OF ALL forms of direct advertising the house organ is in many respects the most interesting and adventurous. No other advertisement affords so wide an opportunity for the exercise of imagination and the literary gift, and none is so attended by hazard.
It is said that upwards of $4,000,000 per year is expended by American industry in publications of this type, of which thirty per cent prove futile and are abandoned. No other kind of direct mail publication has either so high a mortality or so great a birth rate. People are always experimenting with house organs, probably because they are attracted so strongly by some of the really good ones that come to their desks. Naturally where so much is undertaken on impulse or mere guesswork instead of through well-considered study, there is vast waste.
But all this does not mean that the house organ is an ineffective agency. It has rendered, and will continue increasingly to render, great service to those businesses that have something of importance and interest to tell at regular intervals, and who have at the same time the talent in their organization necessary to produce it. The writer remembers hearing, at one of the first advertising conventions he ever attended, an elderly and sensible gentleman assert that the large profits of his business were mainly due to a house organ he had originated. And his business was the manufacture of rather gruesome materials, of which embalming fluid was one. Now if a house organ can promote the sale of embalming fluid, it is hard to say that it has any limitations. One advantage this paper, of course, enjoyed. It was addressed to a definite class of peoplethe Ofuneral directors of the country. It afforded an avenue of regular contact with all the firm’s customers and prospects; and no matter what his personal tastes may be, the funeral director has got to be interested in embalming fluid.
This example suggests, rather prematurely, one prime consideration that every establishment contemplating the issue of a house organ should bear in mind. That is its market. If a product must be sold to, or through, a definite profession, trade or class, all of whom are prospective or possible customers, then a house organ is a practical help to selling. There are not too many architects or dentists or hardware merchants in this great country to be covered profitably each month by a progressive house that has originality both in its product and its presentation.
Though we have referred first to the house organ as a potential sales help, it must be borne in mind that of all classes of advertisement it is essentially the most institutional in its nature. There is no other printed contact that can develop so much personalitywe may even say, intimacy. In no other way can the spirit of a business be so truly reflected. An ingenious house organ can make thousands of customers, and indeed a whole trade, come to feel that they know the establishment, the people who conduct it, its methods, and its motives. Such widespread and favorable acquaintance is valuable good-will.
There are two broad types of house organs, which may be roughly described as “internal” and “external,” though, of course, many partake of the nature of both.
The classification and character of the publication depend altogether upon the audience to which it is primarily addressed and the purpose it is intended to accomplish; for without a definite purpose and objective, the house organ has no more prospect of success than any other form of desultory and aimless advertising activity.
The internal house organ is intended chiefly for circulation within the company’s own organization and for its own employees. It is employed as a substitute for purely personal contact between the management and the operating force, and no manager of vision will for a moment doubt the wisdom of maintaining such a contact.
Naturally, the establishment that is not too large nor scattered to make it possible for the management to personally know its own men, has no substantial need for a paper addressed to them. The executives can keep the contact vital as they move about through the establishment from time to time. But if the business be a large one, employing many hundreds and perhaps thousands of workers, and particularly if its activities, plants, branches and agencies are widely scattered, then the house organ can render service of the first order in unifying the whole organization, informing the entire force of its activities, revealing and spreading its underlying spirit, and in building up those vital things we call loyalty or morale.
The external organ, on the other hand, finds its true audience among those who have only a customer interest in the business. As a means of creating direct and immediate sales it can hardly prove effective, but it can create interest in the product, confidence in the house, and prepare the ground so that more specific and definite advertising and personal salesmen can reap a much in-creased harvest. The house organ that makes the prospect receptive to the buying suggestion has done its work well.
There is a large literature on house organs. Much that is appearing is in the form of rather discursive commentary. But I observed lately, in an article by Mr. Clifford Sloan in Printed Salesmanship, a classification of house organ uses so complete that I can hardly submit to people who are considering the publication of one a better guide.
Having determined, by application to his own business of the above tests, whether there is a profitable place in it for a house organ, the advertiser will be interested in knowing, in a little more detail, what he may accomplish and how. The general principles if they may be so describedare applicable to any business, and as good an example as any may be found in the banks. Some of our finest house organs have their home in the big financial institutions of the country. Mr. E. H. Kittredge, of the Old Colony Trust Company, Boston, issues a successful institutional paper called the Old Colony News-Letter, that may be regarded as typical of the better class of house organs. It is largely internal in its nature, and it is made the subject of an interesting analysis in an article written by him in a leading trade paper. First of all, he emphasizes the necessity of good quality. It is better to issue no house organ at all than to put out a publication on poor paper, badly printed and illustrated, and carelessly edited.
