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One Man’s Ad Plan

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Every year, when my paternal relatives gather
for a reunion, Aunt Shirley tells the embarrassing story of when
I – just back from gymnastics camp – decided to do a cartwheel
on the picnic-table bench. After losing my balance, I knocked
a pitcher of fruit punch into my grandmother’s lap and landed
bottom-first in a bowl of potato salad. Everyone remembers the
surprise, and everyone remembers the tears – mine from embarrassment,
theirs from laughter.

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Eventually, someone remembers yet another
embarrassing moment – usually about my brother or a cousin. And
then I start to realize that Aunt Shirley’s goal in life isn’t
to embarrass me year after year by telling that dreadful story,
but to share a memory and bring lots of people – separated by
cities, states and a lot of time – together.

Like everyone else, I’ve got lots of childhood
stories – some embarrassing, some stomach-ache funny, some touching.
And while most of us cringe when friends and relatives tell those
poignant tales, others – like collision-repair-shop owner Evan
Funk – are telling the stories themselves. By incorporating his
childhood stories into his newspaper ads, Funk is getting more
than laughs for his true tales – he’s also getting customers.

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Setting the Plot

Like the stories themselves, the idea to use
childhood tales as the focal point of advertising for The Collision
Connection – Evan’s Stillwater, Okla., repair shop – started innocently
enough.

"I was telling my wife stories and she
just hit on the idea," says Evan. "She’s also my ad
representative."

Rhesa, Evan’s wife and the ad manager for
the Stillwater NewsPress, remembers sitting in one of those restaurants
where they lay down white paper over the tablecloths and then
give you crayons to doodle with. "We were sitting there and
Evan was telling me one of his stories," Rhesa says, "and
I thought, ‘What a great car story.’ And the ad campaign was off
from there."

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Each ad – designed as a square with a picture
of Evan working on a vehicle and faint tire-tread marks running
through the background – starts off with one of his notorious
tales and ends with both a reflection by the older-but-wiser Evan
and a tie-in to the quality of work done at his shop. Whether
readers start off racin’ with Evan and his best friend, Fly, or
burning the midnight oil repairing Evan’s yellow ’65 Mustang,
they always end up at The Collision Connection.

"I try to write a story pretty much like
Evan tells it. He’s a real storyteller," says Rhesa. "I’ve
already got a list at work of five or 10 more stories. But we
may go four or five months when he doesn’t think of any and all
of a sudden, we’ll be driving down the road and he’ll say, ‘Did
I ever tell you the story about Johnny so-and-so?’ And that’s
how it happens."

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Reader Response

The stories have become an effective ad campaign
for The Collision Connection. The first series of story ads ran
in 1995, starting in February and running three times a week for
eight weeks. Each ad, with its unique tale, ran three times. In
February and March 1996, the stories again ran three times a week
for eight weeks.

"A lot of people are locked into giving
the technical details of their business in their ads," says
Rhesa, who’s been the local newspaper’s ad manager for 13 years.
"Seventy-five percent of the people don’t care about that
– they just want the job done, and they want the job done right.
Your job as a marketer is to position your business in the top
of their minds."

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With narratives that begin with –

I’ll never forget the look on his face
as he stuck his head in my Mustang window, eyes narrowed to mere
slits, lips tight, voice tense. "Funk, I know you’re the
one doing this," he said, jerking his head to the left. "All
I have to do is catch you at it." And he lumbered off to
his car.

The year was 1972 and the "this"
he was referring to was a rather large amount of tire rubber left
in the middle of Main Street in my hometown of Annapolis, Mo.,
population 356. The voice belonged to Otto Moore, Iron County’s
No. 1 deputy.

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You see, I was the only one in Annapolis
who could do a perfect 180-degree moonshiners turn- around. In
fact, I could come down Main Street toward K Highway at a high
rate of speed, apply just the proper amount of pressure to the
parking brake, turn the steering wheel just right and – bingo
– I was going the opposite direction in perfect alignment with
the stripes on the street.

Now that may not seem like a big deal to
you, but when you’re 16 and no one else can do it as good as you
can, it’s a big deal. …

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– it’s easy to see how the stories and the
shop name stick in readers’ minds. From readers wishing they’d
brought a copy of the paper to get Evan’s autograph to others
hand delivering laminated copies to the shop, the response to
this true-tale ad campaign has been incredible.

Before this attention and resulting influx
of customers, Evan’s marketing consisted of a few general-information
ads in the local paper, a Yellow Pages ad and little freebies,
like key chains.

In the old ads, says Rhesa, there was no emotional
appeal. "When you have a service-oriented business you need
to get people past thinking, ‘Gosh, I’ve had a wreck and I need
collision repair,’ " she says. "You have to position
yourself so when [an accident] does happen, people think of your
name and your business first. If you can get people emotionally
involved to the point that they sit around the coffee shop and
say, ‘Did you read about him doing such and such?’ and then start
talking about stories of their own, they’ll remember you when
they need your services."

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The Next Chapter

Fortunately, says Rhesa, Evan didn’t have
a boring childhood, so he’s got a lot of stories yet to tell.

With a lifetime of stories already shared,
Rhesa’s got a long list of potential ad material. Though the backlog
will come in handy when the campaign for the collision-repair
shop picks up again this year, Evan’s recent purchase of a towing
business may be cause for a spin-off series of stories.

"We’ll figure out a similar campaign
for the towing business – something that gets people involved
– but it won’t be exactly the same," Rhesa says. "We
joked around about running a towing ad that says, ‘Watch this
space in 20 years for towing stories.’ "

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"I guess," says Evan, "I’ll
just have to go out and get into more trouble."

Writer Melissa Green is managing editor of
BodyShop Business.

The Before and After

Now that your clever news-paper or billboard
advertising has attracted new customers to your
shop, how are you going to reassure them that your technicians
can do the job? Consider showing before and after pictures of
previous repair jobs. After seeing photos of cars with $1,000,
$5,000 or $10,000 worth of damage repaired to like-new condition,
customers may be more apt to trust your promise of quality work.

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Spread the Word

For those body shop owners interested in a
more extensive – yet customized – marketing plan, a Nebraska company
has developed an individualized consumer-newsletter program for
collision-repair businesses.

Printed four times a year, the American Motorist
newsletter combines full-color with base-run articles and personalized
messages. Each issue is custom printed with individual business
information, including the shop name, a feature article on the
cover and a back page of photos, promotional specials, mailing
information and local news. Each shop may write and design its
own material, or the services can be provided at no additional
charge.

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The base-run articles – researched and written
to be interesting and useful to the average automobile owner –
focus on such subjects as the evolution of automobile technology
and the contribution automobiles have made to environmental concerns.

For more information, contact Joe Jolet, J.D.
Jolet & Associates, P.O. Box 746, 312 N. Elm St., Grand Island,
Neb. 68802, or call (308) 381-0700.

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