Never Mind the Shareholders – What About the L.A. Times Employees?

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Recent articles in the LOS ANGELES TIMES revealed their parent company, Tribune Company, is fighting a takeover by another newspaper chain.  The no.2 shareholder at the time was suggesting it would be best for the shareholders if the Tribune Company complied with the aggressive takeover newspaper chain and allowed the takeover – for the benefit of the shareholders of the Tribune Company.  Since then, the no.2 shareholder has been replaced by an L.A. billionaire who bought enough Tribune Company shares to become the new no.2 shareholder.  He feels the shareholders would be better served if the Tribune Company stayed under current management.  The no. 1 shareholder also wants the Tribune Company to repel the takeover, too, and feels it is best for the shareholders.  The final outcome of this scenario is still to be determined.

Nevertheless, in addition to what is best for the shareholders, there are also many other people, employees with families, at stake when there is a corporate takeover.  Sometimes, too, the readers of a publication are affected if the editorial quality is threatened or compromised by a hostile takeover.

Having spent most of my life working in the advertising sales departments of newspaper organizations and national magazines, I have seen and experienced the cruelties of takeovers first hand.  The efforts of loyal, hardworking employees – whose dedication helped make a publication a takeover target – are often not rewarded when strangers come and often impose their draconian cost cutting methods.  The sweat and toil of who and what built a publication is forgotten. Ultimately, employees’ lives are often changed and not for the better.

No matter what happens with the outcome of this possible takeover, I hope the employees of the Los Angeles Times will be well protected.  They deserve to be.

Richard Wanderer

 

 

 

 

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MAYBE WE NEED ANOTHER FRANK CAPRA

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Frank Capra was famous for directing films like “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” starring Jimmy Stewart – where a principled idealist stands up for the democratic ideals of America. Maybe we need someone like Frank Capra to speak out about the overkill of money from special interests that have the power to confuse what might be the best interests of the public at election time.

Giant health insurance providers in California have spent around 57 million dolllars to defeat a California Proposition – 45 – in the November 4th election. This Proposition would give the authority to an Insurance Commissioner to examine their rate increases and determine whether or not they are warranted. Proponents of Proposition 45 only have 2.5 million dollars to combat this media onslaught.

The main argument of the insurance companies appears to be that Proposition 45 would give one liberal politician vast powers over health care. Interestingly, Covered California, the state’s Obamacare health insurance exchange, has joined with the big private insurance companies to also defeat Proposition 45. According to a recent LOS ANGELES TIMES article, Covered California is governed by three of its five political appointees who were opposed to rate regulation when they served the last three governors of California.

It is possible that Proposition 45 could give millions of policy holders an ally to regulate the cost of health care and help keep rate increases in line. 35 States in the U.S. have an Insurance Commissioner with the power to regulate health insurance rates. It would seem logical that California should follow this national trend. However, the infusion of massive dollars to oppose this Proposition can certainly confuse this issue.

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The Announcement About The LADIES’ HOME JOURNAL

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May 5, 2014

The Meredith Publishing Company recently announced that they were stopping the publication of the LADIES’ HOME JOURNAL as a ten times per year national magazine.  However, they mentioned plans to bring it back for special issues to be sold on newsstands only.

In the 1960s, I worked for the Curtis Publishing Publishing Company in New York City.  At the time, I was working on the NY Advertising Sales Staff of THE SATURDAY EVENING POST.  There were over 20 sales people  in the NY Office alone for this magazine.  Just down the hall from where we were, was the sales staff for the LADIES’ HOME JOURNAL which also had a sizable advertising sales staff.  The LADIES’ HOME JOURNAL was founded by Louisa Knapp Curtis, the wife of the owner of the Curtis Publishing Company in the 1880s.

Television was now coming in strongly into America’s homes in the 1960s.  Magazines like LIFE, LOOK and THE SATURDAY EVENING POST were battling the new medium and each other for survival.  The business models of big magazines were set to lose money on circulation acquisition and expected to win the profits back on advertising.  Unfortunately, the expected advertising didn’t materialize and one by one the big 6.5 million to 7.5 million circulation publications each went out of business in the structures they were originally formatted at.  THE SATURDAY EVENING POST, which had a 6.5 million circulation – as a bi-weekly at the time – went out first.  It still exists today but it is now published 6 times per year – a bi-monthly – with a current paid circulation- according to the Alliance for Audited Media of 353,322 for the 6 month period ending 12/31/2013 – certainly, a much smaller circulation magazine than it originally was.

