Buffalo Trace

Buffalo Trace
From a few years ago, me mugging with the bronze buffalo sculpture at Buffalo Trace Distillery in Kentucky.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Boca Raton News: The Most Fun of My Working Life

I owe a lot to my years toiling away for the Boca Raton News.

It was a community newspaper that probably never exceeded 25,000 in circulation. For a few of its "glory" years, it seemed bigger than it was because of the very affluent community it catered to and the fact that it was part of the Knight-Ridder chain -- a corporation headquartered in Miami.

Among those of us who worked at the paper, we had two tongue-in-cheek slogans:

Boca News: If it's news to you, it's news to us.

and

Boca News: Yesterday's news tomorrow.

Actually in the years I was associated with the paper, it was pretty damn good.

When Knight-Ridder made its grand experiment to attract younger readers (I believe it was called the 25-43 Program.), the Boca News served as the Petri dish.

Knight-Ridder pumped huge amounts of cash into the paper, brought in several employees from other Knight-Ridder properties to lend a hand and boosted marketing efforts. Not only were the eyes of the Knight-Ridder corporation on us, but the eyes of the entire newspaper industry.

Those were heady days.

I got my start in automotive writing at the Boca News.

When the decision was made to launch a stand-alone auto section, I was asked if I wanted to run it.

That wouldn't have happened at a "big" newspaper for two reasons. One, this was one of the first such auto sections in the country. Most bigger papers didn't need it and wouldn't have chanced it. Two, I had no clue what in the hell I was doing, and pretty much everyone at the paper who knew anything, knew it.

The suits at the Boca News only considered the auto section because, other than some classified line ads, the paper had no auto advertising. Nope, it had none of those full-page, automotive display ads that, at the time, represented 15% to 30% of the ad revenue at most newspapers.

In 1985 dollars, the paper generated maybe $15,000 to $20,000 a year in automotive display advertising. It was peanuts, even for the Boca News.

Boca Raton had, and to this day has, no car dealerships. It would take something radical to attract display advertising from car dealers in nearby Delray Beach and Deerfield Beach, not to mention Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

Management decided to give the auto section a go.

I was selling ad space at the time. My only writing creds? I did the flyers for the Thursday after-work, company-wide cocktail get-togethers we had at the little Italian joint across the street from the paper's main offices.

We called those gatherings "The Gold Coast Press Club." So named, so that we could post the flyers around the paper's offices without visitors realizing that they pertained to a drinking event. The name was our beard.

When I assumed the task of creating the flyers early in my career at Boca News, they were simple announcements that included the location and time of the gathering.

They soon morphed into essays with clip art and the closing tag line: "Come when you get off."

Yep, that was my only qualification for managing and doing most of the writing for the auto section.

MPH (Motorcars Profiles and Highlights) was born.

Thursday was chosen as the day that MPH would be inserted into the paper because Wednesday was the lightest press day and there was time to print it.

How's that for savvy marketing? Not, which day of the week will readers most likely read it? But which day do we have the press time to print it?

Ah, only at a small paper....

One of my most exciting moments at the Boca News was the afternoon I stood with several of the paper's directors in the press room and watched the first MPH issues roll off the press.

Had I smoked them at the time, I would have handed out cigars.

Within about 24 months, we had added a Saturday MPH as well, and automotive display ad revenue was well over $1.2 million annually. In fact, the publisher wouldn't sign off on printing the initial section unless there were enough display ads to pay for it. It broke even right out of the chute.

It was at about that two-year mark that the publisher saw me walking by outside his office and called me in. He told me he didn't want me to be a slave to my job. He continued that he didn't care if I ever showed up at the office and that I could do my job at the beach if I wanted. As long as I got MPH out the door twice a week, he was happy.

Wow!

I have been writing about cars and the industry ever since -- more than 25 years.

So, I owe a lot to the Boca Raton News. It's gone now, but I consider my years there as the most fun of my working life. I am not alone in that.

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