Canadian Rental Service

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A promise is a promise

“How far will I go to keep readers happy?” This is a question I have been asking myself since October after making a promise I vowed to keep on behalf of my readers to this magazine.


December 1, 2008
By Chris Skalkos

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“How far will I go to keep readers happy?” This is a question I have been asking myself since October after making a promise I vowed to keep on behalf of my readers to this magazine.

As editor of Canadian Rental Service I strive to bring you, the reader, a collection of stories geared towards informing and educating you about the rental industry; nothing out of the ordinary in industry trade publications which traditionally maintain a serious business tone.
However, for the last few years this magazine has gone beyond that to bring you something out of the ordinary in a regular column called The Funny Page, authored by columnist Steve Milcik.

Unlike a product review piece about machinery, or a profile story focusing on a successful rental operator or an industry news brief about a company acquisition, this column does not attempt to educate or inform readers about anything in the industry. It’s a humor column intended to make you laugh and nothing more. In every column Milcik pokes fun of something or someone in the rental industry using a witty sense of humour only seen by the likes of syndicated humour columnists such as Dave Barry and W. Bruce Cameron.

The comparison is intentional. Milcik is an experienced writer and author who just happens to work in the rental industry. When he offered to write a funny column in this magazine I declined at first, believing that there was not enough humour in the rental industry or not enough interest for a humour column in a trade magazine.

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However, he sent me a sample of some of his writing. (I always wondered who was the author behind the SPAM e-mail that regularly fills my in-box. Now I know). I decided to give him a shot expecting his column to fizzle out faster than a can of flat Dr. Pepper.

It turns out the joke was on me.

For some bizarre unexplained reason that my intellectually driven mind cannot grasp, readers loved it! And they want more. In fact, over the last few years he has developed a fan base of readers who turn to his column first when they pick up the magazine. They assure me though, they also read the stuff I write, eventually.

I am often asked how much I pay Milcik for this column. The answer is not a penny. He does it because he loves writing and he loves the rental industry. At the end of the day his only intention is to put a smile on your face, or make you burst out laughing.

Years ago I attended a seminar for magazine publishers where a guest speaker delivered a speech about the importance of finding good writers and columnists for our magazines.

“If you have columnists who strike a chord with your readers, do everything in your power to keep them happy and keep them writing. Buy them dinner, send them flowers, sleep with them if you have to….,” the speaker advised. Okay, now I have to draw the line somewhere with Milcik, but you get the message.

So when I suddenly found myself without his column by my deadline for one of my earlier issues I worried. No, I actually panicked. I had nightmares envisioning angry mobs of rental people picketing my house demanding his column back. (Actually, I put my publisher’s home address in the masthead of my magazine for such occasions so I wasn’t too worried about it.) It turns out I had completely omitted that particular issue on the deadline schedule I gave Milcik in advance. Oooops!

I called him to sheepishly ask if he could send me a column on very short notice. Now, Milcik claims I gave him 26 minutes to get that column to me and that’s just not true. It was actually more like 47 minutes, a reasonable amount of time to pop off a page of drivel I assumed. Unable to convince him I resorted to a tried and tested technique I often use on my wife to get me out of doing the dishes at home. I groveled. But even that wasn’t enough.

And then it occurred to me, I had another ‘Ace’ up my sleeve. You see my wife and I were expecting our third child around that time and I, without asking my wife, offered to name my next born son after him.
Milcik’s tone suddenly changed and he explained to me that he always wanted his own brood he could call junior, but there was no possible way he could consume that much Viagra so having the editor of Canadian Rental Service magazine name his unborn son after him was the next best thing. Milcik sent me an e-mail advising me that the formal spelling of his name is Stephen, just so I get it right on the birth certificate.

Now before you start asking me if I lost my mind let me explain the method behind my madness. I felt I could make this empty promise secure in the knowledge that the ultrasound my wife had a week prior revealed the gender of the baby to be a girl. It’s not hard to outsmart Milcik, so I thought.

After Milcik’s promised column was safely in my in-box I sprang the bad news to him about the baby’s gender.

Practicing the art of brevity, an attribute of all great writers, Milcik’s reply was short and to the point. “Stephanie is a nice name!”

Hence, I would like to introduce my daughter to the readers of this magazine: Katerina-Efthimia Stephanie Ballas Skalkos. Yes, Stephanie is her third given name. The hyphenated first name comes from my wife’s mother and my mother. Did you really think I could get away with telling a Greek woman dressed in black and holding a wooden spoon that I wasn’t going to name my daughter after her? That would be much worse than the angry mob of rental people I described earlier.

When I announced this to Milcik he was touched. In fact, I have never seen a grown man sob so uncontrollably.

A reader once told me that the reason why he likes Milcik’s column so much is because it’s rare to read something funny in a trade magazine, likening it to a bright spot readers can turn to for a smile. I can’t help drawing the comparison to my newborn daughter who is a bright spot in my life and who will be bringing our family many smiles for some time to come. And, after all, a promise is a promise.