Su Lum: Slumming

Su Lum
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

We have a term for it in the newspaper trade, when a client’s ad gets screwed up, we fix it and it runs wrong again and by then the whole department is on alert to make absolutely sure the ad runs correctly only to have it be wrong again. We call it an advertiser being “on a roll.”

In the game of craps, being on a roll is a good thing. The table is “hot” and gamblers rush from all corners of the casino to throw their money on the table. Being an advertiser on a roll is a bad thing and it happens the same way: out of the blue.

I think it was sometime in the ’70s when a client who owned a shop called Aspen Beauty Supply accidentally hopped on the roller coaster. We were just a weekly paper back then, and all of us (newspaper staff and client) had to live with our error for seven long days.

So many things went awry with the Aspen Beauty Supply ad that the owner began to suspect that someone in the paste-up or production departments had some kind of personal or professional vendetta against him.

His phone number would be wrong one week, next week the address would be wrong; the following week the sale price would be in error. Back then we had to type and cut up the advertiser’s copy, run it through a waxer, lay it out on lined paper on the light table and roll it down, an operation pregnant with ugly possibilities. The copy might be crooked, or parts of it might fall off, or parts of the ad above it on the page might fall off onto the “on a roll” ad below.

Finally the advertiser gave us one last chance to get it right. By this time everyone at the newspaper knew about the ill-fated Aspen Beauty Supply ad. The typesetters, the proofreaders, the paste-up people, the darkroom staff and of course the entire ad department were on red alert.

We found a sweet spot for the ad on page 3 and had big signs taped to the light table saying Do Not Move This Ad (another hazard when things were juggled at the last minute). We all paraded past the ad checking and triple-checking the copy.

When the paper came out, the top line, big and bold, read, “ASPEN SUPPLY BEAUTY.”

How could this possibly happen, one might ask, but it’s the easiest proofreading mistake in the book. Everyone was concentrating on the smallest detail that might be wrong and missed the big one, the name of the store.

When Hetta Heath came into the office a couple of months ago with a small, black-and-white real estate ad containing maybe 50 words of copy, including logo and address, it seemed simple enough.

My first hint was that, since Hetta hadn’t advertised in a couple of years, she had been purged from our computer system. This caused a delay because I couldn’t get the ad into production (now in Reno, Nev.) until we could get her account back up. When I finally got the ad proof in my e-mail, too late to send to Hetta, there were five typos in it. I rushed back corrections, three got fixed, two didn’t, and there was a sixth I had missed myself, so the ad ran with three typos and, though we didn’t know it yet, Hetta was on a roll.

Everything that could go wrong with the Hetta Heath ads did go wrong, over the course of the whole summer. New copy would be submitted but the old ads would run (including the one with the three typos). Once I went to check the proof of a Clark’s Market ad in my e-mail only to find Hetta Heath’s ad, correct but saved to the wrong account. I salvaged the Clark’s Market ad, but Hetta was caught in the cross-fire.

What can you say to the client who’s on a roll, especially a very sweet and forgiving client for whom there is no reasonable explanation? How did a mysterious fax number appear in the ad when only phone and cell numbers had been included in her ad copy? Why were ad proofs never received in time to send them to Hetta for approval?

Some of it was my fault, some of it was the distant production department’s fault, some of it was out of the blue and inexplicable, but the end result was disaster – a client on a roll. To say, “I can’t explain or justify it, but you’re on a roll” is hardly comforting or reassuring.

I just got an e-mail from Hetta, thanking me (thanking me!) for finally getting her ad right and extending her schedule through September. I’m not a huge believer in karma, but something is going on here that is sure to lead to world peace despite all odds.

Su Lum is a longtime local who has her fingers crossed. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times.