September 22, 2014

Why I Hate Content

In the material world there is no single word that encompasses both art and a beer spill.

There is no word that creates a unity between a Rodin sculpture and a photo of a foot.

There is no term that forges an equivalency between a Gershwin melody and a bloody handkerchief.

In the online world there is such a word. It is content.

Content is anything you can upload to the web. In other words, it is pretty much anything.

It is a Shakespeare sonnet and a picture of my cat's ass.

It bestows value on anything, and in so doing, debases everything.

It takes the symbol of a witless age - the selfie - and gives it status. You're not guilty of narcisstic self-indulgence, you're creating content!

Worst, it is spoken of with respect. It is, in some quarters, regarded as a serious and compelling expression of online value.

If there has ever been an asset with a lower value, I'd like to know what it is. 

We have conferences about content. We have books about content. We have seminars about it, and companies that specialize in it.

Content is everything, and it's nothing. It's an artificial word thrown around by people who know nothing, describing nothing.

It is an excuse masquerading as a resource.

Content is a con.

It is the ultimate Seinfeld episode: it's a show about nothing.

September 17, 2014

I Can Dream, Can't I?

Last week I had the pleasure of delivering the keynote address at the radio industry's annual Radio Show in Indianapolis, sponsored by the Radio Advertising Bureau and the National Association of Broadcasters (you can watch my talk here.)

This was a pretty big deal for me. Other speakers including Alan Mulally, former ceo of Ford and Boeing, Dan Harris of ABC News, and Governor Mike Pence of Indiana.

The talk went better than I could have dreamed. I actually got a standing o, which in all my years of speaking I never got before.

As always, there was a contingent of online people who hated my talk. No surprise there.

Radio, like all traditional media, is having its share of problems. While Americans still spend more than twice as much time with radio as they do on line, radio’s revenues are flat while online revenues are soaring.

And, as you might suspect, there are people busy trying to sell the radio industry on digital miracles. I wasn't quite clear on what the digital miracles were – digital delivery of radio programming; sales of digital ads on line and on websites; online station promotion; or listener engagement with online content and social media.

As in so many industries, it seems that it is all lumped into one nebulous bundle of magic called “digital.” I sensed that there might be a dangerous fantasy afoot that “digital” (whatever it means) is the road to salvation for radio.

One of the reasons for the power of this fantasy is that in recent years radio stations are deriving a little over 5% of their revenue from selling digital advertising. While I am skeptical of the power of most online advertising, I am very much in favor of making money any way you can.

I am no expert in the radio business, but it appears to me that the danger is in believing that the digital revenue is independent of the traditional on-air revenue. In fact, 100% of the digital revenue is secondary to listenership. Without listeners, no digital advertising, and no online ad revenue. It all starts with listeners.

The proposition that radio can increase listenership substantially among young people seems highly improbable to me, regardless of what digital magic the industry chooses to employ.

But radio does very well with people over 50. And people over 50 have and spend most of the money in this country. Unfortunately, people over 50 are poison to advertisers. Despite the enormous opportunity that they represent, advertisers are stuck in the 1970’s worshiping at the altar of youth.

One of the ideas I expressed in my talk was that the radio and television industries should undertake a major initiative to educate marketers and advertisers on the incredible opportunity that people over 50 present. The hope would be that if advertisers and agencies would be exposed to the facts, their antiquated thinking and ingrained prejudices might be overcome.

This may be the greatest fantasy of all.

September 15, 2014

You Can't Be Everyone's Girlfriend

A friend of mine, Peter Levitan, has just published a new book for agencies about pitching new business. The book is called The Levitan Pitch: Buy This Book. Win More Pitches.

Peter asked for my point-of-view on pitching new business, and it is included in his book under the heading (as you might expect) The Contrarian View. Here it is:
1. You can’t be everyone’s girlfriend
Do not pitch every stupid thing that comes along. Don’t try to fit yourself into every box. Not everyone is going to love you and not everyone is going to buy your story. Pick your spots.

2. Do what you tell your clients to do
The first thing we tell our clients is that they have to differentiate themselves. It is the one thing agencies never do. They all sound the same, look the same, and smell the same. Decide who you are and how you are different and better. If you can’t do that, hire Peter and let him do it for you.

3. Be clear on your objective at each stage
This is really important. A new business pitch is a 3 or 4 step process. At each stage your one and only objective should be to get to the next stage. You will not win the account at the first stage. At the beginning stages clients are not looking to hire an agency, they are looking for reasons to eliminate agencies. Give them reasons why they should continue talking to you, and don’t give them reasons to eliminate you.

4. Make the presentation you want to make, not the one you’re asked to make
For the final pitch, most of the time clients and search consultants provide you with outlines of the presentation they want to see. Throw it away and make the presentation you want to make. Remember, you have one shot only.

5. Only let the good presenters talk
There are brilliant people who are lousy presenters and dumb-ass bozos who are great presenters. Only let the good presenters present.

6. Have a strategy and stick to it
The final presentation should have a theme and every section of the presentation should spin off that theme and point to a conclusion where the strategy is clearly and creatively defined.

7. The best new business program is a good reputation
There's a lot more valuable stuff in Peter's book.