When I worked at Curtis in the 1960s, the LADIES’ HOME JOURNAL, as a monthly, had a paid circulation of over 6 million copies per month.  When its present owner, Meredith Publishing, announced it would not be published in its current structure, the magazine still had a sizable circulation of 3,225,863 paid copies according to its current Alliance for Audited Media Statement.

There are a plethora of reasons given for the end of the current run for the LADIES’ HOME JOURNAL, i.e., the internet and digital advertising, an aging audience for the concept, many more diversified titles for women competing for a diminishing pool for print advertising, etc.  One of the very basic reasons has to be that it was losing money on circulation acquisition and not gaining enough money on advertising to make a profit.  The average price per issue for a paid subscription was only 77 cents per copy according to its  Alliance for Audited Media current statement.  When it does come back for special issues, there will probably be a hard core group of readers who will be there to buy it at its newsstand price – but it will not enjoy the circulation size it once enjoyed if it means for its publisher to create this size in an unprofitable manner.  Perhaps, its original “brother” magazine, THE SATURDAY EVENING POST is a good example of this.  THE POST still exists but certainly not in the same massive structure it once was.

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Rename LAX the Jimmy Stewart Airport

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Recently, I read an article in the Los Angeles Times.  It mentioned that over the last two decades L.A. has lost a considerable percentage of its filming to states other than California and many foreign countries.  Of course, California needs to be competitive on tax credits and advantages for film crews to stay in LA.  But crowning Hollywood as the authentic film capital of the world can certainly be an aid in keeping filming in L.A. Presently, two of the LA area airports are named after famous Hollywood stars –  Bob Hope Airport and the John Wayne Airport.  Wouldn’t the world be put on notice that L.A. is the film capital of the world every time they hear L.A.’s major airport is called the Jimmy Stewart Airport rather than LAX?

I recall reading a 1990 tribute to Jimmy Stewart given by the late actor Robert Stack.  Mr. Stack stated, “I have a feeling when I read in the papers about all the bad things in the world, there’s nothing wrong that a group of Jimmy Stewarts couldn’t go out and make right.”

Jimmy Stewart wasn’t just a great American actor, he was also a bona fide American hero who commanded a bomber group and led them 20 times over Nazi Germany during World War II.  A great Oscar winning performer, he also retired from the U.S. Air Force as a Brigadier General.

Ringing the city of Los Angeles, I believe, with Jimmy Stewart Airport, Bob Hope Airport and John Wayne Airport would create a formidable group – certainly one  that would continuously remind the world of the great tradition of Hollywood as the authentic film capital of the world – “The Tiffany of film production.”

 

 

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740 Park Avenue

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Recently, I viewed a documentary directed by Alex Gibney.  I was interested for two reasons:  First – I worked with Alex Gibney’s father, Frank Gibney, when he was publisher of Hugh Hefner’s SHOW BUSINESS ILLUSTRATED and Huntington Hartford’s SHOW MAGAZINE; secondly, I was very interested in the subject matter of his documentary, “Park Avenue, Money, Power and the American Dream”.  If you haven’t seen it yet, I hope you find the time to view it, too.  I found it on Netflix.

In the documentary, the address, 740 Park Avenue in New York City, is given.  In this building the richest people in America, if not the world reside.  They are not millionaires but rather billionaires.  Gibney’s documentary speaks about two Park Avenues – the Park Avenue in Manhattan and the Park Avenue once you cross the bridge over the Harlem River into the South Bronx.  On this other Park Avenue, in the South Bronx, great poverty exists contrasted with the affluence and the opulence of the other Park Avenue in Manhattan.  Unfortunately, for America, many of the inhabitants of 740 Park Avenue and probably similar residences, too, are not  content just to acquire tremendously expensive possessions, but according to Mr. Gibney’s documentary, have the clout to hire Washington, DC lobbyists for their pet political objectives.  These lobbyists write the bills they pass on to Congress.   Some of these bills are aimed at undermining the social safeguards that the majority of American citizens depend upon:  social security; medicare, etc.  These are safeguards that should never be cut to help balance the U.S. budget.

We live at a time when America’s middle-class has been constantly eroding.  Many manufacturing jobs have left the United States because of corporate greed.  Families are being destroyed because of this and the American Dream has been visibly damaged.  We live in a democracy where certainly everyone is entitled to an opinion – even the richer than rich.  But in an ideal world, there should be more safeguards against being able to play the game with “loaded dice”, i.e., using their affluence to try and push through Congressional bills or setting up organizations to influence the outcome of elections.  If unchecked, this type of conduct can obviously undermine a democratic form of government.

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What Makes People Buy a Product?

