Agri-Newspapers with the local touch, would drive the expansion of Leader Publications Limited, with its Voice of The Farmer franchise.
The backside of the 70's was without a doubt one of the most active periods in the history of the company
THE VOICE OF THE FARMER FRANCHISE WAS ESTABLISHED IN 1972
Follow The Leader
From the founding year in 1965
to the sale of the company in 1988.
This segment presents the period 1975 to 1979
THE LEADER WANTED
THE LAMBTON FARMER!
(That publication was owned by C. Whipp)
The backside of the 70's was without doubt one of the most active periods in the history of the company.
"Things were happening so fast that sometimes I thought my head was just in one great big spin," smiles Clauws as the recalls those busy days.
With the tremendous success of the Voice of the Kent Farmer in hand, the need for more expansion became evident.
The main thrust of the company since 1972 had been in the Agri-Newspapers area because research of market potential and reader preference indicated a real need for farm pulications with a "local touch."
By 1976 the two partners were practically jumping with anticipation as they contemplated how to expand in that arena. The long range discussions, even at that time, included visions of having "county" farm publicatons througout Southwestern Ontario. They knew, however, that the next step had to be neighbouring Lambton County.
Lambton County, however, already had its own Lambton Farmer, published by the Petrolia Advertiser Topic. That paper, actually was the oldest farm publication in the area having been started back in 1962 by a representative of the provincial operated Lambton County Farm Bureau.
Charlie Whipp was the owner of the Petrolia Advertiser Topic, which also included a small offset printing plant.
The Lambton Farmer was not really being run that well and the two partners knew they could do a much better job, since the template had been set with The Voice of the Kent Farmer. And, Whipp was struggling to pay his press operation bills because his print run was far too small for the investment he had in the printing presses. Negotiations commenced with the offer being made by Misselbrook that we would move all our printing needs to the Petrolia plant in exchange for the publishing rights to the Lambton Farmer. While Whipp didn't jump at the proposal he didn't discount it either and by March of 1976 it was a done deal....The Leader now had two farm publications.
With the plan to start publishing that newspaper on a twice monthly schedule from day one came the need for more employees. Enter the picture, Warren Mason.
Bright, energetic, enthusiastic...that was Warren Mason. A communication arts graduate, Mason began his advertising career with the Thomson newspaper chain. That was the same firm that partner Misselbrook had been associated with several years prior. "Warren came through their trainee program, Misselbrook recalls, "And with the completion of an extensive training program in the Agri-Newspaper division, he was chosen to spearhead the development of The Voice of the Lambton Farmer."
Warren continued in that capacity for the next eight years watching as "his baby" grew from a meagre 16 page tabloid into one of the largest (next to the Kent Farmer) farm publications that the firm published. Misselbrook notes, that Mason was one of the best and brightest advertising guys I've ever known. Warren was full of energy and ideas, and was often the first one in and the last one out of the office." Mason years later would establish his own and very successful shopper publication in Sarnia-Lambton. Presently Warren Mason is Advertising Manager of the Fort Erie Times.
"People story" backgrounds growth of Leader Publications
MORE VALUED EMPLOYEES
COME ON BOARD
With the continued expansion of the farm publications, another very important area of the operation saw new people come on board and changes for others.
Gord Hardy who had come to Th Leader in 1973 after graduating from the journalism course at Conestoga College continued to report for the two farm papers until June 1976 when he promoted to the position of farm publications editor. Hardy also kept his hand in the reporting end of things and assisted in covering the news beat for the North Kent Leader. Before the end of the 70's decade two more reporters would come on board, Jim Brown and Brian Park.
It was during this time frame that other people came to The Leader as well. Names like Debbie Gignac who started as a compositor and continued in that position for many years before turning her talents to a new found love of "selling advertising". Years later Gignac would join the staff of Bowes Publishers and is today, Sales Manager for Sun Media at Chatham This Week .
Dresden's Award Winning Newspaper had a dedicated staff of experts!
When attempts are made
to recall all the employees
who passed through the doors of The Leader it becomes a daunting task and one that is sure to leave some people out.
One name however, that could never be left out of this era is that of Bob Heath. Bob came on board as a darkroom technician, among other duties, eventually transfering to the sales department and continued in that area until moving on, but retaining his interest in newspapers. Bob eventually moved to Western Canada where he worked for several different community newspapers, got married and eventually owning a couple of weekly newspapers in the province of Saskatchewan. Bob's love of Ontario, eventually brought him 'home' around 2006 and he ended up back at The Leader. "Guess I came full circle," Bob smiled as he was asked to recall his early involvement in the early years of the company.
Also to be mentioned is Dave Weston. Dave had a keen interest in photography and worked in the darkroom for many months before his talents were required in another area. He assumed the position of production supervisor in the mid 1970's and besides working in that department kept a keen eye on the actual operations of the newly acquired Compugraphic equipment. "Dave was key in that department," recalls Clauws, "He had a bit of a flare for electronics and was kept busy changing electronic panels and boards in the complicated machines. Dave eventually left the employ of Leader to join Union Gas of Chatham as a draftsman.
As the 70's progressed other valued employees joined the firm. Ruth Martin came on board to help Eldine Bedell in the front office and Kari Ellis came to help Sharyl Turner in the circulation department.
One other key employee that deserves recognition was Brenda Hooper. Brenda was a whiz on the keyboard and mastered every machine that the company brought on line. "We often felt sorry for Brenda," recalls Clauws, "She would come to work, sit down at the keyboard and spend the next six or seven hours typing away, facing the wall. We often thought we should turn the machine around so she could look out at the happenings in the composition room but electrical ciruitries simply prevented that from taking place."
Two other key employees to join the firm during the mid '70's were Helen Gawn and Debbie VanHyfte.
Bruce Smith was the right man in the right place and at the right time!
