Category Archives: the career

Stuff I’ve Said Other Places, Episode 3

I believe this will be the end of this series.  A nice, neat trilogy.  Pretty sure there won’t be a prequel or postquel.

This one was posted on September 11, 2006 at iMediaConnection under the title “Staffing Made Simple”.  Of course a joke for any media director, digital or otherwise.  My main intent with this one was to extol the virtues of a “cross-trained” media professional.  But as I tend to do, I meandered around a bit.

First was to take on what was at the time a budding air of superiority from “digital” folks – a “we-know-more-than-you-and-are-ready-for-what’s- next and-your-not” kind of air – while also incessantly bitching about ridiculousness of hours and not having enough people to help out.  I’ve always felt that sort of arrogance just needs to go away and the more people you can get to learn and understand more stuff, the better.  And the corollary – if you aren’t interested in learning new stuff, you’re in the wrong industry – is equally applicable.  There tends to be enough work to go around for everybody anyway so no need to be insecure.

However, I’ve also been in real world situations where getting to that point is extremely challenging for a number of reasons – even when it seems you have it in your power to make it happen.  Not really feeling up to getting into that right now…

Next was the thought of a truly fluid and real time digital media marketplace.  Mind you, this was prior to the explosion in ad exchanges/trading desks/DSPs/etc and so forth.  Perhaps we are closer, but noticed a few articles from various online measurement firms in my Twitter stream today about over 1 billion in online advertising being wasted on bots – and of course a note saying “and here’s how to protect yourself”.  So maybe impressions being traded at the impression level in real time is getting better, but seems the intervention of human beings for more than just pressing buttons is still required.

And to that end is the real reason I am re-posting this one.  Finding talent that can think critically about what they are seeing, develop strategy, and drive that through to application, completing the loop back to new data and doing it all over again – will continue to be a challenge.  Perhaps we have placed a bit too much faith and trust in the 1’s and 0’s, or maybe there’s too much teaching of placing too much faith and trust in the 1’s and 0’s vs. teaching what to do with the output from the magical programs, models and dashboards we see every day.  I’ve had discussions with a number of friends and colleagues who work at media companies, at agencies and at marketers who are all looking for talent who aren’t just data-driven, comfortable with numbers and technology, or are part programmer but who demonstrate actual critical thinking skills to understand how these things can fit together and apply actual strategy moving forward.

One conversation in particular stands out.  “It’s like they don’t even have a point of view on what’s going on in the industry, ” this friend and former colleague said to me.  Kind of a bummer since this is such a dynamic, fun industry to be in.

I will stop now in hopes that this somewhat curmudgeonly opening doesn’t take away from what I think is a hopeful message below.  Enjoy…

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Much has been made of late regarding the challenge of finding good, experienced interactive/digital media people. It’s a consistent topic in just about every trade publication you pick up or trade website you peruse. It’s even starting to get some play in some mainstream business publications, in print and online.

I have been relatively lucky in that I have a good, solid core of talent that has allowed for much organic growth as our clients’ interactive / digital / new / emerging media budgets have grown (note to headhunters and my esteemed colleagues– HANDS OFF); a great core of talent that has (more or less) willingly given up on the concept of “normal” work hours and work weeks as the workload has steadily increased.

I’ve become a bit exasperated of late, however, both in terms of my recent searches for outside talent, as well as with the trade buzz around this topic. I’m a firm believer in the idea that there is nothing new under the sun, and that the best way to get insight about the future is to examine the past. Since we live in the digital age that we do (I haven’t done the math on this officially but I’m thinking there are about 15 digital years per every calendar year), all I had to do was take a quick look back to the not-so-distant past for some insight on this current event.

There was a trend some 10 years ago of media planners and buyers making a jump into this internet thing without a safety net, primarily driven by curiosity, to establish themselves in this space. Paraphrasing Willy Wonka, we were the music makers; we were the dreamers of dreams.

I have many fond memories of just trying to figure it out. Back when sock puppets sold dog food online, and someone thought there was a viable business plan in paying people to surf the internet, stock options fell like manna from heaven (even for companies using sock puppets to sell dog food online and companies paying people to surf the internet), and The Big Guys’ main sales strategy was “We’re big. Buy us.” (See, 15 digital years per calendar year bring trends back a lot more quickly in our world.)

