I am not privy to your dealings with Mr. Hitchcock before I arrived at Yesse!, nor is it any of my business. There is obviously (rightly or wrongly) some unresolved business between the two of you, and I am sorry the only outlet you believe available to you is a public forum.
However, it does seem that you have no difficulty invoking my name and my character in your letter, so, against my better judgment, it is appropriate to respond.
1. Your suggestion that I was “just another in a long line of saviors” may be your over-flattering phrasing for the truth, but the truth is a bit simpler. I do not know what my predecessors did or did not do for Yesse! The only thing I do know is that by the time I arrived there had been precious little to show for their presence. Nothing but a four-page “sales manual” consisting of a few admonitions to “make calls” and a few simple forms to track them with. There was no training, no on-site expertise, and no institutional knowledge of any worth — simply nothing. If the reps at a paper weren?t born with a desire to succeed, then it simply wasn?t there at all.
2. “Promises of huge national ad sales” certainly did not originate with me. It was inconceivable that in such a small group of small markets (with little resources) would anybody waste precious monies on such an effort. What WAS discussed was effort towards such a project WHEN and IF larger markets were acquired and the talent needed could be afforded, and that was far in the future.
3. My first visit to Iowa City was in February 2000. I’m unclear as to where you got the impression I “stormed in and laid down the law” and will simply chalk that up to the impression your anger wants to create. “Leaving trusted salespeople in his wake” is another curious phrasing, as the only time I let a salesperson go was at the staff’s own insistence months later, and that was the only one in the 11 months I was involved. I’m not sure what the Wolfe family calls “trusted”, but someone who doesn’t even carry his own salary in sales accounts and who spends two hours each day on Napster while on company time doesn’t earn that title in mine.
4. “In short order, the paper was out of business even though sales had been increasing up to the point I quit” is, I think, intentionally misleading on your part. If you check the P and L for that period, you’ll find the paper ended January with an 11 percent increase and ended February with a +4 percent YTD comparison. This may sound like a “healthy increase” to you, but you conveniently neglected to mention this was an increase of a mere $1,200 dollars on a two-month total of a lousy $31,000. At such a ?healthy increase, it would have taken roughly another two years to break even, at a cost of what? another $300,000?
When you consider the simplest staffing, printing, and rent costs were more than double that, AND you neglect to mention the considerable expense paid to upgrade the hardware and software needed to replace the abacus’s left in place there, AND you conveniently neglect the cost paid to secure this hale and hearty prize from you, AND any money that just possibly might be wanted by an investor, then you leave a reader of your missive intentionally aghast of the avarice of the parent company. This may serve your personal needs, but it doesn’t serve the truth.
5.”How in the world would an intelligent adult think that the sales techniques of “big city” NUVO would work in college town Iowa at a staff of three salespeople” is pretty darn funny. Wasn?t aware Indy was a big city. I’m originally from Los Angeles and San Francisco, and I moved to Indianapolis because I wanted to live in a small city.
However, in all fairness, I’ve heard that very comment many times before, although usually from the mouths of less-than-competent salespeople (or writers with no sales experience) who had no interest in learning or serving their clients better. I happen to believe a car dealer in Iowa deserves the same respect and quality thinking that a dealer in Indianapolis or Chicago deserves. Apparently, you think differently…unless you’re implying that salespeople in Iowa City are dumber than us big-city folks and couldn?t possibly comprehend big-city knowledge. By the way, we only had four display reps in Indy when I left, and Iowa had three. I was, however, extremely lucky to work for Kevin McKinney, who understood the value of surrounding himself with talent. You (or whoever did the hiring for you) did not, understandably, have the resources to do the same.
6. That being said, not one of your “trusted salespeople” knew the difference between a cume reader and a core reader, how to calculate even the simplest CPM, how to position their client against their competition, nor how to create even the simplest ad without the help of archaic clip art-nor did they bother to even feign interest in these things. It was hard enough to convince them that selling 80% of your clients at a 30% discount in 1999(and that?s a discount below frequency rates, for chrissakes!) wasn?t likely to produce profit. ?Trusted salespeople? indeed. By the way, feel free to call the sales staff at the Illinois Times. Being such a ?big-city? of 125,000, it might be interesting for you to see how such small town folks can actually be smart as well.