Probably the most notable
employee to come to
The Leader in 1977
was Bruce Smith.
"I remember travelling with Misselbrook to Barrie where Smith was working at the time" recalls Clauws, "We spent the majority of the day outlining the potential benefits to 'coming home to Dresden' and joining the Leader family." Smith and Misselbrook had know each other as friends from childhood and as co-workers at the Chatham Daily News. Misselbrook had been instrumental in getting Smith hired on as a junior in the advertising department of the city daily newspaper in the early 1960's. " I liked Bruce as a person, and admired and knew his strong work ethic", recalls Misselbrook "We had a positive feeling that Smith could help us grow the new Voice of the Essex Farmer, and also contribute to overall company development as well." Smith was a 14 year veteran of advertising sales and promotions. From his start at the Chatham Daily News, Smith was transfered to other Thomson newspaper markets in Ontario and British Columbia before accepting a position in retail advertising with the Windsor Star. Smith eventually joined The Leader as sales co-ordinator of the Essex Farmer which would be started in 1977. Smith continued with the company for many year, moving into the position of advertising manager and became the "key" employee when the company was eventually sold by the two partners in 1988. It was not long after the sale of the Leader in October 1988, however, that Smith's interests dwindled as the new owners may have overlooked just how brilliant an advertising career salesperson he really was. He eventually left The Leader and returned to the Windsor Star to continue his sales activities until his retirement in 2007.
Another long-serving employee to join the ranks of the Leader was Marilyn Leitch. She came on board in 1978 as a clerical worker in the front office, by the mid 1980's her interests and talents changed as she moved to advertising sales as the manager of the Kent Community Newspaper Network, an organization that was created by Leader Publications. Leitch would eventually take over as the senior salesperson for the North Kent Leader and by 1994 was named Voice of the Farmer's sales manager, a position from which she retired in 2006.
(Hallowe'en '77 was an excuse for the staff to costume-up around the office)
PLENTY OF ACTIVITIES
While on the topic of employees, it should be pointed out that the employees at the Dresden operation were a rather closely-knit group and participated in many activities both within the company and in the community.
At Hallowe'en 1977, several of the employees came to work in various costumes. One in particular that remain in the memory banks is Bob Heath who showed up dressed in a huge gorilla outfit. They amused each other as well as customers who passed through the door that day.
Later that same year, the employees were asked to participate in a special training seminar of fire safety. That was held in conjuction with National Fire Prevention Week and the employees gathered in the rear parking lot to watch representatives from Bull Fire and Safety Service in Chatham give demonstration on fire safety as well as the operation of fire extinguishers.
In September 1977 the staff was challenged to a softball game by the Dresden Senior Girls. The event took place at Jackson Park and saw partner Ted Misselbrook pitch a "no-hitter" in the first inning. The Leader team was phenomenal that night and although they went down in defeat declared the event a "winner". "The fellowship that followed at the Dresden Hotel was also declared a success by all those attending," commented Misselbrook as he recalled the night of prominence on the pitching mound.
One of the staff highlight of the following year occurred when the entire staff was invited in November 1978 to tour the facilities of the London Free Press. All but a couple of the employees made the journey (a few had to remain to staff the office and answer the telephones) to the Forest City to see how life at a daily compared to that at The Leader. New technology was being introduced about that time and the employees from the Leader's composing room stood in awe as they watch optic scanners generate news columns at a rate of a 1,000 lines per minute.
The following year in May, 1979, interest among the employees gyrated toward the Foster Parents Plan of Canada and efforts were put forth to adopt the "Leader's Sextuplets". The effort was spearheaded by the senior copy editor, Don Spearman, who decided that he could give up a few of the luxuries he took for granted and put the money towards helping underpriviledged children throughout the world. His enthusiasm soon spread and within a couple of days enough money was raised to "adopt" six children. Under the national Foster Plan the Leader staff took pride in announcing their "chosen children". They included Devon Miller, Jamaica; Boubcar Ouedraogo, Upper Volta; Rose Payan, Colombia; Marie Ambroise, Haiti; Gracieia Condori, Bolivia: and Davide Limachi, also of Bolivia. The staff continued with the program for several years.
AN EXPERIMENT THAT WORKED
While the partners were always looking for new and interesting projects, they were mindful of the publications they had and looked as well for ways to improve the product.
One such project involved a "reader's survey". First introduced in 1975, the initial survey was sent out randomly to 500 subscribers. The response was overwhelming. In fact, the publishers had anticipated that if at least 10 per cent of the surveys were returned, it would be regarded as successful. That was based on the general criteria within the newspaper industry that if the response is equal to 10 per cent, it is successful. The response to Leader survey was well above that figure, and in fact, was closer to the 40 per cent mark.
The survey asked several questions regarding the newspaper and what the reader liked and disliked. It was really no surprise that the three most read areas included the classified ads, obituaries and social news. The editorials and the column "Scratchin Around With Clauws" came in fourth and fifth respectively.
From that survey the publishers did make some changes and passed along many of the reader's comments that were included in the returned submissions.
It should be noted that there were other general interest questions of the economy, etc., posed in the survey. One of the most interesting questions was "Should Kent County be restructed? The majority, a clear 67 per cent indicated that it should not be restructured. That was more that 25 years before the actual restructuring took place.
(The Leader staff enjoyed Dresden Raceway and "cooler" presentations as well)
The partners found at times that publishing a weekly newspaper in a small community could indeed require a delicate balancing act.
One such episode involved the Dresden Raceway. By the mid 1970's the Raceway was a very successful operation and was generating many thousands of dollars through the pari-mutuel wagering system. It soon became evident that the Town of Dresden would like to share in that success and receive a portion of the profits from the wagering in lieu of property taxes. Because the raceway operation was housed within the confines of the grounds owned by the Dresden Agricultural Society it was tax exempt.
