Why Our Print Product's Focus Has Changed

We're Changing the Focus of Our Weekly Print Product to Reflect AdAge.com's Dominant News Role

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Rance Crain
Rance Crain

We're facing our stiffest competition in 82 years of publishing -- and it's us.

In 82 years of publishing, Advertising Age has never made major changes in its size or format -- until this issue. And it took the stiffest competition we've ever faced -- from ourselves, in the form of AdAge.com -- to convince us that this was the right move and the right time to make it.

Our challenge, in a nutshell, is that our weekly publication is no longer our primary news vehicle. That role belongs to AdAge.com, which breaks news around the clock and around the world. Three-quarters of a million unique visitors a month congregate at our website to take the pulse of the advertising business.

It's the job of Ad Age , the weekly, to build on the news and to add the essential ingredients of insight and clarity. We've had lots of practice -- ever since newspapers began running daily ad columns -- but the time has come to showcase our weekly product in a format more compatible with a more thoughtful and thought-provoking presentation.

G.D. Crain Jr.
G.D. Crain Jr.

When my dad, G.D. Crain Jr., decided to start Advertising Age in 1930, it was during the beginning stages of the Great Depression -- only he didn't know it was the beginning stages. Dad's publishing philosophy was to avoid head-to-head competition but to come out with an editorial product that was markedly different than anything on the market. His second publication after starting the company in 1916 served the business-to-business ad market, and so Dad thought that a title aimed at the consumer-advertising marketplace would be even more successful.

The magazine covering the general advertising field in those days was called Printers' Ink, one of the great trade papers of the era. Printers' Ink was a weekly magazine-size publication carrying mostly how-to articles on creating successful ad campaigns. Even though it was a weekly, it had very little news, and what news it did have (such as account changes) was in small type at the bottom of the page.

My dad's idea was to introduce a weekly tabloid that emphasized news. Printers' Ink went to press on Wednesday, right in the middle of the news cycle. His new publication, Advertising Age (so named to always be listed first), closed on Friday evening so readers received it first thing Monday morning.

Dad was, first and foremost, a news guy. He had worked at the old Louisville Herald digging up news by calling his sources at the local hospitals and the police station (once, he was even called on to witness a hanging).

After that , he started his own business-news service, acting as the Louisville stringer for more than 100 trade papers and employing several people to edit all that copy.

No competition
When Ad Age started, we had the ad news of the week all to ourselves. There were no other news publications, no daily ad columns, no regional ad papers. "So Ad Age began turning up information that nobody had had before and people were delighted to get," he said. To this day we still turn up stuff that nobody else thinks is news until we report it. And Dad's timing looked promising. "There was no indication that a business depression of any long duration was on the horizon," Dad told me in a series of tape-recorded interviews I had with him that we turned into a booklet titled, "I Always Wanted to Be a Publisher."

Most of the forecasts were for a very short recession. "As a matter of fact, at that particular time I was president of the National Conference of Business Paper Editors, and we were meeting regularly with President Hoover and his cabinet to discuss conditions. We were assured by these authorities that prosperity was just around the corner and that the depression would not last very long. However, I think I would have gone ahead anyway because I had gotten enthusiastic about the idea."

Dad always felt the Depression may have been a blessing in disguise, at least for him. "Looking back," he said in our conversations in the early '70s (Dad died in 1973 at the age of 88), "I have the feeling that we might have been lucky in starting in the Depression, because if we had started under more favorable conditions it's quite possible other people would have been able to establish a publication with better facilities than we were able to muster with our limited resources."

So now, 82 years later, things have come full circle, although the transition of going beyond the news has been a gradual one. When the newspapers started taking notice of the ad business with daily columns on the subject, our reporters learned the art of the "second day" story, explaining what the news meant and what was likely to happen next.

John Romer, the former editor and publisher of Printer's Ink, would be very pleased to note that some of our stories now read like the old Printers' Ink, with headlines beginning with "how" and "why" and accompanied by checklists covering what to do to make ads, especially digital ads, work better.

What got my dad through those tough times was a well-stocked supply of enthusiasm. He loved uncovering big stories and he loved giving his pitch to big advertisers (in those days he had to play all the roles).

It's my hope that we continue to bring the same energy and enthusiasm to all our endeavors, whether it be AdAge.com, our newly redesigned weekly or our meetings and conferences.

We serve a community of enterprising, creative and anything-but-shy men and women, and we are proud to be a part of the never-boring, but always inspiring dialogue.

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