Nostalgia aside, the main reason I got into interactive / digital / new / emerging / title-of-the-week media was because I had a curiosity about media in which people were an active participant in the experience. There was the thrill of being able to see the loop close– seeing the actual behaviors resultant from our advertising. What’s more, the ability to use that data to make the plan better– immediately. And there were many folks like me (many of you reading this now) in the previous decade having a similar epiphany.

Do you think such curious folk in this industry ceased to exist in 1995 or 1998 or 2001 when you came into the game? Is there not a strong safety net now in place to show the way for the next generation of digitally curious media planners and buyers, digitally experienced or not? Are we not the potential Jedi Masters to these potential Padawon Learners? OK, I’ll stop now.

As lines blur between traditional and non-traditional, as most media move to digital and more measurable platforms, do we need to, in a media analogy, parse a finite universe of experienced digital planners and buyers until that audience is no longer efficient or stable to target? Or do we need to find an audience with a propensity for curiosity regardless of their demographic make up (traditional vs. digital) and show them the way?

Look, if we’re going to walk the talk of convergence / cross-platform / integration, it CANNOT all be driven by interactive and digital media experts (weren’t we the first ones in the recent past to extol the virtues of “media agnostic” approaches?). Likewise, in a world where medium is message and people use rather than consume media, all pertinent knowledge about a client’s business needs and goals CANNOT only reside with account folks and “traditional” media planning teams. It has to be a partnership in which knowledge and information are shared freely to get to a common goal. In the words of another wise sage — potentially as crazy as Willy Wonka — Roy Spence, “We do not have the corner on smarts.”

Roy loves to speak about the model of “Dynamic Collaboration” as the key to success. In order to get to innovative solutions, all disciplines must collaborate and ideate together BEFORE integration can truly happen. Otherwise, you’re just integrating the wrong things. And, the key to collaboration is removing the chip from your shoulder and checking your ego at the door– digital folks have just as much to learn from traditional planners and buyers as they from us.

I think we’re a long way away from an uber-planner/buyer who can effectively strategize, execute and optimize across the spectrum of media vehicles now at our disposal. Wonka also said, “We have so much time and so little to do. Scratch that, reverse it.” Whenever asked about the potential for “splitting” a person between traditional work and interactive work, I’m fond of pointing out that folks working for me have 40+ hour per week jobs, folks in traditional media have 40+ hour per week jobs, and I’m relatively certain no one (voluntarily) works 80+ hours per week.

Perhaps one day we will have a purely digital media marketplace where front-end planning systems are tied to media inventory management-negotiation systems that then feed seamlessly into tracking and billing systems across all media vehicles; something that is adaptable to the dynamic nature of seamlessly integrating messaging into content and programming, as well as efficient at placing “spots and dots” as needed. And it will come with a slick dashboard showing all of your results across all your spending in one place. That’s a bit more than a few digital years off, I think.

We live in a culture of media mash ups; the same could be said for the ways and means of how media gets planned and bought. A pertinent example in this very digital year: As search is touted for its efficacy in building brands, the industry is rampant with talk of broadcast being purchased on an auction model.

That seems to beg for well-rounded media people who have a working knowledge and understanding of all platforms; people who are comfortable with and can act on instantly available data allowing for real-time optimization, but also are comfortable working in an environment where efficient audience delivery is key; people who can walk the talk of the effect of media mix on communication goals– as well as business goals.

In my estimation, this requires hands-on knowledge where media people can be dedicated to working within an interactive/digital media team for at least a year, preferably within the first few years of their career. Conversely, a year-long “work study” for a young digital media person who has never worked in the traditional world is a must as well. Where they go from that point is up to them, but one thing is for certain: They will have sufficient context and tools to do any job in media well, regardless of how these various platforms evolve.

My favorite line from Chris Anderson’s “The Long Tail” is, “It is when the tools of production are transparent that we are inspired to create. When people understand how great work is made, they’re more likely to want to do it themselves.” I believe that sums it up nicely. Give solid, young media planners and buyers the tools they need and watch the innovation and creativity flow.

Perhaps I’m over simplifying. Perhaps with media agencies separate from creative agencies separate from interactive agencies such a system can’t work and flourish. Where clients manage bricks-and-mortar in silos from the digital world, perhaps what I’m talking about can’t flourish.