Several heated discussions over the need for tax dollars from the raceway occupied many hours of town council meetings. The town fathers, of course, charged that the municipality was supplying many services, including both police and fire protection all at the cost of the general taxpayer.
While the North Kent Leader always presented the news as it was recorded in the council chambers, it was indeed a difficult balancing act to comment editorially since The Leader was highly involved in producing the nightly race programs....something that generated many, many dollars for the company.
"We did comment editorially, as I did in my weekly column as well, "Clauws recalls, "But we always attempted to make a fair presentation with arguments for both sides."
"I guess you could say we were very, very lucky that we never really got into any major disputes over that situation," added partner Misselbrook.
There were, of course, some instances, when the publisher was taken to task by municipal officials.
The year was 1976 and the mayor of Dresden was G.L. (Pat) Dunlop, who also served as the community's Postmaster.
At the October meeting that year, Dunlop came out swinging as he continued his monthly barrage at the press saying that council dosen't deserve the criticism it gets.
A summation of what was printed in that edition follows:
"The mayor again took exception to articles which have appeared in this newspaper under the 'Scratchn' Around With Clauws' column.
Although he was not specific, the mayor said he took exception to an article which appeared in last week's column regarding council's use of the municipal zoning by-law.
The mayor said he would welcome a return to the old nomination meetings 'where the air was often cleared.'
In lambasting the publisher of this newspaper, the mayor said that he would like to nominate Gord Clauws for mayor and Ed Sorrell for reeve for the next two years. (Mr. Sorrell was the author of many letters to the editor that had, in the past been critical of council decisions and actions.)"
While Clauws replied to the mayor's comments in the next week's edition, the real zinger came when Ed Sorrell replied through another letter to the editor.
He wrote, "I wish not to seem ungrateful, Mr. Dunlop, but..my pride leaves me with little choice of action, for one specific reason. You stated..."I'd like to nominate Gord Clauws for mayor; Ed Sorrell for reeve."
I really have nothing against Mr. Clauws (well, almost nothing) but...to be brutally frank, I hold some reservations about having to play second fiddle (metaphorically speaking) to Mr. Clauws. Either I come first or I cop out. Sorry Mr. Dunlop, my decision is not negotiable.
And so it went in the publishing days that year. It should be pointed out that Mr. Sorrell was a backyard neighbour to Clauws and according to him there were many interesting "over-the- back-fence discussions" between the two.
And, years later after Dunlop retired from the political scene he continued to be friends with both partners and enjoyed many golf outings to Harsen's island and social times at the Dunlop cottage on Walpole Island.
GROWING PAINS CONTINUE
With the introduction
of The Voice of
The Lambton Farmer
in 1976, the space at the four-year old building on Main Street started to stretch to the seams. They were simply running out of room.
Planning started that year for a 3,800 square foot addition that would be built on two levels. The main floor would be utilized primarily for the advertising department and the original square footage would be used by the production, reporting and accounting departments.
Discussions with builders pursued and John Highgate Construction was chosen as the general contractor.
The addition would include a full basement in which the circulation department, storage and a conference room would be located. The building was completed in March 1977 and once again the firm was ripe for expansion.
The new conference room became central to Leader planning and growth and the partners made sure it was well used. Every Monday morning, at 9 a.m. sharp, department managers and the two partners would meet for exactly one-half hour in the board room. One of the partners would give "a state of the company address" and managers would be asked pointed questions about their area of responsibility. "Their answers needed to be crisp and sharp, recalls Misselbrook," as the meeting ended promptly at 9:30, and they knew it."
"Misselbrook and I had a standing appointment to attend the 'Honest John Coffee Club' each morning at 9:30 for gossip, lies, and the occassional important chunk of valuable community information, notes Clauws , "And that's something we did ever morning for nearly a quarter of a century" recalls Misselbrook.
START OF NEW INTEREST
A NEW INTEREST
While the operations of the firm were always at the forefront of the two partners, some other interests began to take hold.
In 1976 Clauws was elected to the board of directors of the Ontario Weekly Newspaper Association (which would change its name the following year to Ontario Community Newspaper Association). With that move it became necessary for the partner to attend monthly meetings at the association's Oakville office, as well as many other special activities that the association became involved in.
That interest continued for Clauws as he progressed through the various committees and onto the vice-presidency and eventually president of the Ontario Community Newspaper Association in 1984.
And, while Clauws was busy cavorting back and forth to Oakville and meetings, the other partner had other interests creep into his life.
Always the devoted salesman at heart, Misselbrook's interests took a turn in 1978 as he began an endeavour that would continue for many years, including twelve years after the firm was sold in 1988.
Misselbrook Marketing with "World Headquarters" in Croton was established in 1978.
came in the form of
sales training others.
Being a graduate of the Thomson Newspaper's excellent training program, and with encouragement and guidance from fellow publisher/mentor and sales trainer, Bob Shrier of Goderich, it became obvious that Misselbrook's future career would be as a trainer-motivational speaker. He started conducting seminars at the annual conventions of the Ontario Community Newspaper Association and graduated to specialty training sessions throughout the year at various locations in the province.
His talents at sales training soon became well-known and by the mid-80's he was a "sought-after trainer" across Canada. During those years he travelled extensively across the nation from British Columbia to the eastern provinces presenting sales training and motivational seminars to hundreds of newspapers, thousands of participants as well as national and provincial newspaper associations.
As noted, his interest as a trainer/consultant continued well after the firm was sold in 1988 as he had previously set in place a new company "Misselbrook Marketing" with world headquarters in Croton, Ontario.
The third Leader Agri-Newspaper was established in September 1977
THE GROWTH OF
CONTINUES AT LEADER
The thirst for growth continued after the new building addition was completed and the paint was hardly dry on the walls when the the third Agri-Newspaper, Voice of the Essex Farmer, debuted. With that newspaper the total farm circulation in the tri-county area extended to over 30,000 copies.
