I had the pleasure—and it really was a pleasure—to meet Larry H. Miller one time. This newspaper was still in its newsletter stage, and I had been asked to produce a program for an upcoming national softball tournament that was soon to take place in Salt Lake City. Besides all else, Miller was up to his eyeballs in competitive softball. It was at a late hour and, for some reason, the event was about to take place without a program and, equally importantly, without the revenue that could be generated in a program. But there was a little problem: I’d never done such a thing before.
I’d worked only in newsprint, all black and white, never color and never on glossy stock. The only accounts I’d called on were clubs, taverns, cafes and the small businesses owned by people I’d met in those taverns, clubs and cafes. Nonetheless, I was asked to help. Soon after, I met Miller at one of his car dealerships in Murray. Not only was I small fry at the time, but, by comparison, so was Miller. I don’t remember the year—late 1980s or so—but it was before the building of the Delta Center, before he took on the WNBA, baseball, the raceway in Tooele County and who knows what else. It was also before I’d published so much as a 32-page newsletter.
He grabbed me a soda from his office fridge, we talked and, as usual, I found we had some common friends and acquaintances. He asked a few questions about the program, what the content would be, how big, how much it would cost. But he didn’t commit right away. First, he wanted to know something quite important. It was already important that the event be a success, that Utah softball remain high on the national map, but this was his most important query: “Have you talked to Page Brake yet?” I told him no, to which he replied, “Then I’ll take the back page and the inside front cover.” We hadn’t even talked price, but in that moment, Miller effectively blocked his biggest softball competitor off of the two most valuable and most visible pages of the program.
I was in over my head—coming out of a meeting with a $5,000 commitment when I wasn’t even selling $5,000 in an issue pretty much rattled me, learning the classic lesson that a motivated buyer is worth a hundred sales calls. I left, and that was that. I never sold another ad. I never produced the program. Oh, I didn’t feel all that bad—the thing wasn’t entirely on me and I was a desperate choice as publisher to start with. The tournament went on and, I presume, with a very nice program. Over the next decade, I watched Miller build his empire.
He was buying ads all over town, but I honestly can’t recall any being placed in this newspaper, not for the Jazz, at least. I mean, really, he pretty much financed the daily papers, but despite the fact that we could show huge fan support among our readers, we got nothing. Same for autos. Without even seeking real data, it’s a safe presumption that nearly 100 percent of our readers are also licensed drivers. Yet, we couldn’t sell auto ads, either.
Then one day, it came to me. I’d recently spent a day with a bookie buddy of mine on his collection routes. Half the day was spent in auto dealerships as he collected money from car salesmen, managers and dealers alike. It occurred to me—as I used to be a card dealer—that gamblers also like girls. So, we hired some very attractive non-males to call on car dealerships. Voila! In no time, we had an auto section—one page, then two, then eight. It was crazy. Naturally, we found out that most other media had beaten us to the “use women to sell to auto dealers” punch, but we had a leg up on them because, frankly, we were younger and more attractive. And smarter.
We were so smart that one day our best rep called the office very excited about a new sale and invited me to celebrate. I’d known her since she was 6 years old so I knew her excitement was genuine, and she was rightly proud because she’d just sold ads to the Larry H. Miller auto dealerships. The contract was for a half-page color ad on a 52-time contract—about a $40,000 buy at the time. Everyone in the office was excited for her and awaited her return. Then she came in, sobbing.
Turns out, while leaving the dealership, she and the sales manager had run into someone who introduced himself as Larry Miller’s son. He asked to see the contract. When he saw it was City Weekly, he shredded it and canceled it on the spot. He said they would never do business with us because we said bad things about his dad. We had. A writer and former waiter had recently written that Larry H. Miller was the worst tipper he had ever served. You’d think an empire could stand up to such scathing criticism.
I don’t blame the guy for defending his papa. But it was dumb. We could have sold some cars for him. Instead, I don’t buy tickets for his basketball follies and I don’t drive his cars. I never said much about those events until the other day, when Greg Miller called Karl Malone a liar on Twitter, and I wondered if that was the same guy who’d caused our rep to come back to the office in tears. Real men don’t fight on Twitter, and real men don’t make women cry. Like him or not, without Malone, there’s no Miller franchise. Larry Miller knew that, but took on Malone head first. There’s a big difference between the tree and the fruit in my opinion.