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by Richard Wanderer, November 3, 2013

As a boy I remember listening to the radio and reading the Sunday comics. To this day, I remember some of the radio commercials, i.e., Lifebuoy soap was promoting its great aroma.Then there was that jingle about Fitch Shampoo – words to the effect of “use your head, save your hair, use Fitch Shampoo”. There aren’t too many bottles of Fitch Shampoo around these days so I wonder if it really worked for everyone. The comics had memorable commercials, too. Like – the Hall of Fame Yankee 2nd baseman, Joe “Flash” Gordon, because of his speed, promoted Schwinn bikes. Then there was a man dresssed up in a white tuxedo with a high hat called Peter Pain. He was constantly battling with a remedy to relieve aches and pain called Ben Gay. As I grew older, I remember a beer commercial on TV in NYC for a local beer called Piels. It had cute looking cartoon characters named after the brewery owners. Though Piels is still around today, in somewhat limited distribution, at that time,too many people thought the commercials were great but the beer didn’t live up to the consumers’ expectations. I guess then – when you think about it – for the typical product to succeed – its value has to hold up to the hype about it.

Today, on television, we often see, in the evenings, one car commercial after the other. They tout – safety, price, prestige of ownership, happy family values, high performance, lengthy warranties, low down payments and even lower monthly payments, etc. Problem is there are so many makes and brands advertising non-stop, one car commercial often seems to merge with
another. Probably for cars, a high priced item, the potential consumer must have a pre-determnation that it is time for them to buy because their current car is getting too expensie to maintain. The problem for the car manufacturer is that they often have to get “last licks” at the consumer in order to steer them into their show rooms.

When it comes to books, this is really a somewhat different situation. Here we have to catch the mood of the potential consumer. Does the consumer wish to laugh or escape for adventure or be reminded of the difficulties confronting the world? Is it comedy they seek, to escape the tensions they may face every day, or do they wish to escape into another world via exciting adventure? Or perhaps they may be interested in reading about every day serious problems that affect working men and women? I am sure there are a multitude of other reasons a person is drawn to a novel. Nevertheless, it does depend on the mood and curiosity of the reader.

Having written my novel, THE HOLIDAY PARTY (A Tale of a Corporate Takeover), about the takeover of a family owned national magazine bought out by a huge media conglomerate and the chaos they caused to the employees of the magazine, I look for readers who can empathize with this type of situation. People who helped their employer build a successful business – have spent their careers making it successful – and then suddenly find how drastically their lives have changed.  Perhaps, too, show these readers there may be ways to overcome this type of hardship in their lives.

When you pass an empty office building in your town, do you ever wonder what happened here? What kind of business were these people in? Did the employees find other careers and jobs when their workplace ended for them? Were they able to support and feed their famlies? If these thoughts ever crossed your mind, then perhaps one novel you might be interested in reading is mine.

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WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF THE COMPANY YOU WORK FOR IS TAKEN OVER?

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by Richard Wanderer, October 13, 2013

When I wrote my fictional suspense novel, THE HOLIDAY PARTY (A Tale of a Corporate Takeover), this thought was very much on my mind.  After all, I had spent over 50 years of my life in the advertising sales departments of major national magazines on New York City’s Madison Avenue and in Los Angeles. I have seen corporate greed encroach upon the rights and livelihoods of employees.  My background as a California lawyer, later in life, helped me, too, to develop my approach to answer this inquiry – what should you do if the company you work for is taken over?

What a difficult situation one finds they are in when they have been a loyal, dedicated employee that helped their employer build a successful business – only to find one day the company has been sold to a new owner. Employees, regardless of the industries they are involved in. usually think of their companies as “we”, i.e. we make this and we do that, etc. If it has been a good company to work for – one that treats their employees well – like a home away from home – your personal identity is with the company. This is why it is so often difficult for one to adjust to the takeover of their company and the chaos a takeover can often cause. Nevertheless, once an employee gives thought to this, there are some things that one can do about this type of situation.

The following are some of my suggestions:

First of all, check out who the takeover company is.  A site like Glassdoor.com that lists, according to a company’s employees, reviews of thousands of companies. See what they have to say about the company (if it is on the list) what their opinion of the takeover company is.  One should ask their friends and acquaintances in the industry involved what they have heard, too. Chances are the manner in which they treat their own people – hopefully well – they will treat employees of the company they have taken over. Therefore, one should get feedback;

Second – A person should visit their Human Resources Department with this caveat – remember they are paid by the same employer as the employee is.  Therefore, care should be taken in confiding their own personal thoughts about this situation.  Still – they are the resource about finding out whatever benefits a person has earned, i.e., savings accounts, 401K, profit sharing (if any), health benefits, etc.  One should receive all of the paperwork they are entitled to;