With the momentum at break-neck speeds, the activities at the Main Street office continued apace as plans for the next farm publications reached the drafting board.
By this time, the two partners, along with valued assistance from other key employees had cut the die for rolling-out new publications. By September of 1977, the Voice of the Middlesesx Farmer reached the market place and with it came a few incidents that the partners had never anticipated and look back on now with smiles and laughter.
With the introduction of the Middlesex Farmer, The Leader was now publishing more than 74,000 copies a month of Agri-Newspapers.
AND THE NEED FOR
PRICE INCREASES CONTINUED
A year could hardly go by without announcement from the huge newsprint producing companies that the cost of newsprint had to go up. Coupled with other increased costs in materials, not to mention wage increases, the partners found that they had to raise the cost of individual copies as well as the yearly subscriptions for The North Kent Leader. The first such increase in this time period came in May 1976 when the single copy price of The Leader rose to 25 cents. The yearly subscription rate remained at $7.00.
A year later in October, 1977, increased costs again necessitated the rise in subscription rates with annual charge to going to $8.50 with the single copies remaining at a quarter. In making the announcement the partners stated, "The paper is still cheaper than a cup of coffee in a restaurant and lasts a lot longer."
Two years later, in August 1979 the final increase before the end of the decade came with the announcement that yearly subscription rates would be $10.00. Single copies remained at the 25 cent mark.
For three of the years during this time frame, circulation manager Alex Blackburn continued in that capacity and turned in fantastic results. "The subscription lists grew at a bit of a slower pace than when he first came on board but a month never went by that he didn't have a few new subscriptions signed up," commented Clauws.
In December, 1977, Blackburn announced that he would enter his "second" retirement at year-end. Following his retirement, and the fact the firm had retained a subscription salesperson since its inception 12 years earlier, a direct-billing program was introduced where renewal notices were mailed out to nearly 3,000 subscribers as their subscriptions became due.
(Sharyl Turner was a Leader staff member, when government first introduced the metric system to the dismay of many Canadians.)
WE JOINED THE
REST OF THE NATION
In 1977, the Canadian government announced that the nation would be moving to the metric system to come in line with the rest of the world. It was anticipated that the United States would also make the move, but later decided against it, and stayed with the Imperial system of measurement.
The metric system came into being as the nation's unit of measurement in November 1977.
While it had little affect on the day-to-day activities at the Leader, it caused many headaches as far as the news reporting and advertising departments were concerned. "We had to have our sales people make sure that the metric units were mentioned first and if it was desired the old standard in smaller print," comments Misselbrook. "It was especially difficult in the grocery advertisements when products were advertised as so much a kilogram. People had a hard time with that as well as changing from the ounces to millilitres."
It took a long time for everyone to get used to the metric system as well, but it eventually took hold and within a couple of years the ad people and reporters didn't even bother offering conversions to the old system. "I really think the most difficult aspect was the temperature, since it was really hard at first to determine if 20 degree Celius was damn cold or a comfortable 68 degree Fahrenheit," says Clauws today.
As mentioned it wasn't difficult for the newspaper itself since it continued to us the "international printer's unit of measurement." In that format, the point and pica unit are used for measurement with 72 pints equal to one inch or 6 picas. And, there were still another unit of measurement for selling advertising...it was known as the "agate line". There are 14 agate lines to one inch and hence if an advertiser requested a one column by 3 inch advertisement, he would be charged for a total of 42 agate lines at whatever the prevailing cost was per agate line. Those unit of measurement were unique to the printing craft and newspaper industry and are still utilized today.
Theresa Younan would land the partners in court over alledged unlawful dismissal.
The partners are summoned
to the Supreme Court
As mentioned , the start of the Middlesex Farmer brought new adventures for the partners, but never in their wildest dreams would they have thought they would end up in the Supreme Court of Ontario.
The drama actually unveiled itself with the hiring of a sales co-ordinator by the name of Theresa Younan. The young, talented free lance writer, hailed from Windsor and had a mid-eastern background, probably Lebanese. The partners do recall that she did have another special talent besides writing and selling for publications...that of "belly dancing".
Anyway "Terry" as she preferred to be know, poured herself into her new job." She worked very hard and long hours to make it go, " recalls Misselbrook, who had hired the newest employee at that time.
"Terry was very demanding and I recall not too long after joining us, she indicated that she wanted to become self-employed as an independent agent," he continues.
"We allowed her to do that and an agreement was drafted between the two parties," he says, "Many months later, however, she decided she didn't have to answer to anybody, including the publication owners, so I told her to clear her desk, box her stuff and get out".
While there was never any doubt in either Misselbrook's and Clauws' minds that the right decision had been reached in dismissing Younan, she had other thoughts.
Those thoughts took her to the offices of a London lawyer who filed a lawsuit against Leader Publications for unlawful dismissal. She was seeking remuneration in the amount of $20,000.00.
The case, because it was outside the jurisdiction of the small claims court of Ontario, proceeded directly to the Supreme Court of Ontario, spring sitting, 1979.
The court was sitting in London, Ontario, and the partners hired a highly recommended law firm that specialized in litigation...Lerner and Lerner.
The day in court finally arrived and to their suprise and to a rather dismal outlook on behalf of their lawyer, they sat facing Madam Justice Campbell. The firm's lawyer cringed a bit and said he hated to see a lady justice ruling on a dismissal case involving a female employee. "I know they're supposed to be impartial," the London lawyer told the two partners, "But I don't like the situation."
In any event, the arguments pursed during the course of the day and just before adjournment, Madam Justice Campbell suggested to the lawyers that the two parties had better get together before morning and hammer out an agreement that would be acceptable to both. "We felt that she didn't want to render a decision," recalls Clauws, and our lawyer was in agreement.
