Selling West Point Bugle Notes Ads: How Email Marketing Turned Annual Dread Into Delight
I’ve been selling ads for the famous annual military book, West Point Bugle Notes, for at least 16 years (that’s since 1995 or earlier). Selling ads for this publication has been a thorn in my side since I first accepted the job and, until this year, has been a source of yearly dread. This is because there are a number of hurdles to overcome that rarely exist for other types of ad sales. First, the book is only 2.5″ wide by 4″ tall, a hardcover paperback. In addition to being given to the class of cadets entering West Point each year, it is sold in the bookstore to tourists or history buffs for around $40 each. At more than 300 pages, it is nicknamed the “Commoner’s Bible” or “Book of Knowledge” because it contains vital information that cadets must memorize in order to graduate and has been published every year for this purpose for more than a century. Only 16 pages are allowed for advertising 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 in the student body or “Corps of Cadets,” Bugle Notes plays a vital role in the success of every future soldier enrolled at West Point; hence its small size and substantial construction. This book is viewed hundreds of times at each opportunity during a cadet’s residency at West Point to allow ample exposure to absorb its content. While most of the information is serious or historical, there are parts that could be classified as entertaining. Advertisers would like to think that their ads also provide some “relief.”
Unlike the ads sold to accompany editorial material in a consumer magazine, for example, the ads that appear in Bugle Notes accompany West Point’s mission copy; Code of conduct; famous speeches; role of sport; basic, individual and tactical skills and values; buildings; points of reference; ranks, medals and insignia; academic; history; tradition; songs; Health; label; and other essential 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 your ad appear with that company.
According to the United States Military Academy website, “Nearly 3 million people visit West Point each year,” including family and friends of West Point cadets and alumni, third-class tours age, school groups and American and international tourists from all over the world. . This website also claims that West Point is one of the top three tourist attractions in the state, according to the New York State Department of Tourism. With those kinds of stats and interest in West Point, it’s no wonder Bugle Notes sell out at the bookstore every year.
While Bugle Notes is considered to be more than an encyclopedia that requires memorization, given the widespread belief among alumni that its wealth of valuable information provides a proud legacy with which to face life in any situation, it is generally not It is considered a vehicle of clarity. reduce the value for local advertisers. Until I point out that parents and other visitors will need suggestions for lodging, dining, shopping, and excursions during their many trips to attend a multitude of annual events, soccer games, or just a chance to see their kids, the revered Bugle Notes from suddenly it becomes a coveted advertising medium with a clear and high-value target. A full page sells for just $350 for the entire year and can communicate an advertiser’s message repeatedly with lasting effect.
What I find disturbing is that the local market for advertising potential is one of very small companies struggling in a depleted economy, making a living at best. Yet these same businesses express gratitude for the steady stream of customers seeking their services due to their proximity to West Point and, as a result, see the merits of advertising in Bugle Notes, despite its relatively “high” cost. .
Years ago, there were national-class advertisers who were also looking to reach this same market with messages of inspirational content. However, the economic crisis has affected the availability of funds for such peripheral means and lofty purposes. These advertisers were often representatives of government or national defense agencies seeking to shape the psyche of tomorrow’s military leaders through a book so unique and important to a cadet’s future.
With that being said, I mentioned earlier that until this year, this yearly project was a dread year. What changed this year? My approach! Sixteen years ago, as well as just a few years ago, my Bugle Notes ad marketplace was only accessible through personal visits, mailed letters, or phone calls.
He hated interrupting these businessmen with phone calls that only served to annoy them. Most postcards or mailed marketing letters went unanswered, except for a few renewals, and personal visits were a great investment of time and travel for me and rarely more than a source of evidence for those I visited. But those were the ropes and I learned them well.
This yearly fear became such a problem for me that I decided to disclose my source of anxiety about doing this job to management at West Point several years ago. Clearly aware that it would be difficult for anyone to sell this product in such an economy, they practically begged me to continue temporarily until they could find a replacement. More years went by where they somehow didn’t contact me to do this task until very late, and so they were more lenient with my efforts if I only kept the ones who could renew. I aspired to do as good a job as possible under the constraints of limited time and even more limited funds. Until this year!
I received a contract extension from West Point last fall that clearly alerted me to the fact that they expected me to get the job done on time this year, which I usually start in January. Rather than dread the job, I decided to put together an exciting website and equally compelling email presentation that I could post to a mailing list that I would research myself and create with personalized marketing messages. If the emails reached anyone capable of making a decision, they could click through to visit the website and purchase an online ad without needing to speak to me. Of course, I also gave them extensive contact information.
I was understandably apprehensive about marketing this opportunity via email, as it is a well-known fact that much email is avoided for fear of infection by computer viruses, or worse, never reaching a viable candidate as a result. from ubiquitous spam. filters And, as it slowly evolved into the high-tech era, the local advertiser market had never been reached by computer before. Not to mention, marketing a print advertising vehicle via email was a bit unorthodox, no matter how unique the book was!
However, one night after I had sent about fifty targeted emails, I received a payment notification from PayPal! Someone had purchased a full page ad and notified me that the artwork would follow. I was so excited that everything had worked out just as I had envisioned! Shortly after, another advertisement appeared with the payment. I then received several emails asking me questions that I was able to answer via email, which also resulted in more sales. Several people called me with questions or difficulty with payment. All questions were easily answered and all payments were successfully received.
When the sales period finally ended on April 1st, my total number of ads was more than triple what I had managed to sell in each of the past few years through traditional marketing. And this is bad economics! Ironically, only a couple were renewals with the balance from all new advertisers. I considered it a great success, just like West Point.
What cadets and their families probably don’t realize, however, is that every word within such a small ad has been scrutinized to try to convey an effective message that will prompt them to respond in some way. Without that response, advertisers will be discouraged from repeating their participation and support in future years. To my frustration, I have no way of communicating this concern to the recipients of the Bugle Notes, other than hoping that some might read this article. And, those who read the Clarion Notes would be expected to feel no qualms about responding to any advertisement, regardless of purity of intent or special efforts to craft appropriate messages.
If only they could appreciate the true spirit in which advertisers invest in this medium, understanding how congested the West Point region becomes with the constant influx of tourists. In the hope that out-of-town parents and visitors will be aware of the quality accommodations available near West Point, several listings are for charming bed and breakfasts located in scenic and historic locations, while others are for excellent and unique dining options. . With the new world-class tourist destination so close to West Point, several Poughkeepsie, New York advertisers hoped to present excellent dining and entertainment options for those venturing on a day trip to the Walkway Over the Hudson. And, with this region of the Hudson Valley so rich in history, there are advertisements touting river boat tours and nearby historic sites for interesting outings to delight any visitor.
Since I have worked individually with most advertisers to create distinctive ad presentations, I naturally hope that each advertiser will experience some success through our efforts. While I can’t personally distribute each book to its final recipient, which happens when the cadets arrive in the middle of summer, I have since decided to try to help these advertisers with an extra effort: by posting the entire ad group online in the form of of book. with links to their websites in case someone discovers them through an online search for West Point Bugle Notes advertisers.
Whether next year’s marketing for West Point Bugle Notes will consist of renewals of this year’s entrants, more newly discovered advertisers, or both, is a chapter reserved for future reading. What I am sure of, however, is that those who own a copy of the Bugle Notes will devour its contents, honor its power, respect its history, and appreciate its meaning to life…a tangible symbol of time spent at West Point. , dear to the heart and engraved in the memory… until death do us part.