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Publishing is a lot like the auto industry: Better deliver to the customer what he wants today, or you'll end up with overflowing lots filled with cars no one wants tomorrow.

As Detroit has improved its design and assembly technology to deliver vehicles to consumers faster, so we publishers must respond to changing needs of our readers.

To that end, we held our annual publishers meeting last week, fittingly just outside of Detroit.

Our meetings tend to be rather candid affairs, with much airing of frustration about not getting the latest computer technology as quickly as our publishers would like.

Our support services, including circulation, production and computers, are all struggling to comply, but it's an uphill struggle, about as difficult as it is for Detroit to bring out the right kinds of vehicles for the market-in just the right color and with the preferred number of doors.

As my brother Keith said, we're going to have to adjust to living with constant change. We view new technology as a competitive weapon enabling us to produce pages faster and cheaper. Keith told our publishers we want to stay "just behind the blade" of new technology. "Get out in front and you get your head chopped off."

During the course of our deliberations, we heard from Peter Schweitzer, president of J. Walter Thompson Co. in Detroit. Peter reminded us print publishers that "the trend is definitely working toward multi-communication venues."

Targeted magazines, Peter said, are read "based upon the significant editorial they contain. Targeted magazines can actually be more effective that direct mail depending on client marketing goals. However, creative solutions to marketing objectives also can be achieved through database marketing. Make no mistake that your primary business is publishing. But as we expect our media professionals to do, think outside the box."

One idea pretty far outside the box Peter cited was a promotion for JWT client Goodyear in Successful Farming. It's a sole-sponsorship of an editorial section on collecting and restoring antique farm tractors. Now in its fourth year, the promotion has been expanded to include antique tractor trading cards.

Peter runs the Ford Motor Co. business worldwide (two years ago he turned down the top job at the agency because he didn't want to give that up), and he talked a little about the "astounding changes" going on in the auto business.

It used to be that car ad budgets were built from the top down by buying media companywide and allocating it to the various divisions. Now, he said, the car companies build ad programs on a brand-by-brand basis from the bottom up.

He believes that Mustang is the "strongest brand in the auto industry, but we've done everything possible to screw it up" by making it bigger, then smaller; more powerful, then less powerful. "But the customer wouldn't let us."

A couple of years ago, Peter said he complained to his wife that he was getting tired of the advertising business. His wife, the smart woman she must be, told him: "You haven't been in advertising for the last eight years. You're a car guy."

Good advice; we're in the communications business, and change is our constant when it comes to delivering the best package to our readers.

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