted advertising medium with a clear target and great value. A full page sells for just $350 for the entire year and can communicate an advertiser’s message repeatedly with long-lasting effect.
What I find troubling is that the local market for advertising potential is one of very small businesses struggling in a depleted economy, making ends meet at best. However, these same businesses express gratitude for the steady stream of customers seeking their services because of the proximity to West Point and see merit in advertising in the Bugle Notes, despite its relatively “high” cost, as a result.
Years ago, there were national level advertisers who also sought to reach the same market with messages of inspirational substance. However, the economic crisis has affected the availability of funds for such peripheral media and high goals. These advertisers were usually representatives of national defense or government agencies and sought to shape the psyche of tomorrow’s military leaders through a book so unique and important to a cadet’s future.
That said, I mentioned above that until this year, this annual project was a terrible year-long project. What changed this year? My approach! Sixteen years ago, and until just a few years ago, my market for Bugle Notes advertising was only accessible through personal visits, mail or phone calls.
I despised interrupting these businessmen with phone calls that only annoyed them. Postcards or marketing letters sent in the mail went unanswered, except for a few renewals, and personal visits were a large investment of time and travel for me and rarely more than a source of weariness for those I visited. But these were the ropes and I learned them well.
This annual dread became such a problem for me that I chose to reveal the source of my anxiety about doing this job to the management at West Point several years ago. Aware that it would be difficult for anyone to sell this product in such an economy, they practically begged me to temporarily move on until they could find a replacement. More years passed where they somehow didn’t contact me to do this task until much later and were therefore more forgiving of my efforts if I kept those who could renew. I aspired to do as good a job as possible under the constraints of limited time and even more limited funds. Until this year!
I had received a contract extension with West Point last fall, which clearly alerted me to the fact that they expected me to complete the work on time this year, which I usually start in January. Instead of dreading the work, I decided to prepare an exciting website and an equally engaging email pitch that I could send out to a list of addresses that I would research myself and build with messages of personalized marketing. If the emails reached someone who can make a decision, they can click through to visit the website and buy an ad online without having to talk to me. Of course, I also gave them plenty of contact information.
I was understandably apprehensive about marketing this opportunity via email, as it’s a well-known fact that most emails are avoided for fear of being infected with computer viruses, or worse, never reaching a potential candidate like resulting in spam everywhere. filters. And, slow to evolve in the high-tech age, the local market for advertisers had never before been reached by computer. Not to mention that marketing a print advertising medium via email was a bit unorthodox, as unique as the book was!
However, one evening after sending about fifty targeted emails, I received the payment notification from PayPal! Someone had bought a full page ad and let me know that artwork would follow. I was so excited that everything had worked out the way I thought it would! Soon after, another paid ad appeared. I then received several emails asking me questions that I was able to answer via email, which also resulted in more sales. Several people called me with questions or payment difficulties. All questions were answered easily and all payments were received successfully.
When the sales period finally ended on April 1st, the total number of ads was more than triple what I had managed to sell in each of the past years through traditional marketing. And this is a bad economy! Ironically, only a couple were renewed with the balance of all new advertisers. I considered this a great success, as did West Point.
What the cadets and their families probably don’t realize, however, is that every word within such a small ad has been painstakingly tried to deliver an effective message that will entice them to respond in some way. Without this response, advertisers will be discouraged from repeating their participation and support in future years. To my dismay, I have no way of communicating this concern to the recipients of the Bugle Notes, except to hope that perhaps some may read this article. And, one would expect that those who read the Bugle Notes might feel no hesitation in responding to any advertisement, regardless of purity of intent or special efforts to craft appropriate messages.
If only they could appreciate the true spirit with which advertisers invest in this medium, sympathetic to how congested the West Point region becomes with the constant influx of tourists. Hoping to make parents and out-of-town visitors aware of quality lodging near West Point, some ads are for fine bed and breakfasts located in scenic and historic locations, while a number are for fine and unique dining options. With the new world-class sightseeing destination so close to West Point, a number of Poughkeepsie, New York advertisers hoped to present great dining and entertainment options for those who dare to enjoy a day trip on the Walkway Over the Hudson. And, with this Hudson Valley region so rich in history, there are ads promoting riverboat tours and nearby historic sites for interesting outings to delight any visitor.
Since I have worked individually with most advertisers to create unique ad presentations, I naturally hope that every advertiser will find some success through our efforts. While I am unable to personally distribute each book to its final recipient, which happens when the cadets arrive in mid-summer, I have since decided to try to help these advertisers with an extra effort – by mailing the whole batch of online advertising in book form. with links to their websites if one discovers them through an Internet search for West Point Bugle Notes advertisers.
Whether next year’s West Point Bugle Notes marketing will consist of renewals of this year’s participants, more newly discovered advertisers, or both, is a chapter reserved for future reading. What I am sure of, however, is that those who own a copy of The Bugle Notes will devour its content, revere its power, respect its history, and appreciate its relevance to life. ..a tangible symbol of time spent at West Point, dear to the heart and etched in memory…’til death do us part.
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