Out to the coridor they proceeded and their lawyer suggested that it might be best if they just offered her $5000. to go away. The two partners concurred and the offer was made. It was rejected outright with a counter offer that the $20,000 would be the only acceptable amount.
Next morning, back in court, the Madam Justice expressed displeasure that an agreement had not been reached.
It was apparent that Madam Campbell wanted to give Younan money, but was hampered by the fact that the partners were probably within their rights to dismiss her.
The Justice did say that she would award Miss. Younan the equivalent of two weeks average pay because notice of termination had not been provided to her. That amount was $1000. and costs were left to each party.
"I recall that we were overjoyed with the ruling, "smiles Misselbrook today, "But we did face a lawyer's bill of around $3,000.00"
Don Spearman becomes Managing Editor 12 years after the founding of Leader Publications
BECOMES MORE FAMILIAR
Since the beginning back in 1965 one of the most familiar faces around The Leader (other than the regular employees) was that of Don Spearman. Spearman, better known as "gummer" to his multitude of friends, was on hand before the first edition hit the street writing the editorials. He continued for many years writing most of the weekly editorials for The Leader.
In fact, it was an amicable agreement between Spearman and the two partners that he became so involved with The Leader. Owning and operating Observer Press, a hometown printing plant, Spearman was constantly in need of having "negatives" produced for his offset operation and on many occasions required the typesetting facilities that The Leader offered. In exchange he continued to write most of the weekly editorials for the Leader.
By 1977, however, Spearman's business, while still doing well, had slowed a bit and he accepted an offer from the partners to join The Leader as a full-time employee. He came on board in January, 1978, as the managing editor of all the farm publications and the North Kent Leader. Spearman actually replaced Gord Hardy who had held that position and Hardy continued as the senior reporter for the firm.
By this time, with four farm publications being published twice monthly, one reporter was assigned to each publication, a move that helped the fledgling group gain a lot of credibility claims Misselbrook.
National and multi-national agricultural companies invest heavily with advertising in the Voice of the Farmer publications.
NEW SALES & MARKETING
STRATEGY FOR LEADER
With four farm publications, Kent, Lambton, Essex and Middlesex doing very well by the early part of 1978 it was time for yet another new adventure.
All the farm publications were doing a pretty good job as far as obtaining their share of local advertising was concerned. But, the partners knew there was a whole new field out there to be explored...one that could make a valuable contribution to the bottom line.
It was "national advertising". While the publications got bits and pieces of such agency advertising, primarily through contacts with local firms, the really valuable national advertising just wasn't coming their way.
Enter Toronto based Don Desmond of Desmond Farm Marketing. Desmond had a rich family farm history in Kent County, with a mixed farming operation near Ridgetown.
Misselbrook, through contacts within the advertising industry, ended up on Desmond's doorstep seeking a share of that valuable national agri- based advertising.
Misselbrook, made it clear to Desmond that he was on a fact finding mission. "What I needed Desmond to tell me was, what we needed to do to capture the attention of Canada's major advertising agencies." Don Desmond was nothing else, if not , critical, forceful, wise and amazingly helpful. "The significant national advertising business that would come our way, was in no small measure a direct result of Don Desmond teaching us what we needed to know" notes Misselbrook .
"Don Desmond was our mentor and a great friend to Leader Publications. I could happily sing his praises all day long" recalls Misselbrook.
Desmond reminded us that we would have to have quantified farm income data, by crop, livestock category as well as all
speciality areas of farming. "Without that information, we would not have any impact with the buyers of national farm advertising," said Desmond. He also pointed out that we needed to be sure that our printing presses could produce high quality full colour advertising messages in order to receive insertion orders from agencies.
Some years earlier Clauws and Misselbrook had met Ken Goldstein of Goldstein and Associates at various newspaper association conventions. Goldstein was a research expert of considerable repuation.
Misselbrook explained to Goldstein the details of his meeting with Desmond Farm Marketing and the hard data needed.
After several meetings and a number of months later, Goldstein had retrieved all the information the partners needed to move to the presentation stage.
Misselbrook recalls that we packaged the Goldstein information into full color presentation kits of the highest quality, and embarked on a campaign to impress national advertising agencies.
"We operated exciting full color farm publications covering Ontario's bread basket" recalls Clauws.' "We had the information the buyers needed, and before long we had almost more national advertising business than we could handle" said Clauws.
Misselbrook remembers that Leader launched an aggressive campaign to raise awareness with advertising agencies about the reach, rate and results that comes from advertising in "The Voice of the Farmer" group of publications.
"Marketing kits were widely distributed and extensive advertising was placed by the partners in CARD (Canadian Advertising Rates & Data) the bible of the agency advertising buyers" recalls Misselbrook.
"Misselbrook gave it a few weeks, then followed up with telephone calls and in person visits to the major advertising agencies housed in London and Toronto" notes Clauws. "We got the business bounce we had hoped for" says Misselbrook. "Now we had to deliver on all the promises made," recalls Clauws."
"Multiple publication insertion orders filled the mail box most every morning" notes Misselbrook. Sharyl Turner, an administrative assistant, was assigned the task of tracking the insertion orders to ensure that nothing was missed. "We needed to over-service if anything, the agency media buyers and their clients," remembers Clauws.
Spring and fall would see an explosion of national advertising filling the pages of the Voice of the Farmer publications. Near famous product names in the agri-world, including Pioneer Seed Corn, Pride, Monsanto, John Deere, New Holland and hundreds of others became valued clients of Leader Publications. "As a result of the increased sales, the partners were able to find and afford more product development for the company," said Clauws.
