Archive | April, 2010

Trade Media Dying – Now What Are You Going to Do?

19 Apr

There’s been another massacre of traditional media — this time Reed Business Information announcing that it will kill off 23 publications, including Graphic Arts Monthly, Converting, Control Engineering and a number of others that could once be found on every desk and in every lobby of every company in these industries. 

Some, like Matt Kucharski at PSB’s The Lead blog are lamenting the loss, and I don’t blame them.  I’m not one of the “traditional media is dead” guys that Matt decries.  Good journalists, storytellers and industry advocates are out of work, and their publications have been powerful engines of lead generation, awareness and credibility for companies in their industries.  

At the same time, I think Matt misses the point when he argues that:

“…instead of relying on the trade publication to be both the content developer AND deliverer, we need to take on the distribution role ourselves. Let the publication write the article — and then YOU take responsibility for putting that article into the hands of your key audiences — through your sales force, through social media, through email, through Web postings.”

The point about separating means of distribution — the media — from the content — is right on.  But I don’t think that B2B marketers ever had a problem touting the coverage these publications delivered.

The problem is that B2B marketers stopped supporting them through advertising — presumably because they no longer delivered the kind of ROI in terms of leads and awareness that justified the kind of ad rates to support their staff, printing and distirbution costs. This leaves the media outlet two choices if they want to stay in business: 

1. Re-organize operations so that they require less advertising; or, 

2. Become so entirely valuable to the people that they serve that those businesses are willing to pay for their content. 

(Actually, Reed took a third option — shut ’em down).  

I have to think that a site like Whattheythink in the printing and graphic communications industry has the kind of model that can work.  I believe they started up in 2000 and were always 100% online. There’s a mix of paid and unpaid content — and the best stuff requires a paid membership; and there’s advertising, too.  Content includes company news as well as highly columnists, interviews with top industry executives, and in-depth event coverage.  

Starting out as a glorified newsletter , they’ve managed to become “indispensible”, adding more focused offerings, advertising opportunities, blogs, newsletters and community features.

The site also has added offerings over the years, including webinars and consulting.  Their full-time staff is, as I understand it, extremely small, but they bring a regular stable of respected editors and consultants to their readers. 

The point is not that “traditional media is dead and good riddance”.  It’s that trade media — if they want to be in the journalist business — need to evolve from “printed/online publications that create advertising opportunities for marketers” to “enterprises that deliver indispensable coverage of their industries.” 

A breakfast story about professionalism, parenting and keeping an open mind

8 Apr

I woke with dry, teary eyes and greeted the morning pollen dust with elephantine sneezes.  It was the first day back to school for the kids after the long break.   Time to make the lunches.  I cream-cheese and bag two bagels, and add two apple sauces for kids one and three, then pack up a yogurt and grapes for kid two, who doesn’t like bread in his lunch.  I poured three bowls of cereal, and, satisfied, rub my eyes.

Kid three, running late, on his way down the stairs, is hoping there’s a bagel for his breakfast. No, say I, there’s a bagel in your lunch.  How about some cereal for breakfast?  No, says he, how ’bout we “exchange” the bagel in lunch for something else.  My wife says to give him the bagel. I whine, feeling beset on all sides, emotional momentum halted on the way to the shower: “But I was DONE!”

Being “done” is a relative thing. Early in my public relations agency career I was in charge of assembling 50 press kits — a blizzard of paper to be stuffed into folders and shipped to a trade show in Hannover, Germany.  Or was it “Hanover”?  A good hour of angst led to the conclusion that while there are multiple acceptable ways to refer to the city in northern Germany, the datelines on the press releases were  wrong. Holding a standard of professionalism against the noble sacrifice of the trees, I tossed the the press kit and reprinted every page, forever proud that I did right by the client, my own standards and those of my agency.

This morning, we gave kid three his bagel and cleverly repackaged his cereal as “lunch”.  And it struck me that I should make myself some breakfast, a big cup of coffee and an allergy pill, and face the day with a little more of an open mind.

“The Big Short”: A Book Review

7 Apr

The Big Short, by Michael Lewis, is a heckuva read, with passionate and clever-but-flawed heroes, greedy villains, historical scope and ultimate tragedy of an epic movie. If you’re looking for an intense, focused morality play on the financial crisis circa 2005-2009, start here.

