I have been selling ads for the famous military annual, the West Point Bugle Notes, for at least 16 years (ie since 1995 or earlier). Selling ads for this publication has been a thorn in my side since I took the job, and up until this year has been an annual nightmare. This is because there are several hurdles to overcome that rarely exist in other types of advertising sales. First of all, the book is only 2.5″ wide by 4″ tall, pocket-sized hardcover. In addition to being given to cadets entering West Point each year, it is sold in bookstores to tourists or history buffs for about $40. At over 300 pages, it has been nicknamed the “Plebe Bible” or “Book of Knowledge” because it contains important information that cadets must memorize in order to graduate, and has been published annually for this purpose for over a century. Only 16 pages are allowed for ad sales on a first-come, first-served basis and are grouped at the back of the book in black and white, although color is used elsewhere in the book. With approximately 4,400 cadets within the student body, or “Corps of Cadets,” the Bugle Notes play a major role in the success of each future soldier who enrolls at West Point. Hence its small size and robust construction. This book is reviewed hundreds of times at every opportunity during a cadet’s residence at West Point so that its contents can be richly absorbed. Although most of the information is serious or historical, there are parts that can be considered entertaining. Advertisers would like to think that their ads provide some “relief” as well.
Unlike ads that are sold along with editorial material in a consumer magazine, for example, the ads that appear in Bugle Notes are attached to text about West Point’s mission; Procedure instruction; famous speeches; the role of sport; basic, individual and tactical skills and values; buildings; monuments; ranks, medals and badges; academics; history; tradition; songs; Cheers; label; and other important military information. Since its founding in 1802, West Point has been an integral part of American history with famous leaders such as Generals Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, John J. Pershing, Douglas A. MacArthur, Dwight D. Eisenhower, George S. Patton, Norman Schwarzkopf and David Petraeus among its more than 67,000 graduates. It takes a special kind of person to appreciate the privilege of having their ad displayed in a company like this.
According to the United States Military Academy website, “Nearly 3 million people visit West Point each year,” which includes families and friends of West Point cadets, alumni, retirees, school groups, and American and international tourists from around the world. . This website also states that West Point is one of the top three tourist attractions in the state, according to the New York State Department of Tourism. With statistics like these and West Point’s interest, it’s no wonder that Bugle Notes sells out at the bookstore every year.
Although Bugle Notes is considered more than a rote encyclopedia, given the widespread belief among alumni that its valuable knowledge provides a proud legacy to face life in any situation, it is not generally considered a tool of clarity. reducing value to local advertisers. Until I point out that parents and other visitors need accommodation, dining, shopping and sightseeing suggestions during their many trips to many annual events, football games or just a chance to see their kids, the venerable Bugle Notes suddenly becomes a sought-after advertising medium with a clear objective and a large value. A full page sells for only $350 for a full year and can deliver an advertiser’s message repeatedly with long-lasting effects.
I find it troubling that the local advertising potential market is one of the very small businesses struggling in an impoverished economy to make ends meet at best. However, these same companies express gratitude for the steady stream of customers who seek their services because of the proximity to West Point and see the benefits of Bugle Notes advertising, despite its relatively “hefty” costs.
Years ago, there were national advertisers who also sought to reach the same market with messages of inspirational content. However, the economic collapse has affected the availability of funds to achieve such fringe media and lofty goals. These advertisers usually represented national defense or government agencies and sought to shape the psyche of tomorrow’s military leaders with a book so unique and important to the cadet’s future.
However, I mentioned above that up until this year, this annual project was a year-long nightmare. What changed this year? My approach! Sixteen years ago, as well as a few years ago, my market for Bugle Notes ads was accessible only by a personal visit, letter or phone calls.
I hated interrupting these businessmen with phone calls that only annoyed them. Mailed marketing postcards or letters went largely unanswered except for a few repeats, and in-person visits were a huge investment of time and travel for me and rarely more than a drag on those I visited. But those were the ropes and I learned them well.
This annual fear became such a problem for me that I decided to disclose my anxiety about doing this job to the administration at West Point several years ago. Clearly aware that it would be difficult for anyone to sell this product in this economy, they practically asked me to stay on temporarily until they could find a replacement. Years went by where they somehow didn’t contact me to complete this task until very late, so they were more forgiving of the effort if I just wanted to keep the ones that could regenerate. I strive to do the best possible work within the constraints of limited time and even more limited funding. Until this year!
I had received a contract extension from West Point last fall, which clearly alerted me that they expected me to complete the work on time this year, and I usually start in January. Instead of dreading the job, I decided to prepare an exciting website and an equally attractive email presentation that I could publish to a list of addresses that I would research myself and build with personalized marketing messages. If the emails went to anyone who could make a decision, they could click to visit the website and buy the ad online without ever having to talk to me. Of course I also gave them plenty of contact information.
I was understandably apprehensive about marketing this opportunity via email, as it is a known fact that much email is avoided for fear of a computer virus infection, or worse, never reaching a viable candidate due to the ubiquitous spam. filters. And slowly evolving into the high-tech era, advertisers’ local markets had never been reached by computer. Not to mention that email marketing a print medium was a little unusual, no matter how unique the book was!
However, one night after sending about fifty targeted emails, I received a payment notification from PayPal! Someone had bought a full page ad and informed me that the art would follow. I was so excited that everything worked out exactly as I had planned! Soon after, another ad came with a payment. Then I received several emails asking questions that I was able to answer via email, which also led to sales. Several people called me with questions or payment difficulties. All questions were answered easily and all payments were received successfully.
When the selling season was finally over by the first of April, my total listings were more than triple what I had managed to sell each of the previous years using traditional marketing. And this is a bad economy! Ironically, just a couple of revamps and all new advertisers. I considered this a huge success, as did West Point.
What the cadets and their families probably don’t realize, however, is that every word in such a small ad has been painstakingly tried to convey a powerful message that entices them to respond in some way. Without this response, advertisers will be reluctant to repeat their participation and support in future years. Frustrated, I have no other way to convey this concern to Bugle Notes recipients than to hope that some may read this article. And it is to be expected that those who read the Bugle Notes may not feel any temptation to respond to the advertisements, regardless of intent or special efforts to craft appropriate messages.
If only they could appreciate the true spirit with which advertisers invest in this medium, realizing how congested the West Point area becomes with the constant influx of tourists. Several listings offer wonderful bed and breakfasts located in scenic and historic locations, and many offer excellent and unique dining options. With a new world-class sightseeing attraction so close to West Point, several promoters in Poughkeepsie, New York hoped to provide excellent dining and entertainment options for those who dare to enjoy a day trip to the Walkway Over the Hudson. And because this area of the Hudson Valley has such a rich history, there are advertisements promoting riverboat tours and nearby historical sites for interesting excursions that will delight all visitors.
As I worked alone with most advertisers to create standout ad pitches, I naturally hope that every advertiser experiences some measure of success from our efforts. While I can’t personally distribute each book to its final recipient, which happens when the cadets arrive mid-summer, I’ve since decided to try to help these advertisers with one extra effort—posting the entire ad group online as a book. with links to their websites if anyone finds them through an online search for West Point Bugle Notes advertisers.
Whether next year’s marketing of the West Point Bugle Notes will consist of renewing this year’s participants, new advertisers, or both, is a chapter reserved for future consideration. However, I am confident that those who own a copy of the Bugle Notes will absorb its content, respect its power, respect its history, and cherish its meaning in life…as a tangible symbol of one’s time at West Point, dear to the heart and etched in memory…until death. separates us.