Charlie Hoag

Reporter Steve Marsh gets a history lesson from a Minneapolis Ad Man who’s seen it all.

Charlie Hoag

Unlike his colleague Sid Hartman, Charlie Hoag doesn’t have his own statue in downtown Minneapolis. But the Star Tribune lifer—hired as an intern in 1961—will tell you that if he ever gets cast in bronze, it should be in front of the old pressman’s watering hole. “My statue would be in front of the [now defunct] Little Wagon on Fourth and Fifth—with a bottle of Grain Belt in my hand,” says the 73-year-old, who rose to VP of sales and “retired” in 2006 but still keeps an office as a “special consultant.”

How many hours a week do you work? Well, it’s supposed to be a part-time gig. But when I told my wife I was retiring, she said, “That’s fine, you can retire. Just keep your same hours.”

You were a journalism major at the University of Minnesota. How did you end up on the sales side? I was in a graphics class in J-school. The instructor was a guy by the name of Harold Wilson, God bless his soul. He said they’re looking for interns in the retail ad department down at the paper. Anyone interested? Raised my hand. Went down, got hired. Most of it was production work: pushing ads through, doing all the grunt work.

The technology you learned in 1961 really wasn’t that much different than the Gutenberg days. I used to go up on the second floor when they were doing all of the production. Number one, the machines were ungodly noisy. We had a lot of deaf guys who did all the Linotype typesetting back then. And we had a lot of guys on the floor that could sign. That was part of the deal! And the printers, if they had on a cast of classified type—you know how small classified is, like 8 point—those guys would get the page and make corrections, and they would go into the Linotype, and it was upside-down and backwards and they would pull it out, fix it, and put it back in. I was like how the f--- are those guys doing this?! I used to marvel.

So what did you like about the job? The work wasn’t real exciting because it was grunt work. But it was fascinating to learn the process and see what you started with become real. That’s miracle time. Now it’s all electronics—computer to print.

Each page took such effort. Oh yeah. And if you would’ve seen these pressmen, these guys were hulks! They used to carry 50-pound plates up stairs.

Your fellow interns and greenhorns became local titans. Jack Carmichael and Lee Lynch worked at the paper. They were the original guys of Carmichael Lynch. And Ron Dick went on to win a bunch of copywriting awards. And Dick Meyer was a fun guy.

It all sounds very Mad Men. I used to wait for the trolley in front of Jimmy Haigg’s. Jimmy Haigg’s was a hangout bar in the old days. And Mike McGuire and Mush Anthony, couple of funny sons of bitches, would stick their head out the door and say, “Kid, come in here, we’ll buy you a drink. You did a good job for us.” We’d get in McGuire’s big old Caddy, and we’d wind up over in Coleman’s in St. Paul, across the street from the Ford Plant. It used to be the hangout for the Northwest Airlines stewardesses. We would close the place.

You were hired full time after the strike of ’62. But how did you hit the top? I hit my numbers every year. And then my people hit their numbers. And I tell all my ad reps, the daily miracle on their doorstep is producing 80 percent of our revenue. So you should read the damn thing every day.

Who was instrumental in your success? Back in ’63, Jim Anderson was running a group that we called Food, Fun and Finance. Our group handled all the food advertising, the bars and restaurants and shows, and the banks. I was working the suburban territory. Jim was only 10 years older than me—32 when I was 22—but he was a guy that was open to be challenged. Back then I was argumentative. Sometimes just for the fun of it, sometimes because I really believed in it. He let me do that.

He wasn’t looking for a clone. Yeah, he liked it. And it was at a very critical point in my life. I don’t even want to say it. It was crazy times. Everything was a party back then. I mean, in the early ’70s, we used to have an annual advertising Christmas party in the leather suite of the old Nicollet Hotel. That finally came to end after we had three DWIs and two divorces over four years. I’m not saying those days were any better, but I do tell our young people that I do feel a little sorry for them, because these are your good old days?

Everybody knows the story of how the newspaper business changed internally—classifieds went away, ad rates crumbled, McClatchy sold it. But what changed outside the building? I saved our top 100 list of customers from 1978. I went through it recently and out of 100 customers of 1978, there are only 28 still in existence. At one time, about 20 years ago, our classified business counted for about 55 percent of our revenue. Today, our classified accounts for 10 percent. I can remember 20, 30 years ago, when there were 2,800 people employed by the Star Tribune. Today? 980? And guess what? We are putting out a better product today. We’re doing more with less and it’s better.

Are you ever going to retire? I’ve worked for 14 publishers and 15 senior ad execs. And the team we’ve got there now is the smartest bunch I’ve ever worked for. I’m going to work until I die. I tell my wife I hope I have one big circuit breaker and make sure she pushes a smile on my face. Because I’ve had a lot of fun.