Subtitled “Inside the Doomsday Machine”, Lewis follows traders who — whether through their own quirks, iconoclasm, oddity or Aspberger’s-fueled hyper-focus — saw it coming and put their money where their brains were, placing hundreds of millions of dollars in bets against the subprime mortgage market.  And they kept with those ‘shorts’ despite the disdain of an entire industry, angry investors, and their own feeling that they must be missing something — that all of these smart guys in charge of big investment couldn’t possibly be missing what they saw so clearly.

Amid a compelling business yarn, Lewis’ real contribution was to find a way to help us almost understand the financial instruments cited as the proximal cause of the system’s downfall — credit default swaps, collateralized debt obligations. He educates the reader with careful, dramatic repetition of how these instruments were variously made so esoteric and complex that they hid vast risk both from buyers, their backers — like AIG, who apparently had no idea that they were essentially on the hook for the failure of mortgages that were increasingly likely to fail — and the sellers themselves, who, when AIG stopped backing the these insurance polices on subprime mortgages apparently started backing them themselves. Or something like that.

In the end, The Big Short is a tragedy. The hubris of the great financial firms brings them down, but “down” is a relative term given the wealth and comfort of those at the top. T’he “winners” Lewis follows, like Dr. Michael Burry, find themselves unloved and disregarded for being stubbornly right from the start; or like hedge fund manager Steve Eisman who made a lot of money only to be confronted with the devastation of the colleagues in the subprime bond market he’d bet against.

The Big Short is a bit of living history…it’s not over yet. It’s a story for anyone who enjoys a good business yarn, wants to understand what happened behind all the politics of the financial collapse, or wants to know what it takes (and the price) to stick to your (well-researched) convictions when all the world is against you.

Which communications matter most?

7 Apr

Do some communications matter more than others?  Well…yes.

There’s the big speech by the CEO to the industry group that positions you as a leader.

The message to employees that cutbacks are coming, but we need to continue to focus on the mission.

The blog series explaining your position on emerging industry standards.

The news release that expresses how this technology will change the market.

The employee magazine article on the new line of business…that has to inspire without disheartening those that work on the old stuff.

The customer letter announcing elimination of support for discontinued SKUs.

The whitepaper for the technology crowd.

The email to the disgruntled customer.

The conversations with reporter and bloggers on your latest news.

The online app that you hope goes viral.

The response to the Twitter user who wonders why no one is picking up your phones.

The quarterly earnings report.

The answer to the question, “So, what do you do?”

The invitation to join a user group.

The letter that closes a plant, or cuts back on the health plan.

The words that guide and inspire visitors to the new website.

The email to the latest potential “whale” of a prospect.

The product ad.

The investor presentation on your startup as the ‘next big thing’.

The analyst interview.

The how-to tips for the weekly podcast.

The copy on the packaging…

Maybe a better question would be, “Which communications don’t matter?”

Don’t create marketing…reveal stories

5 Apr

I’ve been writing like crazy today, and I love it. Why? Because I seem to have a modest talent for telling business stories in ways that move people. I love the rush of telling stories and making clients happy with the stories I help them tell.  It makes their jobs easier, and lets me keep this as my job.

One client lets me write feature stories for their company magazine; my style for them is no secret. I interview the people involved, look at what they say, and knit together a narrative that let’s them tell their story.  It’s a style that works as well in feature stories as it does in web copy and press releases.  The goal is not to “spin” a story out of whole cloth, but with words to shine a spotlight on what it is that keeps clients going each day — solving customer problems, innovating, selling products, building a brand, advancing reputation.

I’m a public relations and marketing consultant but I’ve come to believe we spend too much time creating marketing. Instead, we should  invest our time revealing our stories. Pull back the curtain, and you find products that change peoples lives and make their businesses better. You find brilliant scientists, committed customer service reps, passionate sales people, visionary leaders and even innovative marketers.

The thing is, most companies hire sales people and product people and process people and business people — each articulate in their own ways.  They don’t hire writers, or reporters. Business people make stories, and live inside them. Call a writer to hear the stories, bring them out into the open, and reveal the idea at the core.

Do you have communications that matter? Let’s talk?

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