7. By the summer of 2000, faced with triple-digit losses at every paper (save Illinois Times) and a very weary investor, we knew some serious decisions had to be made. As I know you can well understand how difficult it is to get a tiny paper to break-even, I can also expect you to understand what it would be like if you had to do it at four papers simultaneously with little or no help. It was, in retrospect, too great a task for one person, even if he or she was dealing with willing staffs, which I wasn?t. I?m not sure ANYTHING could have turned that staff around by the summer of 2000, but I did know a few pep talks and group hugs weren?t going to do the trick. Three or four days a month at any paper, as any sales manager knows, produces nothing in long-term change.
Could I have made Icon profitable? I believe so, but only if I was there 24/7 and ignored the other papers. When we had to make a decision to close a paper, I proposed, in fact, that it not be Icon (if you?d like, I can send you that analysis). I believed the Icon had a strong core centering around editor Brendan Wolfe, GM Kelly Pardekooper, and jack-of-all-trades Tom Vogel. But when Brendan left for the Maine Times, Kelly on his long-time dream of a national music tour, and Tom on his way back for a Master?s degree, the decision was, in effect, made for us.
8. ?I can?t believe ?Hitchcock and Farley are still pretending they didn?t know their health insurance had expired?? ?I?m not pretending anything, and it?s a bit presumptuous on your part to lump me in conveniently with someone else?s quotes. I had absolutely no idea until Anthem sent my claims back. I have, in fact, the second-highest total of any back claims by our employees. Bounced checks-with your implication we grow fat in our ?suburban castle?? Hell, Craig and I rarely see one, let alone cash it. No one, and I repeat, NO ONE has ever made a dime out of buying these particular little papers. Not you, not me, not Craig, and certainly not the investor. You also conveniently neglect to mention that Craig did not, in fact, buy the luxuries you mention from profits gleaned from Yesse, nor did you mention the possible role of his wife, a successful doctor, in procuring what his family enjoys. You also may not be aware of the large amount of personal money and savings Craig has put into papers to keep them alive long after they were clinically dead. I can assure you, however, that the amount is greater than your ?claim? against Yesse.
Your anger regarding Craig?s dealings with you may or may not be well placed, but I don?t believe you need to intentionally manipulate facts to express this.
I have great admiration for everyone anyone who starts an alternative paper, Mr. Wolfe, and that includes you. The only reason I am currently living full-time at yet another hotel (this time in Dayton, Ohio) is that one day I know I?ll have to look Jeff Epton and Marianne McMullen in the eye and I need to know I did everything I could. It will likely take two months before all current and former employees are paid for all their hard work (including their insurance premiums), but they also know every last one will be paid before I am, as that is the promise I?ve made to them.
Should I have taken the advice of numerous friends and colleagues to ?get out before you get dragged down with the ship?? Maybe. But who else would have accepted in my stead? Pack up and leave to feather my own nest? If I have style at all (and that?s a serious question), that ain?t it.
I?m sorry there wasn?t enough time to save your paper. Maybe you could have, or maybe the payoff seemed to great for you to say ?no? to. Either you got out because you couldn?t afford the losses anymore, or you wanted the see the brass ring of a buyout. Either way, in the end, it?s a numbers game.
I?ve been accused of being a ?numbers guy?, and it?s served me well. What this certainly does NOT mean, however, is that I serve only profit for profit?s sake. I couldn?t imagine working anywhere else but this industry, nor with anybody but the people who work in this industry. But somewhere money has to be made to allow a paper to survive. The Icon, (despite your encouragement at its ?increasing sales?), without serious full-time help wasn?t going to make the grade fast enough to warrant additional monies. Asking an investor for another pile of operating cash to deficit fund yet another year of losses (and in an amount greater than the original worth of the paper) was not an option.
If you?d like to discuss this further, feel free to call me at Impact Weekly and maybe we can, aside from your personal anger at Mr. Hitchcock, reach some agreeable conclusion as to your disregard for me. Or, perhaps, you can ignore the possibility we might actually agree on many things.