Third – They should see an actuary with this paperwork. If one is an older employee, they may find that certain magic words like “late retiree accrual” can open up employee earnings they may never have known they were entitled to;

Fourth – A person should locate a good employer/employee attorney (this is not my specialty).  One’s state bar association should be able to help find one.  If one can’t afford to hire a lawyer, the bar association may be albe to help one find free legal assistance. Certainly they should do this if they feel they have been treated unfairly.  Remember one should not stand their alone, their employer has their own attorneys;

Fifth – As the new management is settling in, be very careful about confiding anything of a negative nature to the new management you find you are now dealing with. They certainly have agendas of their own;

Sixth – One should stop and think of all of their options when confronted with a takeover, layoff or downsizing of their company. They should analyze the skills they have learned over the years before, if necessary, seeking new employment. Realize, too this could also be a good time for one to go back to school to expand one’s opportunities or even contemplae the possiblity of becoming their own boss in an enterprise of their own with the skills they have already learned.

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WHAT WAS MADISON AVENUE REALLY LIKE DURING THE “MAD MEN” YEARS?

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My background for writing the novel, THE HOLIDAY PARTY (A Tale of a Corporate Takeover) is that I spent over 50 years of my life working in the advertising sales departments of major national magazines and newspaper chains in NYC and LA. This period of time included calling on advertising agencies and advertisers on Madison Avenue in the 1960s. Therefore, it is perfectly natural for people to ask me, when they know this, how closely is the MAD MEN show to this actual period in time?

MAD MEN is certainly a great, well acted, show. They are right on target as to the working conditions and the way people dressed. A number of the commercials they reveal on MAD MEN are real ones. There usually always was a secretarial pool for women at most of the ad agencies and very few women, just like on the show, advanced out of it.

I close my eyes and I remember New York City in the 1960s. They say the Egyptians have the pyramids, but in a way when you walked up Park Avenue, in that decade and today, too, you’ll see the corporate “pyramids”. However, I should add, unlike the Egyptian pyramids, these corporate “pyramids” teamed and still team with lively living people. The Seagrams Building was on one side of Park and Lever Brothers and Colgate Palmolive on the other. Looming over Grand Central Station in the 1960s, facing Park Avenue, to the North, like a huge, broad shouldered, headless giant was the old Pan Am Building. The building still stands, now called the MetLife Building, but the airline has long gone out of business and so, too, has its original name. Along the way, was a dark grey looking building, on the West side of Park Avenue, which was a private club. Interestingly, many men with strong Ivy League social connections owed their livelihoods to their ability to be a member of this club. It was a club where key contacts for business were made.

Drinking and smoking, just like on MAD MEN, was very heavy. It was not uncommon for a luncheon guest of the magazine I worked for to order at least three drinks at lunch time. Regarding smoking, if you called on the NYC based tobacco companies as I did, they didn’t care if you didn’t smoke but God help you if you did and didn’t smoke their brand. No one spoke about calories at that time. No one ever seemed to hear of the word “cholesterol”. As the emphasis on health became more apparent, in later years, a number of the great steak houses that depended on the luncheon crowd went out of business. I remember the excesses of drinking when I once saw a couple of dapper looking gentleman, after the lunch hour, walking in a swaying manner along Madison Avenue and then Park. One of them actually forgot to zip up his fly, completely oblivious to the stunned lunch crowd passing by The drinking at lunch never precluded those who returned to the suburbs and rode the bar cars on their way back home in the evening. Bar cars also served the purpose of being a great resume exchange place for the commuters, too.

In this type of male dominated advertising society, there were very few women who performed other than secretarial work. Some exceptions who became great successes in this era were Mary Wells and Shirley Polykoff. Mary Wells became one of the founders of the ad agency, Wells Rich Green. Her airline account, Braniff, at her initiative, had the airplanes painted a variety of colors and the stewardesses dress in a very attractive manner. She later married the president of the airline. Ms. Polykoff, who actually began her career in the 1950s, was famous for her Clairol tagline which referred to whether or not a woman colored her hair, “Does she… or doesn’t she?”

The ad campaigns shown on the “Mad Men” show for Eastman Kodak’s Carousel Projectors or Samsonite luggage were actually as they were. It was a time of great creativity with giants like Bill Bernbach of Doyle Dane Bernbach and David Ogilvy, who owned his own agency. Who can ever forget Bill Bernbach, after extolling the virtues of the Volkswagen, gave America a chuckle when he created a billboard with a Volkswagen with a flat time and had the caption, “We can’t all be perfect.” Or David Ogilvy, pitching the silent power of the Rolls Royce engine, as the car was pictured moving along a country road at a high speed and stating, “all you can hear is the ticking of its clock.”

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