Sunday, April 26, 2020

Reader bugged by newspaper ad

Subscribers to the print edition of a large newspaper in a Northeastern city continue to get their newspapers delivered early every morning, wrapped in a plastic bag and tossed toward their front doors.

"I'm old school," writes a reader we're calling Mary when it's pointed out to her that she could read a facsimile of her morning newspaper online. "I like getting the physical paper and spreading it out to read on the kitchen table while I have my morning coffee."

Mary also appreciates that the newspaper publisher has not furloughed its delivery people, placing them among the ranks of workers who have lost their jobs during the pandemic.

What Mary doesn't appreciate are the full-page advertisements that have been running every day for the past several weeks from a local car dealer. The ads are innocuous enough. The dealership owner's face is pasted up top with a message to loyal customers. In the ad, the dealer points out that while the showrooms are closed because of a mandate by the state's governor, the service departments are all open and the website is updated regularly.

"What a waste of money," Mary writes. "Anyone who looks at his website or calls the dealer would know the service department was open." She believes the money would be better spent to continue paying salespeople whose jobs might be on hold while the showroom is closed. Or to donate the money spent to any number of efforts being made to support victims of COVID-19 or the caregivers tending to them.

"It just seems wrong for him to be touting his company now," she writes. "If he wants to show support to his loyal customers, he should support the customers and the community affected by the virus."

She also writes that she has never purchased a car from his dealership so she understands that the ads might not be directed at her. "Still, it's a waste," she writes. "And it bugs me."

Mary raises an interesting point. It would be good to consider how the dealership owner might have put his resources to the best use while his showrooms are closed. It's likely, however, that he has made this calculation.

And his full-page advertisements are not simply self-serving. For one thing, the revenue from the advertisements help fund the newspaper Mary enjoys receiving every morning. These revenues also help ensure that there are enough funds to continue paying her longtime delivery person.

If Mary had checked the dealership's website, she would note that it also has helped and continues to support several area hospitals that are now on the front lines of treatment coronavirus patients, as well as dozens of community organizations.

Sure, it would be nice to be able to tell any company owner what to do with his money. The newspaper advertisements might bug Mary, but the right thing is to determine if the good the dealership owner does outweighs any slight irritation she may face as she unfolds her newspaper across her table every morning.

That's Mary's call, but it strikes me there is more good here than bad. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice," is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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