Selected Work

MediaPost

I write a daily commentary, Top of the News, for Marketing Daily. I’ve also written columns for MediaPost about content marketing and  social media.

Books

Webworks: Advertising: Not-So-Simple Basics for Web Designers (2000). Let’s put it this way: Things have changed since the days when people were still debating just how “commercial” the  Internet should be.

What Were They Thinking? (1999). Written with Robert M. McMath, we look at a bunch of seemingly great ideas that flopped in the marketplace.

The American Magazine (1991). I contributed a chapter on the history of magazine advertising to this anthology published for the 250th anniversary of the American magazine. 

Drug Abuse: Social Issues Firsthand (2007). I wrote a chapter on the impact of addiction on families in this anthology for young adults.

Book Writing: Too Much Work for Too Little Recompense. In progress (along with a half dozen other projects).

Selected Articles 

Though much of my work has been in digital media since 1982, at heart I will always consider myself what my father, grandfather and great-grandfather called themselves —  “a newspaperman.” It’s The Family Trade

Here are a few pieces that may be of interest for historical reasons.

Getting the Lead Out — Once upon a time, before HTML  

Follow the Reader? — Even “The Thunderer,” the Times of London, was not immune to pandering to readers and politicians lusting for a “good” war.

Mean Street Sales — Max Annenberg earned his readers the old-fashioned way — with brass knuckles and bullets.

War Correspondence — Embedded correspondents? Pshaw. James Creelman led a bayonet charge for the greater glory of William Randolph Hearst and the New York Journal.

Message in a Bottle — At the turn of the 20th Century, patent medicines such as Lydia Pinkham's Vegetable Compound for female complaints were big newspaper advertisers.

Learning How To Plug In — I had a blast listening to Eddie Jaffe, one of the last of the old-time Broadway press agents.

In 1982, while writing one of those books still being written (see above), one of my former editors at the New York Daily News  brought me to Adweek as a part-time copy editor. Clay Felker was the editor, Adweek was in a trade magazine war with Ad Age, the Mad Men era was having its last gasp and, after closing on Thursday night, the drinks were on Eastern editor Geoff Precourt’s expense account. After joining the staff and rising through the ranks, I went freelance in 1990 and have mostly written about marketing and media since then.

Hudson Steps Up — In this cover story for the first issue of Ad Age’s (gasp!) Point, I profiled PepsiCo president/CEO Dawn Hudson. 

Every Business Has a Story —  This piece for Symposium, UBS Wealth Management’s quarterly, makes the business case for commissioning a writer (ahem!) to help you tell your corporate history.

Rising to the Top Online — Before there was “influencer” marketing, there was Fred Belinsky’s customer-centric email marketing  for his Village Hat Shop , which has been selling its wares online since 1996. 

How Budweiser Became the King of Beers — At the turn of the 20th century, Budweiser was already a star-spangled brew and a national institution. Then came Prohibition.

Can the Daily News Survive? — It has long survived Robert Maxwell’s grip, but the question lingers. The article explores the paper's folly in trying to follow its upwardly mobile readers into the 'burbs rather than serve the new immigrants to New York.

Portrait of the Young Diners Club as a Publicist’s Dream — Would it surprise you to learn that a Broadway press agent cooked up the official story about how the idea for the first credit card — Diners Club — was hatched? 

I wrote a lot of cover stories for Agency over the course of its existence, but my favorite was my first assignment — a History of the American Association of Advertising Agencies’ first 75 years. Every nerdish bone in my body enjoyed rooting around in the AAAA's extensive collection of documents, articles and books.

In his editor's note for this 1994 story, Geoffrey Precourt writes, "Thom Forbes has been ranting about the potential of cyberspace since I first met him, which was just after he'd worked on a market test of Prodigy (1982)." But don't blame me for Ads in Cyberspace, I was just the messenger alerting Madison Avenue to the reality that interactivity would change the way it did business.

As soon as Ads in Cyberspace crossed the transom at the AAAAs, its leadership  asked for a proposal for a quarterly newsletter that would keep its members up to date with emerging trends in cyberspace. This first issue of BackChannel is dated March 1995; it ran four years and was also, of course, online.  

"Thom Forbes and Al Gore invented the Internet," a colleague once quipped. Well, even if that overstates the case by a factor of totally, there weren't many writers telling publishers in 1993 that their futures would be online. In fact, it had taken me nearly a year to convince the editors at Folio: The Magazine for Magazine Management to run this cover story, Make Yourself a Big Fish in the Online Ocean

In the next year, I wrote two follow-up cover stories — one about publishers who were running their own bulletin boards, Testing the Waters Online, and another, in Sept. 1994, about Global Network Navigator (GNN), O’Reilly Media’s groundbreaking commercial website. It was sold to America Online in 1995 and summarily executed, but publisher Dale Dougherty and his colleagues have proven to be remarkably prescient about the future of cyberspace.

In November, 1994, I contributed a piece to GNN myself, Getting Magazines Online, which fittingly was about a panel I'd just moderated at the Folio:Show in New York with three early publishers of online magazines.

 I eventually wrote a back-page column for Folio: called “Web Works.” I Have Met the Enemy and He’s Online featured my friend — and MacWorld co-presenter — Jahan Salehi, a Mac guru turned online publisher.

While I'm adding documents of strictly historical value to the W3, I thought about this 1995 cover story for NetGuide. I was asked to find the 50 Best Websites. I think I did a pretty good job of rounding up laudable early efforts (but try to find one that would make anybody’s list today). This issue also contained a letter from someone, unrelated by blood or marriage, who praised an earlier story of mine as "the very best article I have ever read." I have dedicated the rest of my career to writing something deserving of a similar encomium.

There are photographs of three of my non-related heros on the wall in front of my desk — slugger Harmon Killebrew, who was never afraid to strike out in his quest for the home run; Joe Martin, a relentless New York Daily News reporter who shared a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting about the brutality of the Batista regime in Cuba, and Henry Beetle Hough, longtime editor of the Vineyard Gazette and author of the classic memoir, Country Editor. Deirdre and I travelled to Martha's Vineyard to photograph and interview Hough in 1984, when he was 88. It was one of the last interviews he gave, and I was thrilled to receive an appreciative note from him.

Over the years,  I’ve also written about substance misuse and recovery, which I have enjoyed since Halloween, 1985. I wrote the lead article and a couple of sidebars for Silent Treatment: Addiction in America, a five-part series syndicated by McClatchy-Tribune News Service in 2007.

“Recoverying Your Body,” a column I wrote for Renew magazine, combined my passions for fitness and recovery:


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