Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Timeless Messages from a Different Time

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Timeless Messages from a Different Time

Article excerpt

SARASOTA

From Tom Shepard, 96, lamentations about the state of the union might sound as predictable as those of any number of codgers whose influence peaked in the 20th century.

"One of my biggest gripes is the death of the conversation," says the World War II Navy veteran. "We don't write letters anymore, we email. We don't read books per se, or not the way we used to. There's been a big loss in our nation by losing our ability to communicate well -- we've become a nation of idioms."

Once upon a time, however, as publisher of Look magazine, Shepard occupied one of the most powerful opinion-shaping positions in American culture. And if digital tech and social media have long since swept him into history's margins, the New Jersey native has published a memoir suggesting that the most vital forms of communication are timeless.

"Making the Sale: The Art of Salesmanship" is a thin and breezy anthology of musings charting Shepard's career arc, from selling retail-level Vicks medicinal products in the 1940s to running Look in the 1960s. Playing second fiddle to the glossy weekly Life magazine for most of its 34-year run, the biweekly Look arguably reached its zenith in 1967 when it serialized William Manchester's account of John Kennedy's assassination, "The Death of a President."

"We passed Life in circulation but it almost bankrupted us," recalls Shepard from his Sarasota condo. "We went from 4 million circulation to 7.7 million. The problem was, we weren't charging enough for our product. Each copy cost $3.50 to produce but we were charging only 75 cents. We were hoping to make up the difference through advertising."

But by the 1960s, advertisers were abandoning magazines for TV, and by 1971, Look shuttered its doors. Life followed suit a year later.

Shepard transitioned into a different type of media altogether -- highway billboards. His campaign to awaken advertisers to the "sleeping giant" of roadside platforms would earn him a spot in the Outdoor Advertising Association of America Hall of Fame. …

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