A NEW SYMBOL APPEARS
One of the changes that took place at The Leader in the latter part of the 1970's was the introduction of a logo. It came in the form of an old barn with a wagon in front and first appeared in the March 29th, 1978 edition of the Voice of the Kent Farmer. It became symbolic with Leader Publications and was attached to all printing materials relating to the company from the letterhead to invoices and an embroidered reproduction was also produced to be sewn onto hats and jackets. It was also reproduced on the wall of the addition to the main street office when a complete redecorating program was undertaken that year.
The owners of publications from Petrolia, Strathroy and Dresden discussed a joint central press ownership.
A FAILED PLAN
BUT WITH GOOD RESULTS
About this time in history, the firm was keeping the printing press at the Petrolia Topic extremely busy. In fact, there ws no doubt that without The Leader's many publications being printed there, the Petrolia printing operation would never make it.
And with the advent of national advertising came demands for higher quality and additional printing facilities as many of the national advertisers demanded advertisements in "four colour" printing.
Charlie Whipp was very aware of the situation and called a meeting between himself, the two partners from The Leader and the publisher/owner of the Strathroy Age Dispatch Ken Campbell.
The meeting was held at Campbell's home in Strathroy and Whipp had a proposal. He wanted to explore the possibility of the three firms going together to expand the printing plant in Petrolia. A new location would be required and a new printing press. Strathroy was a pretty viable community newspaper and coupled with the large amount of printing that The Leader was generating, it was evident that such a proposal did have merit.
An agreement, however, could not be reached and as the Leader partner's look back to those days, smile and count their blessings. " Charlie always danced to his own music," smiles Misselbrook, "And a partnership with Whipp at the centre of it might have been impossible to manage."
By late 1978, Whipp knew he was in trouble. He didn't have the money to expand his printing operation, and the partners were making rather huge demands that changes were needed.
As they said in the days of the old gangster movies, "the boys offered Whipp a deal he couldn't refuse."
"I guess you could say we put the squeeze on him" recalls Misselbrook, "We more or less (mostly more) suggested that unless press quality changes were made immediately, the Leader would be looking for new printing facilities."
While Whipp was not exactly enthralled with the idea, the partners did make him a reasonable offer to purchase not only the printing operation, but the Petrolia Topic as well. After what was probably much soul-searching, Whipp agreed to the deal and Leader Publications now had a second community newspaper as well as a rather antiquated printing operation.
The firm continued to use the printing facilities in Petrolia for a couple of years, before a major undertaking took place in 1981...the construction of a new press building in Dresden along with major improvements to the physical printing press itself.
PURCHASING THE PETROLIA
The agreement to purchase the Petrolia Topic was signed on Novemeber 21, 1978 with the actual closing date of February 1st, 1979. Included in that purchase besides the weekly Advertiser-Topic, was another publication title North Lambton Sun and of course the web printing division.
Putting the financial package together was a challenge. Since the partners were not buying shares of the Petrolia operation, it was necessary to itemize every piece of equipment and put a value on it for future depreciation purposes. "The document was several pages long." recalls Clauws, "We ended up agreeing that the equipment would be valued at $75,000. Added to that was another $8508.67 for stock in trade (which included newsprint on the premises) and another $66,491.33 in goodwill. The total cost was $150,000 and payment was arranged on the following basis: $30,000 down payment with Whipp holding a mortgage at 10 percent interest rate in the amount of $120,000. The mortgage was for 12 years with interest only payments required for the first two years and after that a monthly payment to the amount of $1,572.50.
The partners also agreed to continue renting the premises (although Whipp didn't own the building) for a period of three years at $550.00 a month and Whipp was asked to stay on for a period of three months at a salary of $235.00 a week. He was also allowed use of the company vehicle ( a 1978 Nova) for the three month period free of charge.
Whipp used a court order to prevent the partners from moving the printing press from Petrolia to Dresden
With the completion of the purchase of The Petrolia Adveriser-Topic in February 1979, the two partners found themselves "on the road" a great deal as they travelled back and forth between the head office in Dresden and "satellite" operation in Petrolia.
While the actual publishing and production of The Topic continued in Petrolia, the need to keep a watchful eye on the operation was imperative. "We agreed to use many of Whipp's former employees, but some of them just didn't want to sign-on to our management style" notes Misselbrook. "We had to make significant daily operational changes, and some of those changes didn't sit well with some employees and Whipp himself".
Over the course of the next year while the printing continued in Petrolia, many staff change were required, and a decision was reached that the printing operation simply had to come to Dresden.
Whipp hit the ceiling. He got legal representation and since he was carrying the mortgage on The Topic and the printing facilities, managed to get a court order preventing the partners from moving the printing press out of Petrolia.
"Nothing ever came from those threats, " Misselbrook states, "We simply had to do what we had to do and I think Whipp knew that."
Before the end of the decade the changes were numerous. Phil Dunlop was transferred from his position as sales manager in Dresden to become publisher of the Petrolia Advertiser-Topic; Peter Epp was transferred from his position as reporter for the Elgin Farmer to Petrolia as editor; Marie DeBruyn who was a compositor in the Dresden Office, primarily in charge of special projects was transferred to the Petrolia office to head up the production department.
The Sun rises as a new publication in 1979
THE SUN ALSO
RISES IN GRAND BEND
In May 1979 another project got off the drafting board as the Petrolia Advertiser-Topic moved into an expansion mode to start a new publication in Grand Bend. Known as the Grand Bend Sun, the weekly summer-time publication was a hit with the locals, and continued for a few years, but economic conditions changed and the publication was relatively short-lived.
It was as Misselbrook explains, "The Sun, like some of the other projects we tackled over the years simply didn't work as planned....however, what did work, was our willingness to take a hit, own up to the failure, learn from the experience, and move on to something else without fear."
It was in that same year, in January, that still another project got off the drafting table and into production.
