Hard Being Good - Worthy Causes But Unworthy Ads
By Martin Schrader, Publisher of Harpers Bazaar Magazine

It happens every month. We don't get an ad we were so sure to get because (check one): The creative has been rejected by the client's wife. The film made in Italy is held up by U.S. Customs. There's an urgent "we have to pay our junk bond interest" budget slash and, even though we don't allow a cancellation after closing, the ad's not ready and we can't do anything about it.

Or, more simply, we have 31 ads to fit into a 32-page form. Happens all the time. So, there's a hole in the issue to be patched over with a filler ad. Then comes the question: which one?

We can promote our own magazine or one or more members of our corporate family with a subscription pitch. But they work best with return cards and we don't always have one ready. Or, circulation says it's the wrong month to sell subscriptions anyway.

We can herald a future issue or tell our readers about a special service like our upcoming Beauty Sampler or our 800 Style Line "where to buy it" program.

Most of the time, since Hearst preaches and practices Corporate Good Citizenship, we turn to the long list of charities and causes who constantly ask for free ad space.

But-if only the people who prepare the ads would look once in a while at the magazines they want to use and try to match their creative to the spirit of the other ads and the editorial content. What a difference it would make!

Over and again, we must reject well-meaning ads from most worthy causes because well-they're ugly. That's the only word for them. Here we are, trying to create a beautiful magazine for women who want to be beautiful themselves (and we both spend a fortune on it). And our advertisers invest hundreds of thousands of dollars of their money in the best creative concepts, the best models, the best photography, the best retouching and copy and type and quality film, to say nothing of the space.

Along comes Disease X, Cause Y and Foundation Z with big, bold, lack, brash, brassy, buckeye layouts best suited to handbills, circus posters and shopping sheets.

And, they want free space facing Ralph Lauren or Calvin Klein or Yves Saint Laurent or Estee Lauder or Chanel or our Editor's prize winning photo essay.

Perhaps I exaggerate a little. But, with a few exceptions, the average charity filler just doesn't work well in our kind of environment. We want to help. We do help. But the message would work with greater effectiveness if it were designed with the nature of the medium and the market in mind. It must be possible for America's great creative minds to develop ads for even the most shocking themes -- drugs, AIDS, child abuse, for example -- which get the message across with some better sense of design, balance, taste.

And that reminds me: Most of these causes must have very poor PR policies. Only once in the 24 years that I've had the title "Publisher" after my name -- just once -- has a charitable group said "thank you," to me at least, for a free ad. And that was a long time ago. The Girl Scouts of America had a PR director who meticulously sent me a letter and a box of Girl Scout Cookies (of blessed, caloric memory) every time we ran one of her messages. But she must have retired, because all is silence after they ask for space and get it.

Hello out there, all you others. Your appeals all say "thanking you in advance." How's about a word of appreciation -- not to me but to all the magazines who support you -- after the fact? We're human, too.

To paraphrase Eliza Doolittle's Dad: "We're willin' to 'elp you, we're wantin' to 'elp you, we're waitin' to 'elp you." Just help us by designing ads for our audience. And say thanks once in a while.

No cookies, please.

Schrader was publisher of Harper's Bazaar, New York.