Industry Survivor From Typewriters To The Web

February 23, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — Have fern, will survive.

That’s the case at Paul Miles Advertising, launched in 1982 with a Smith-Corona typewriter and a fern. The typewriter is gone and the fern’s been replaced a few times, but Miles said his advertising firm has weathered some dramatic changes over nearly 26 years.

Miles said he had left another agency and started his own company in a recession year. Now he employs six, and the company specializes in retail television and radio advertising. During that quarter-century, flanked by tough economic times, Miles said he’s seen some dramatic changes in Grand Rapids’ advertising scene that can be summed up in one word: computers.

“The Internet is a big deal,” Miles said. “There are industries that have come and gone. For instance, when we started out, we used to take full-page newspaper ads to The Press, like car ads. They would be on a piece of cardboard. There would be a layout where someone would paste up the pictures, paste on the type.

 “With computers, you really don’t have to see the ad until it’s printed in paper or in the magazine. That whole typesetting industry has kind of gone away. It used to be a big business in the 1970s and 1980s. Computers have streamlined that whole process.”

Miles’ said broadcast work comprises about 80 percent of his business, at 25 Jefferson St. SE, and changes there have been dramatic, as well.

“I do remember working with film and slides. Through the years, we’ve gone from 2-inch videotape to 1-inch videotape to ¾-inch beta tape. Now we’re doing things on DVD and digital editing.

“Before, it used to be big business with reel-to-reel radio dubs. Now it’s all done with MP3 files, and those are broadcast quality,” Miles added.

As the Web has expanded along with the capacity of personal computers, marketing is making a big impact on the Internet, he said. For example, last summer the manager of a radio company called him to ask his advice for how much to charge advertisers for video spots posted to the radio station’s Web site.

“That was one of the first times I heard that one,” Miles said. “That is a whole new wave for promotion and advertising.”

Miles said he expects the next advance — high-definition television — to have a big impact on his business, which billed $3.1 million, ranking as Grand Rapids’ sixth largest ad agency, according to the Business Journal’s 2008 Book of Lists.

“Probably it’s like anything: It’ll start out expensive, and as it becomes more common, prices will come down,” said Miles, who counts among his clients Loeks Theatres, Showspan, the Home & Building Association of Greater Grand Rapids, Sleep Doctor Mattress Stores, Thomas S. Fox Diamond Jewelers, Orson E. Coe Pontiac/GMC, Best Buy Used Cars, Used Car Motor Mall, West Michigan GMC Truck Dealers and the Grand Rapids Ballet Company.

“We understand that in tough economic times, sometimes you have to work a little harder,” Miles said. “In the long run, advertising pays off. You still have to let people know what you offer.”

Grand Rapids’ advertising industry contracted through the 1990s into the early 2000s, Miles added. “A lot of them kind of went away through the 1990s. I think there were some businesses that set up own ad department. That was kind of a trend for a while. In the 2000s here, it has been the economic hit on ad budget and ad agencies.”

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