It took the form of "Real Estate Today" and was a bi-weekly publication in conjunction with the Chatham-Kent Real Estate Board. It provided listings of real estate firms that were members of the Board.
A new saless co-ordinator in the person of Margaret Ross was retained to sell the advertising and while the project had great expectations the timing apparently was not right. It did continue to publish for a couple of years but was finally put to rest.
It was interesting to note that a similar project, several years later, came into being as a weekly supplement to the neighbouring Chatham Daily News.
"It was just another one of those "great ideas whose time had not yet come," smiles Misselbrook.
The first issue of The Voice of the Elgin Farmer premiered in 1979
BACK TO WHAT
WE KNEW BEST
With four bi-weekly farm publications in full swing by the middle of 1979, there was still a couple of counties that remained untouched and in the glide -path of The Leader.
One of those counties was Elgin, and in September of 1979 the Voice of the Elgin Farmer made its presence known and James J. McHarg was named sales co-ordinator.
Before the end of 1979 several changes in personnel and in some cases responsibilities were made.
Bruce Smith came back to Dresden (from sales for Essex Farmer) and was named Sales Manager; Warren Mason, besides selling for the Lambton Farmer, was named Retail Advertising Manager, John Daneluzzi came on board from the Tilbury Times as sales co-ordinator for the Essex Farmer; Keeley Murphy (who coincidentally became Mrs. Warren Mason a few years later) was hired as an advertising representative for the North Kent Leader; and finally, Bob Heath came out of the darkroom to try his hand in sales as co-ordinator for the Middlesex Farmer.
Teachers walked the picket line and "Clauws got Scratchin"
When one looks back to the events that transpired within "The Leader family of employees" and those that occurred within the community, there are several interesting stories that emerge in that period 1975-1979.
The history pages would record that in 1975, the first strike by school teachers took place in Kent County, and the Lambton-Kent Composite Schoool was not spared.
As the teachers walked the picket lines The Leader recorded the happenings, and, of course, commented on the editorial pages and Clauws was vocal in his "Scratchin' Around with Clauws". In one column he likened the teachers to unionized workers to which they took great exception. "They considered themselves professionals, "Clauws recalls "And made a strong statement that they were not common craftsmen or union workers".
The teachers, who besides seeking increased wages, were also seeking COLA...Cost of Living Allowance....that would automatically increase their salaries each year without negotiation. "I recall they carried signs reading "We Want COLA...the clause...not the Clauws!"
In any event The Leader stood its ground and gained, what the partners considered, valuable recognition as a responsible news media.
A future Mayor of Dresden almost landed in jail!
It was also during this time frame that the future mayor of the Town of Dresden, Joe Faas, almost landed in jail with a criminal record.
That event was a Kinsmen Club Christmas Rafffle, held at the Dresden Legion Hall. As was tradition, following the official "raffle, the cards came out and the poker tables filled up. Dealing that night were Clark Gray, Douglas Wilson and Tom DeBurger. Earlier in the evening, manning the door were business men and Kinsmen members Bill Clark and Ted Misselbrook.
In most cases those tending the door, collecting the entrance fee, knew everyone who entered. However, this night, an undercover Ontario Provinicial Police officer, managed to amble in and watch the activities.
The poker tables were in session for about half a hour when that officer opened the door and let his comrades in.
No one was arrested, other than the president of the Kinsmen Club, Joe Faas. He was taken to the Dresden Police Station and questioned and subsequently charged with operating an illegal gambling house.
Clauws, who happened to be playing at the table where Tom DeBurger was dealing, recalls leaving the Legion, heading back to the Leader office and subsequently "changing hats" and heading for the police station to get the story. He was blocked out by the officers who said no comments would be made until the next day.
The end of the story was that while Joe Faas had been charged, his day in court resulted in an absolute discharge by the sympathetic judge.
The entire episode apparently came about because someone didn't like the idea of gambling going on in the community and the OPP racket squad had been called in by the Dresden Chief of Police.
Had Faas been found guilty it would have meant that he would have a criminal record...something that would not have been allowed when he ran for public office as a town councillor. He later became Mayor of Dresden and had the distinction of being the "last" mayor of Dresden before amalgamation in 1998.
The Leader covered the "Snow Storm of 78" with photos and enthusiasim!
The snow storm
One of the biggest news stories that occurred during that time frame was the snow storm of Thursday, January 26th, 1978. Even the oldtimers of the community couldn't remember a more severe snow storm, although some said it matched the storm of the mid 1940's.
As far as the Leader was concerned, it started out as an ordinary day. While snow was falling in the early morning, most employees made it into work. By noon time the snow was accumulating and drifting badly. Most employees were sent home and most made it.
However by mid afternoon the street in front of The Leader office had drifts over eight feet high. The partners can't recall who had the snowmobiles, but at least one showed up to take employees home. Clauws recalls several employees spending the night at his Holden street home. One of those employees was Warren Mason whose father operated the family gravel pit east of King's Corner. He climbed aboard a mammoth front-end loader and dug his way from his locatoin (some 14 miles) into the town of Dresden the next morning to allow Warren to get home.
Numerous stories were told about the storm and many were recorded in the pages of The North Kent Leader. While it is impossible to relate all of them here, there is one that sticks out in the mind of Clauws. "Dr. Laird Gibbs had travelled to Chatham for his regular hospital rounds and on his way home ran into the ditch in the blinding snow," Clauws recalls, "Driving a new Lincoln Mark 1V, one had to know Dr. Gibbs to really understand his thoughts on the event."
Ended up the good doctor spent the night inside his car stuck in a snowbank on the road near Tunerville.
Asked what was the biggest problem he encountered spending the night there, Clauws recalls the doctor's response. "I had lots of gas so could run the car to keep warm, but my kidneys wouldn't co-operate," the doctor said, "I ended up pissing in my galoshes and opening the door to pour it out".
