The Publishing Craps Game

WoodWing

On Nov. 22, 1963, consultant Paul Goldberg—with a huge mailing for Consumer Reports going out across the country—was having lunch with two colleagues at the Café Carlyle in New York. The maître d’ came over to the table to report that President Kennedy had been shot.

“Oh my God!” said his companion on the left.

“Oh my God!” repeated the person on his right.

“Oh my mail!” said Goldberg.

Distraught Americans from coast to coast sat glued to television sets and threw out all their direct mail. Consumer Reports lost hundreds of thousands of dollars—both from the cost of the mailing and the loss of projected subscription income.

Bad timing. Bad Luck.

A Sportswriter’s Ultimate Gig
I used to watch Penn State football games on television. The reason: In my 70s, I loved seeing coach Joe Paterno in his 80s storming up and down the field urging his players on, barking into the ears of his assistant coaches—backfield, offense, defense, line and special teams. Paterno was one of those indomitable people who planned to go through life with all flags flying until the day he dropped.

He also was beloved at Penn State. Not only the winningest coach in college football history, he made a ton of money and gave millions back to his employer. The Paterno Library on campus is the result of the Paterno family raising $13.75 million and donating $2 million of their own.

Paterno was a spectacular human being who lived large for nine decades.

Joe Posnanski of the Kansas City Star was twice voted best sports columnist in America by the Associated Press sports editors and is currently a senior writer for Sports Illustrated. When he was signed to write a biography of Joe Paterno by mega-publisher Simon & Schuster, he must have believed he had fallen into the honey pot. A $750,000 advance ain’t chopped liver.

Announced as “a biography of America’s winningest college football coach, who changed the country one football player at a time,” it was scheduled for publication on Father’s Day 2013. The rabid Penn State denizens who filled Beaver Stadium every week during football season—all 106,572 of them—would guarantee best-seller status for Posnanski’s tome, let alone all the geezers like me who love to read about senior citizens setting the world on fire. Posnanski was virtually guaranteed riches beyond the dreams of avarice in his golden years.

As everyone knows, Paterno’s final year went from triumph to trash when it was revealed that he was involved in the massive cover-up of sickening sexual improprieties by one of his coaches, who was a serial pedophile. The iconic statue of “JoePa” at Beaver Stadium was removed and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) fined Penn State $60 million, hobbled its football program for a decade and wiped out 111 Paterno wins from 1998-2011, thus handing the “winningest coach” title to Florida State’s Bobby Bowden.

JoePa died of lung cancer well before the final dénouement.

The big loser: Joe Posnanski, with two years of his life blown to hell. In the words of Julie Bossman of The New York Times:

Simon & Schuster is backpedaling quickly in the final weeks before the publication of “Paterno,” which has emerged as perhaps one of the most unfortunately timed books of 2012 … The title was changed from “The Grand Experiment: The Life and Meaning of Joe Paterno,” to the more neutral “Paterno.”

Bad timing. Bad Luck.

How to Deal With Bad Timing
If you are a marketer and a presidential assassination, tsunami or a massacre occurs just as a long-planned promotion is taking place, wipe the slate clean. Eat the losses. Move on. Whatever positive results you have are gravy. And unmeasurable.


Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at dennyhatch.com.


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