“The internal organ, properly edited,” he says, “makes the whole organization into an enthusiastic, loyal family. It provides a forum where all departments meet and become better acquainted. From the editorial rostrum the aims and ideals of the institution are stated with the utmost directness and authority. The doings and accomplishments, the joys and sorrows of the individuals, from the freckle-faced office boy to the president, are chronicled. The road to success is charted for the ambitious, and the value of team-play and cooperation is made evident. The establishment is humanized in terms of the individual. The house organ that accomplishes this sells the bank solidly to its employees and keeps it above par as a company to work for. It is a profitable investment in good-will and good work, the most valuable ponderables and imponderables any institution can possess.
“The external house organ seeks to sell not only the many definite services your bank has to offer, but the quality of its services and facilities. It is directed to your customers and logical prospects. To your customers its mission is to sell additional service. To those who are availing themselves of your general banking service you present the desirability of making use of your bond department, safe-deposit vaults, trust department, foreign departmentto make the bank a valuable asset and servant in their business.
“To your prospective clients the external house organ comes as a well-dressed, persuasive solicitor, who calls regularly. If the prospect is in Chicago or San Francisco, Boston or New Orleans, this caller waits until he gets back. It serves as an advance agent to set the stage and prepare the way for a conference with some officer of the bank, which results in putting a new customer on your books.”
Inasmuch as the house organ is the printed representative of your business, it is quite as important that it present a pleasing and dignified appearance as it is that your salesman be clean and well-groomed. Just as the salesman who possesses “personality” will best succeed, so you must give the human touch to your paper. If it fails to appeal to the feeling and sentiment of your prospect, it will hardly influence him by purely intellectual processes. There are, of course, no fixed rules for house-organ printing and editing, but these general comments and precepts seem to be sound and of general application:
1. Make your house organ physically worthy of your house. Don’t skimp unduly in its mechanical production. Consider, in its make-up, the tastes of the audience to which you appeal.
2. Emphasize the human element in everything you say. Be definite, not general. Let it represent and reflect not a mere corporation for profit, but an organization developed to serve man-kind and made up of human beings who can feel and sympathize and understand as well as think and plan.
3. Employ, if it is available, an appealing literary style. Write directly, write simply, write logically. Make your paper an agency for culture as well as for health and efficiency and ambition. Let it, by an easy, unconscious process, elevate the standards of its readers.
4. Make it inspirational. Tell the stories of the achievements of real people. Be definite. It is better if some of these people are known to your readers, and the story is more dramatic and more helpful if discouragement and apparent failure were way-marks on the road to final success.
5. Throw around your business an atmosphere of solidity as well as of friendly good-will. Confidence is the mainspring of business.
6. Demonstrate your product in use. The familiar automobile, doing strange work in out-of-the-way parts of the world, is impressive to the owner and prospect here at home. The fine condition of the road in Saginaw after twelve years of service is suggestive and important to the road-builder in Honolulu as well as in Oshkosh.
7. Use pictures. They lighten and illuminate your message. Everybody likes pictures of interesting things.
The form of the house organ varies greatly. Many are beautiful little books, bound in cover paper, and bearing an original design each month. Fine antique text papers are often used. Publications of this character are, of course, not cheap, and are better adapted to class organs of comparatively limited circulation than to great editions intended to reach a multitude of final consumers. The combination of Buckeye Cover and Buckeye Antique Text papers was developed in part with a view to its adaptability to requirements of this class. Many of the most beautiful specimens in our Buckeye collection are house-organ cover designs.
Another form now high in popularity is the miniature news-paper, finely printed on an antique printing paper. The Treasure Chest, the organ of The Charles Francis Press, is typical of this class.
The literary content of papers of this character is of unusual excellence as a rule. Like most of the papers edited by the well-known Mr. Thomas A. Dreier, the articles are human and whimsical, touching lightly but truly almost every facet of that many-sided thing called man. The advertising is minimized and is largely by suggestion.
There are in the country a number of writers who make a business of providing house-organ copy, or, indeed, house organs in any state of completeness. They specialize, of course, on inspirational writing, and often do their work well. But it can hardly be expected that the individuality of an establishment can be ex-pressed or its message personalized in circumstances so difficult.
In no case should the delusion exist that either the house organ or any other form of advertising can perform miracles or replace, as the foundation of enduring business success, the two great essentialssound goods and truthful representation. If your professions of interest in your employees are hypocritical it will be discovered, and if your product is not what you claim for it your market will slip away faster than the most persuasive advertising can replace your lost customers. But solid goods and sane advertising are a combination that only bad management can defeat.