Leader reporter Brian Park was killed in an auto crash on Highway 40 near Chatham
Car crash killed reporter
Brian Park instantly
Before the close of this decade an accident in which Brian Park was seriously injured occurred in April 1979. He was hospitalized in Leamington and later a Sarnia Hospital for several months from injuries sustained while driving a company car on assignment in Essex County.
Ironically the next spring of 1980, Brian, heading to Chatham on Highway 40 after hours, was hit head-on by a lady driver who was passing another vehicle during a heavy rainstorm. Park was killed instantly.
That tragedy was felt not only by staff members at The Leader, but by the community at large as Park had been an avid sports lover and reported on many of the minor sports activities in the community. In recognition of Parks' contribution to sports news reporting, the firm set up an award for the "most valuable player" category in the Junior Kings hockey team. That award was presented annually for many years.
(Over the years Leader staff members
would do both summer and winter fishing trips)
A FINAL NOTE
OF THE DECADE
Before moving on to the next decade of the History of the Leader, the partners came across one of Clauws' "Scratchin' Around" columns which pertained to several staff members. It was published on January 19, 1977, and titled "Next Time We'll Listen To The Experts".
"It had been billed as a day of fun with an opportunity to be with the boys" for a day of fishing.
Everything started out fine, with six staffers of The Leader meeting mid-morning Sunday to leave on the ice fishing expedition to Mitchell's Bay. Armed with such professional (borrowed) equipment as a portable ice shanty (capable of holding about four), oil heater, minnow pail, ice spade, tip-ups and a couple of chairs, the group set out in two cars.
Perphaps I should introduce the cast of this mini-drama. There was myself, co-publisher Ted Misselbrook, Phil Dunlop, Warren Mason, Dave Weston, and Jim Brown.
In no time at all we reached the Bay and the first stop was to pick-up a couple of dozen of minnows. All's well to this point.
The inquizitiveness of one of the group, Warren, led him to chat with one of the experienced guides sitting near shore. He was told that the fishing hadn't been real good the last few weeks, but added that one can never tell when they would start biting. The guide did, however, suggest that we leave our cars ashore and make use of his ice taxi service. A quick huddle and the group decided that they apparently knew more that the experienced guide and hit the trail that led onto the Bay. That decision, however, was made on the basis that there were several other cars out on the ice....so why not us.
No problems were encountered to this point and soon found ourselves about one and one half miles out on the Bay.
The holes were chipped through the 18 inches of ice and we were in business...waiting for the first nibble.
After setting up the portable shanty and lighting the oil heater, a couple of the fellows walked over to another group of fishermen to see how the fish were running. That was probably the more encouraging moment of the day. They had landed a few small perch, as well as a six pound pike.
With such encouragement it was back to tending the tip-ups, but no action prevailed.
About an hour later, our group was joined by a seventh staffer, photographer Bob Heath who had had an assignment and was unable to join us initially.
To say the least, it was cold. In fact, this writer, one of the two of the group who had a little experience at ice fishing admitted to the shivering crew that it was undoubtedly the coldest day he had ever spent ice fishing. While we didn't have a thermometer, we estimated that with the wind chill factor, it must be at least 30 below zero. That's Celcius.
We stuck it out for another couple of hours, taking turns sitting by the oil heater, or in one of the warm cars.
Since the fish simply were'nt co-operating....had a few nibbles but no strikes, we decided to call it a day and head back to shore.
That was the first movement of things to come that would see three of the group spend the next four hours standed on the ice.
During the period that we had spent ice fishing the wind had drifted in the lone trail back to shore. The going was tough, we did manage to get all three cars within a half mile of shore before getting bogged down in the lose snow.
We were't alone in our predicament, however, since at least 15 to 20 vehicles were in the same situation.
Deciding that we would have to have help in the way of a wrecker or tractor, we walked through the drifting snow to shore. As one member our group stated, "That half mile walk was more like about ten miles."
We finally reached shore and found with a few phone calls that no wrecker service would go out on the ice to retrieve the stranded vehicles. A distress call was issued to another staffer Dan Russo (he stayed home). An explanation of our problems was given and Dan was on his way to the Bay to bring us home.
In the meantime, however, the experienced guide who had forewarned us about going out on the ice with the cars, explained that help was on the way. A tractor, driven by Al Berstein, operator of Sportsman Camp at the Bay, soon reached the scene and the tedious job of retrieving each vehicle began.
By this time, Dan had reached our location and four of the coldest members of group, Ted, Dave, Jim and Bob, decided to head back to Dresden. The other three were more or less appointed to stay behind to see if the cars, could indeed be brought back to shore.
The job of pulling the cars and trucks ashore had begun and soon the vehicles disppeared onto the shore one by one.
Within three hours, Mr Berstein had manage to retrieve between 15 and 20 of the vehicles. One of our three cars was the last to be towed ashore and it was at that point that Mr. Berstein stated he was calling it quits for the day. It had been dark for close to an hour and he said he wasn't going to take any chances.
As our last vehicle was brought ashore, we were greeted by an Ontario Provincial Police officer who enquired as to how many more cars were still out there. His department had been notified by the American coastguard that their helicopter had spotted upwards of 30 stranded vehicles just prior to nightfall.
Mr. Berstein assured the officer that while a few cars were still stranded, the majority had been brought ashore and that as far as he knew no persons were left out on the ice.
To say the least the trio that stayed behind were glad to get home, half frozen, half starved and with no fish.
Suggestion on Monday morning that since we hadn't caught any fish, we try again the next weekend, brought such comments as "Gee, I'm busy this weekend", "Can't make it" and "No thanks". In fact, it sort of looks as if what could have become an annual event, will simply go by the wayside as a bad experience.
There is of course, one consolation. We all now know that when some experienced individual offers some free advice, we're going to listen to him.