Breaking Down Barriers with Billboards

breaking barriers, barriers to writing careersMy career as proofreader for a feminist newsletter ended with a whimper, not a bang.

As much as I hated that first job in a “writing” profession, I still didn’t want to disappoint my boss, Pauline, a difficult woman who I grew to admire. She had no heart, but plenty of passion and skill. She even “promoted” me to write marketing brochures about the merits of our feminist newsletter.

Readership increased from 10 to 90.

Pauline forced me to write draft after draft of those brochures, teaching me how to edit down to sharp sticking points.

I sharpened my pencils, walked on tiptoe and never, ever opened the refrigerator door again (see A Towering Tongue Twisting Career Turn). careers, writing careers

I celebrated a year later when the CETA grant expired by replying to dozens of “position available” ads. I was now a free woman with a M.A. in English and a year’s experience.

Still, no one wanted me.

After rejection #48, I took up the offer from a friend of a friend whose father was VP of an established company that needed a salesperson with writing and marketing skills.

I got my dream of working in the ‘big city,’ except not the Big Apple, but the chewed up near-by metropolis called Newark.

outdoor advertising, billboards, career in outdoor advertisingFor a company that sold advertising space – outdoors.

After a lot of practice (and about a month on the job), I remembered to NOT call those big signs on highways and city streets, “billboards.”

I was the lone woman in a “boys” only sales profession. I was also the youngest, by at least two decades.

At first the men resented me. Why did they need a woman in the weekly sales meetings held at the local Italian restaurant every Wednesday at noon?

Each morning, as I entered the dingy brick building wearing a dark skirt, light blouse, sensible heels and brave determined smile on my face, I realized I was breaking down barriers in my own way.

Selling outdoor advertising.

After two months of lunches with heavy ravioli and bottles of Chianti, I began to find some allies. By then, after too many fuzzy Wednesday http://static2.businessinsider.com/image/4ea6f49b6bb3f78d14000025-1190-625/more-awful-pr-for-bank-of-america-as-they-start-cutting-off-credit-to-mom-and-pop.jpgafternoons, I realized I should drink water instead of wine at noon; and by then, I’d sold outdoor space to several mom-and-pop shops in neighboring towns that the “big boys” had been unable to approach.

Sallie’s Sundries

The Fudgy Factory

Petey’s Paint & Hardware

cold calling, marketingMy confidence grew as I learned the benefits of “cold calling,” which before this job I figured meant calling someone on a winter’s morning.

But I also made a marketing decision that I regret to this day.

If Pauline found out about it, she’d cut out my tongue and add it to her refrigerator display….!

 

breaking down barriers

 

Thanks to Google Images.

 

79 thoughts on “Breaking Down Barriers with Billboards

  1. your story is inspiring. Thanks for sharing. I like your boss Pauline, they are pusher and have discipline, but they usually are ok as long as you follow their rules. I had many bosses like that before and they changed my life in positive way

    • You speak the truth out of obvious experience. Even if a ‘boss’ is pushy or arrogant or obnoxious, if he or she takes time to teach us some skill of whatever trade we’re working on, the time is well spent. But still difficult!! 😉

  2. I love the image of you in your skirt and heels going head-to-head with the “big boys” at the Italian restaurant. I think that’s quite brave! And, yeah, wine at noon? I’d have been useless!

    • I can barely get through a glass of wine at night, so those business lunches were killers for me. Gradually I just let my wine glass sit there, unsipped, while we discussed potential clients, and the big guys fought over who got the tobacco companies and who got the beer makers.

  3. I´ve done my fair share of cold calling and it didn´t take long for the big boys to realize a sweet little woman can get tons of sales. My dad taught me that you can attract more bees with honey than vinegar. The days of the pushy salesman were coming to an end! I love reading about your work history.

  4. This has been a very enjoyable (and educational) reading experience, Pamela! I can’t wait to read the next part 🙂 You’ve done a fine job of perching me on the edge of my seat waiting for this story to continue unfolding. You paint such a vivid image of the setting – it’s almost like I was sitting in that restaurant with you – or maybe that’s because I’ve lived in NJ myself for a few years 😉

  5. For a young woman in a boy’s club, my vote is with you. You did well. Pauline, no matter her personality, was a wonderful teacher by the sounds of it. Women are harder to work for than men bosses, I think. 😀

  6. I well remember my first job in a man’s world in the seventies. Automotive industry in small rural area of the south. Toughest job I ever had. Good for you to go after the clients the big boys had ignored. It takes wits to outsmart the ego sometimes.

    • Hi Amy-I wasn’t planning on continuing these “strange work stories” but they seem to be entertaining my readers! And I’m having fun at it! 🤗 but next week I have to reveal a big embarrassment, so I’m not looking forward to that. Yikes.

  7. I despise sales… ironically, I am very good at it. But I hate asking people for money. Sales runs in my blood. My mother, dad, 2 of my brothers. I have made a fair living out of it and I can sell anything I believe in. But I HAVE to believe in what I am selling. It is a necessary part of life though. People sell and we, as consumers, have to buy. However, I prefer to leave that job to others now.
    So what marketing decision did you make that you regret to this day? 🙂

    • Courtney, you haven’t sold me on the idea that you hate selling. As you say, it’s in your ‘blood,’ AND if you believe in it, you can sell it. I bet you’re a dynamo. I bet you’d sell tens times the billboard space I did. And I bet you wouldn’t do anything as dumb as I did when I was in that job. Wait for it – I’ll reveal on Friday. And then you can honestly tell me I should never have done it….

  8. I’m surprised you had such difficulty finding a job after the feminist newspaper; under your stewardship, circulation increased 900 percent!

    And, for the record, there is no better way to describe Newark, than “chewed up nearby metropolis.” Well done.

