In honor of Father’s Day, a plug for my dad’s most-excellent memoir….

June 17, 2012

My 50 years in Advertising, Larry Postaer

In my father’s recently released memoir on his career in advertising, Pickett, Plunkett & Puckett he mentions a test he had to take in order to qualify for a job as copywriter on the Sears’s catalog. In the early sixties Sear’s Roebuck (and its iconic catalog) was literally the textbook for retailing in the United States. Called the “Wish book,” anything and everything could be found in the Sear’s catalog (even houses!) and it was a staple in every home, kind of the Amazon of its day.

Yet, the job was hardly glamorous and wasn’t supposed to be. Sears Roebuck was about as old school as it got: dress codes, pneumatic tubes, and a cafeteria.

All his pages detailing the inner workings of Sear’s marketing department are fascinating but, for me, it was the test he took that stands out. Anachronistic now, back in the day, psychological profiling was used at companies all over America to determine whether an applicant was the “right fit” for the job and company. Back then folks entered into a career hoping –nay expecting- to work at a given firm the rest of their lives. The companies’ wanted that too and so standardized tests, however futile, were developed to insure its likelihood.

The “Wish Book.” You know you want it!

My father singles out one question from the test: Would you rather write the play, star in the play, or sell tickets to the play? My father rightly guesses they are not looking for big creative egos at Sears and answers “sell the tickets.” However, like any writer, what he really would like to do is write the play. These days, I’m guessing that’s what every aspiring writer would like to do. Honestly, the way things are now, I’m betting quite a few young creatives would just assume star in at as well.

It’s easy making fun of this archaic test, so corny and out of touch. But the question is pretty damn interesting when you think about it, as I have. From day one copywriters have wrestled with their urges to be creative versus their mandate to sell. Even now the challenge is still a major aspect of the job. Whether one works at a conservative shop or some rogue boutique, all on staff struggle with it. The lame rejoinder “well, you gotta do both” is generally where everyone nets out. Sears had no such dilemma, which makes my father’s anecdote provocative nostalgia.

In the end my father writes he faired poorly on the test but somehow got the job anyway. As I said, the stories around this are fascinating and, like many others in the book, well worth reading. It’s available in paperback or on kindle, via Amazon.

The Sears Catalog stopped printing in 1993. Regardless, the company struggles to remain relevant.

Authors Note: This is an updated version of a previous post.

3 Responses to “In honor of Father’s Day, a plug for my dad’s most-excellent memoir….”

  1. Jim Terry said

    Yep, I read it. Anyone in the biz will appreciate the insights — also a little peek into the promising future of his kids — and everyone else will enjoy a good read.

  2. I’ll check it out. I, too, started my copywriting career at a catalog, The Sharper Image, and I, too, had to take a test to get the job, but not a profiling test. Nope, just a copy test. I guess I passed because after more tests and over three months of interviews I got the job! Love the question your dad got asked, though. Personally, I’d like to write the play, more accurately the song, but but my day job is to write the words that sell the tickets and it’s a cool job.

  3. Great post. I have a ton of old Sear’s catalogs from the 60s. If we ever cross paths again, they’re all yours.

    Although my dad and I went completely opposite directions in terms of careers, politics, etc…I still feel like I learned a lot from the guy. Here’s a link to my thoughts on Father’s Day:

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