Newsletter: the birthday cake promotion

Please go to my home page to find links to my work in other genres ~ Paula Wethington

I was the company newsletter editor for several years during 1990s on behalf of The News-Messenger of Fremont, Ohio, and its sister paper, the News Herald of Port Clinton, Ohio. Both are small newspapers in the Gannett chain that shared some staff and departments, but had separate newsrooms, advertising and bookkeeping staff.

The Listen, Care, Deliver News was distributed to an internal audience at both sites and a select external audience who enjoyed seeing employees’ names, reading about accomplishments and projects, and behind the scenes details on situations such as how our staff coped with breaking news and severe weather.

One of the articles I wrote – and one that translates well as a portfolio piece years later – was “Happy Birthday Cake to You.” This feature explained the history and logistics of the Fremont newspaper’s long-standing joint promotion with a local bakery. The text as shown here is transcribed from a photocopy.

— Paula Wethington

March 1993: Happy Birthday Cake to You

Sandusky County residents apparently love birthdays – especially the Saturday birthday cake contest in The News-Messenger.

The person with the oldest reported age for a Saturday birthday gets a birthday cake, which is donated by Nickles Bakery. To win the birthday cake contest, readers or friends must call The News-Messenger to report the names and ages by 11:30 a.m. Friday.

Recently, a reader told news clerk Vivian Schwartz that her mother won the Feb. 13 birthday cake.

She said it was a nice cake, “beautifully decorated,” and “it tasted good.”

Schwartz said she can’t remember the last time someone thanked The News-Messenger for the contest.

There’s no record of how long the weekly contest has been going on, but it has been a long time.

Birthdays were listed in the newspaper even 50 years ago. Nickles plant manager Wes Webber said the bakery got involved probably in the 1930s or 40s, and definitely by 1955. Former bakery owner Tony Szymanowski started the bakery tradition.

The birthday column continues to be a popular feature in the newspaper. At least two local companies report birthdays for all their employees, Schwartz said. Many residents report birthdays for their whole families.

But the birthday cake really gets people’s attention. Some people try to get a jump on the competition, according to Nickles officials.

“We actually have people call and say they know they’re going to win the birthday cake,” Webber said.

Are they right?

“Not always,” he said.

Most people who get the cake are in their 80s and 90s, as local nursing homes report birthdays for all their residents.

But teenagers sometimes win the cake. Schwartz said she remembers a 10-year-old getting the cake one time.

It seems even a birthday cake contest isn’t enough to encourage some people to admit how old they really are.

Older women in particular call or write Schwartz saying “at no time in the future are you to add an age” to their names in the birthday column.

“It’s kind of cute. It seems that it starts about age 50,” Schwartz said.

To keep things organized, the news clerk keeps a “birthday book.” The book includes computer printout sheets sorted according to date by her computer at home. Most names are saved from one year to the next. There seems to be more summer birthdays reported than winter birthdays. This time of year, there are only 300 to 400 a month. In the summer there is about 500 names a month.

Schwartz said she spends about three hours a month updating the lists. Until she started doing the birthday column a year ago, the news clerk didn’t know it involved that much work.

Probably the hardest part was starting almost from scratch, she said. Just before she started working on the column, the newspaper announced it was completely revising the birthday book – and that local residents had to resubmit names. As a result, lots of people were calling to make sure their names got in.