    I am eager to hear more about your adventures. Do you think you might have a memoir in you? (That was a rhetorical question. The answer is “yes.” So write it!)

    • Being fellow original New Jerseans (New Jersians? New Jerseyites?) we can ‘put down’ our chewed up metropolises. And don’t even get me started on the NJ Turnpike. BUT, I still get mad if someone who never grew up in ‘The Garden State’ says a disparaging word. I think Bruce S would agree. And speaking of memoirs, he pretty much sings them, yes? I’ve never considered my life that interesting. Just ordinary, like New Jersey. 🙂 🙂 🙂

  9. I had a job as a proofreader too, although I think it was called some kind of analyst. I was a man in a man’s world, and was a paid almost nothing. I think spellcheck eliminated a couple of jobs.

    • Thanks for the smile, Andrea. I don’t know that I kicked ass. I think I got my ass whacked a few times. I was told I was too nice and not pushy enough. That seems to be true in the work world as well as the rest of my world, but you know what? We writers have our ways of kicking ass back, don’t we?…. Tee hee.

  10. What an interesting employment trajectory! How much does it cost to rent a billboard and get up an ad? I’ve been thinking – crazily? – of doing a billboard for my books!

    • Wow! I like the way you think! I believe the cost of renting space on a billboard depends on the town/city where you live, and the location of the billboard (ie, the more visibility it gets, the higher the cost). But talk about thinking ‘outside the box’ in promoting books. Enticing.

  11. Great ongoing story, Pam. I find myself once again breaking into the old boys’ club. I’ve been a ham radio operator for umpteen years, but for some of the old timers, I’m just a “girl” and therefore can’t be expected to know much. So I go to breakfast with the old boys every Tuesday morning and slowly they are learning that I do know my way around. Been here, done this a few times before. Kind of fun now.

    • Now THERE’S a story, Esther. I can visualize that scene of you and the ‘old timers’ dishing it out about operating a ham radio. I would love to see the looks on their faces when they realize they’ve been ‘hammed.’ I’m smiling widely.

    • Billboards got some bad rap (not unfairly) about messing up the environment with their ugly ads taking up the scenery. Towns began to rule that billboards were not allowed on town streets. Billboards are now much more visible on highways than smaller roads. And the ‘powers that be’ in the corporate billboard world wisely decided to call it ‘outdoor advertising’ to get away from the negative connotation of billboards.

    • I didn’t mean to leave such a big cliffhanger, but I realized I’d lose my readership if I kept going. Plus, I wasn’t sure I really wanted to embarrass myself with what I did. But I guess I didn’t leave myself a choice now, did I? :-0 Thanks for reading and tweeting and being such a great supporter, David. xoxoxoxgratefulhugxoxoxoxoxox

  12. Gah! You kept us hanging at the end again! I’m loving this story.

    Back in the 70s and early 80s as we were carving out our place in the business world, it didn’t occur to me that I was breaking down barriers.

    Yes, I was the only woman in many of my university business classes. Yes, I was the first female officer of the company where I ended up and for a long time was the only female executive in the boardroom.

    … but it never struck me as unusual … until much later.

    • Ah, the stories we could tell of that time. Well, I guess we are beginning to tell. That glass ceiling used to be much lower. Perhaps I wasn’t thinking of breaking barriers back then either, but I sure was miffed that I was told ‘you can’t do that’ because I was a ‘girl.’ ! !
      You should share your stories of being the only female in the boardroom. High five to you.

      • I do remember not being allowed to take drafting in high school. I’m still bitter about that. I think I would have really liked drafting 🙂

        Interestingly, that was what my youngest son studied in college.

        I’m not sure my stories out of the boardroom would be that interesting, although I do admit that every once in a while I would have one of *those* moments when I would stop and think “WOW – I’ve come a long way”.

  13. I would be totally out to it if I drank wine at lunchtime, Pam – I’m glad you just ended up sipping on one glass. I love looking back on times like this and am really looking forward to hearing about your regretful marketing decision 😉

    • I think I dug myself a hole, and I’m going to have to jump in there and tell the truth, as mortifying as it is. Urgh. But we writers, that’s what we need to do – open up our hearts and our vulnerabilities.

  14. Wine at noon? I would be worthless the rest of the day! Like you, one glass is really enough for me even in the evening. And cold calling? Well, there’s just one reason I never went into sales for a career. 🙂 Great series of posts!

  15. Oh no, Pam! What was your bad decision? Are you giving us a cliffhanger?
    I liked how you broke the barriers between the good ‘Ole boys and by being a model for feminism.
    No wine with your lunches of carbs! 🙂 That is me, at my current age. Puts me to sleep.
    My memory of the Perils of Pauline made me smile and I changed it to: “Perils of Pamela.” 😉

  16. You obviously honed some great craft skills in these jobs. And LOL- another cliffhanger. good thing I can just click on the link above to find out what happens next. this whole tale is proving to be a cinematic one- I can see it all unfolding in my head, which I’ll have to attribute to your writing gifts.

  17. Great story. I’m looking forward to the next installment.

    I’ve never minded being the only woman in the room, but I’ve always hated sales. When I was a high school junior, I worked after school at JC Penney’s. I disliked selling so much that when they sent me to the basement to count towels, I was relieved. Now, as an indie author, I’m right back there, trying to make a sale and trying to learn to like it.

    It sounds like you have a knack for marketing. Congratulations.

    • YES, I would be there right with you, sorting towels. I’m an introvert; why I ever thought sales would be okay by me, I don’t know. I needed a job! And you’re so right, here we are as Indie authors, needing to put ourselves (and even harder, our books) “out there.” But at least in this, we believe in what we’re marketing and promoting.

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