When it comes to advertising sales, Jeff Wong is kind of a legend.
The major accounts manager at the Richmond Times-Dispatch joined the RTD 48 years ago when he was fresh out of Virginia Commonwealth University, business degree in hand. He gained his experience in the advertising department the old-fashioned way—from the ground floor up.
When he arrived at the RTD in the summer of 1973, the Norfolk native made quite an impression on other team members. Chip Wigginton, a sales representative at the time and later one of Wong’s supervisors, said he was unflappable.
“He was the consummate salesperson,” Wigginton said. “When I did sales training, I used him as an example.”
Wong specialized in reactivating dormant accounts and establishing new accounts, all while maintaining his existing accounts.
“He served the heck out of them,” Wigginton said. “He’d go back and back and back no matter how many times they said no.”
While being steadfast and determined in dealing with his accounts, he has had to be flexible in adapting to the changes in the industry.
Wong, who will turn 70 in May, has seen plenty of change since he worked with Wigginton decades ago. Having begun his career in a once bustling and noisy four-story building in downtown Richmond, Wong now works quietly from home, a result of the pandemic.
“You could hardly hear,” Wong recalled, estimating there were once as many as 600-700 employees working in the RTD building.
When Wong joined the RTD, the newspaper was led by members of the Bryan family. D. Tennant Bryan, who became publisher and president of the paper in the 1940s, wore bow ties and kept his office door open to anyone who worked at the paper, no matter their position.
“He was a true Southern gentleman,” Wong said.
Bryan’s son, John Stewart Bryan III, who became publisher and chairman of Media General in the 1970s, was the same, he said. Bryan III remained there until the paper was sold to Berkshire Hathaway in 2012.
“They treated every employee with high respect,” he said of the Bryans. “They were the type of people you could always talk to.”
Wong has seen several ownership changes—the sale of Media General to Berkshire Hathaway in 2012, and again last year when the paper was sold to Lee Enterprises.
For the past 20 years, Wong has handled major national accounts, which include big box stores and major retailers such as Macy’s, Dillard’s, Home Depot and others.
The department has been more streamlined, and Wong is able to handle what once took 25 people. He works closely with the staff at Lee Enterprises corporate offices and the company’s other Virginia newspapers.
Like many who work for newspapers today, Wong is working from home. The 48-year veteran of the RTD said he doesn’t know why it didn’t happen sooner.
“Everybody is restructuring,” Wong said. “It’s a change, but it’s a good change.”
Wong’s ability to accept change and adjust to the needs of his company has served him well.
“He’s always been able to do that,” Wigginton said. “It’s one of the reasons that I liked having him work with me, because I could suddenly change his assignment and I knew he would be successful.”
Over his long career, Wong has mentored many aspiring ad sales representatives. Even Wigginton, who left the RTD in 2002, has taught “The Wong Way” of selling at each newspaper he has worked at since.
“In my career at the Times-Dispatch, I had four salespeople that I wish I could have taken everywhere with me,” Wigginton said. “Number one was Jeff Wong.”
Success in advertising sales is based on building trust with clients over time, Wong said, whose own success has been his ability to be flexible in his approach and steadfast in his resolve.
“It takes six months to get comfortable with an account. It’s not something that can be done overnight,” Wong said. “I’m not trying to do a one-time sell. I’m trying to do a longtime sell.”
A perfect example is one of Wong’s longtime clients, Neil Gulati, who owned Mattress King, now known as Mattress Club.
“He’s been a great partner for the RTD. He’s always been with us. He never left us, even when his warehouse burned down a couple of years ago,” Wong said. “He’s a true believer in newspapers. He is still a great client.”
Wong isn’t quite ready to adapt himself to a rocking chair or to let the grass grow under his feet. When he’s not working, he’s out jogging his customary three to five miles per day.
At the age of 65, he checked one item off his bucket list when he ran the Anthem Richmond Marathon, which the RTD managed from 1978-1997. It, too, has changed and is now known as the VCU Health Richmond Marathon.
Wong says that one day he may be ready to retire and spend time with the women in his life–his wife of 45 years, two grown daughters and five-year-old granddaughter. But not today. He’s having too much fun.
“Career-wise, advertising has been my life and I enjoy it,” he said. “It’s my first job and it will be my last job.”
Article by Deana Meredith, VPA Communications Manager
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