For ten years, the American Botanical Council has depended on Lance Lawhon to sell all of its print and online ad space, bringing in much-appreciated revenue for the nonprofit organization while informing ABC members about relevant events and reputable products. Lawhon, who is a contract worker, lives in Austin, Texas, where ABC is located.
“I have always felt like I’m a part of the ABC family even though I don’t come in to the office all the time. And it’s been a very easy and friendly relationship. So there’s a lot of familiarity and trust that’s been built up between me and staff that have been there for a while. And I love ABC’s mission. It’s something I can really get behind. It’s much easier to sell advertising for an organization that I actually really believe in.”
Exuding kindness and lacking brashness, Lawhon is not a typical salesman and did not expect to be involved with advertising. He received his master’s degree in English from Texas State University in San Marcos. He has gone on to teach creative writing courses at Austin Community College, and finished his first novel, The Second Apprentice, about two years ago.
“For the longest time I was like, ‘Oh, I’m going to write the great American novel,’” said Lawhon. But the process of publishing his work took longer than expected. In the meantime, he took a job at a company selling mailing lists, where he discovered that he actually enjoyed sales. When the company, which gained ABC as a client in 2003, laid off half of its sales force, ABC contracted Lawhon to work as its advertising sales representative.
ABC Founder and Executive Director Mark Blumenthal did not always want the organization’s quarterly peer-reviewed journal HerbalGram to feature ads. So when he decided it was time, Blumenthal required all advertising to be vetted for accuracy when necessary. A large part of Lawhon’s job consists of helping potential advertisers navigate this unique and complex advertising peer-review system.
When Lawhon pitches to a company, he makes sure to mention ABC’s ad peer-review requirement. If interested, the company will submit an ad, which Lawhon passes to Blumenthal, who gives it a quick review and either approves it or sends it on to ABC’s advertising claims review committee. There is often back-and-forth between the advertiser and ABC, which can consist of asking the advertiser to change part of the ad’s wording or to send supporting documentation so that ABC can ensure the claims are appropriate and accurate based on existing scientific evidence.
“That is a level of complexity that I don’t have with other clients. On the one hand, it’s good that ABC does it because there is a level of credibility that is unique and important. And I think a lot of our advertisers will understand that. But not all of them do.”
“Our advertising claims review process is an actual disincentive for some potential advertisers,” said Blumenthal. “And, it’s certainly challenging for anyone, like Lance, who is in the somewhat difficult position to try to market and sell advertising in a publication like HerbalGram. Throughout the decade that he’s worked for us, Lance has always been a gentleman; he’s polite and respectful with our members, potential advertisers, the ABC staff, and he is particularly patient with the sometimes difficult ad claims review process — a process that would have probably sent many or, perhaps, even most other salespeople running for an easier and more lucrative opportunity. This speaks to Lance’s sense of values and his commitment to ABC’s core values.”
When he is not selling ads for ABC or his other clients — which include the California Psychological Association and the Texas Nursery and Landscape Association — Lawhon enjoys writing fiction, organic gardening, being involved with his church, and cooking. In fact, his Mayan cookies are a favorite among ABC staff members, who eagerly await their arrival at each year’s winter holiday cookie exchange. In a recent interview with HerbalGram, Lawhon divulged his secret ingredient:
“I put in cayenne pepper. That’s what gives it the kick.”
—Lindsay Stafford Mader