Or perhaps we just need to try harder to make sure that such a system can flourish. Mr. Spence also likes to say, “You’ve gotta kiss change on the lips.” Pucker up.

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You CAN get there from here

“Change” isn’t something that “needs to happen.” It simply is. It’s active. It’s continuous. You may be driving it, you may be driven by it, but you definitely don’t want to be run over.

Assuming structures and/or processes are the best response to change is a surefire way to be run over. Checking boxes off a to do list and correctly formatted reports and clear definitions of who does what when won’t allow you to get there from here.

An open mind, curiosity, passion, and a willingness to compliment or be complimented by collaborators in getting “there” is much more handy.

Most key is an excitement in the knowledge of the active nature of change. There’s a desire, even a joy, in frequently getting to a different “there” starting from a different “here.”

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Letting Megadeath Replace Killer App or There’s No Emergence without Merging

Note: There will be no mention of Dave Mustaine in the following. However, I’m digging the Sufjanness of the title.

Of late, a term from The Bubble has been rolling around in my head. Not because I’ve heard people using it, but because the behavior that it implies I’m seeing – again. That term is ‘killer app.’

Why? Probably because when folks are feeling they are in desperate times, they tend to reach for something, anything, the proverbial ‘silver bullet’, that will make everything better. And though no one is saying ‘killer app’ these days, much chatter abounds about Twitter, iPhone, Facebook, Orkut, Vimeo, et al and the various cottage industries that have sprung up around them in the form of apps for these platforms or the fact that these things can be reduced to apps that live on other platforms that can also be reduced to apps and live on these things platforms, too.

I completely get the need to have first movers and early adopters pushing the bounds of what is possible and creating buzz around “emerging” media and platforms. I am fine w/ account planners, media/marketing pontificators and prognosticators, bloggers and the ilk spending the majority of their time on Twitter talking about Twitter and the social and anthropological relevance of Twitter and the various ways one can get Twitter, use Twitter, and tweet about Twitter. I’m guilty of playing that game at times myself. I actually learn a lot from these folks – and do my best to filter out what the video link above mentions in an all too honest assessment of the environments. Bitterness, arrogance, hipster inside-edness and flaming is pretty rampant, but if you wade through it – and give as well as you take – you can see wonderful examples of many and varied best practices abound.

Anyway, the magic moving forward will be, IMHO (wait, I’ve got more than 140 characters here) – in my humble opinion – is realizing if your role is one of a zealous quest for turning over the next killer app and it’s relevancy in and of itself before it “tips”, or if you’re responsible for harnessing the disparate powers of these platforms to achieve something greater than the sum of the parts.

What I mean by that is this – IP/digital is practically ubiquitous. The infrastructure is built and it is solid. What we are seeing now are not ’emerging’ media, but new business models and communication platforms in their Gutenberg printing press stages. The winners in the new new media age will be those who can develop strategy to synthesize killer apps either as they arise or as they’re relevant. The winners will be able to decipher – i.e. have enough knowledge of IP/digital platforms – what the avant-garde of the media/marketing industry are talking about and doing and applying it to the early and late majority.

In a nutshell, those who can make the whole greater than the sum of it’s parts – and, most importantly, provide benefit to a large swath of the people that matter to them most – their customers.

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2009, I am not afraid and I will beat your ass

The last few weeks of 2008 have given me a glass half full perspective on the media industry. I’ve had a number of discussions w/ friends in the industry who are in relatively early stages of new business models or ventures in media. The kicker is these new models or ventures make sense – a lot of sense. Solving problems that need to be solved either for the business of media, the infrastructure of media, or directly for consumers.

Not pie in the sky, IPO and out, fast buck, free food and drinks types of business models from ~10 years ago. It just feels different in a good way. Real. Pragmatic. The pervasive feeling is one of hey, we’ve been thru something like this before, maybe caused by different factors, but we’ve been in something like this nonetheless. And we know what didn’t work and have a pretty firm grasp on why it didn’t – and ~10 years of experience and wisdom in a growing digital media landscape.

This time there’s a technological foundation and established consumer behaviors in place to support the models and ventures that are being built to make these ideas a reality.

With this sort of change comes a large amount of uncertainty. Personally, I’m a bit worn out w/ the wringing of hands from the old guard and the biting sarcastic I told you so of the new guard – and the pervasive doom and gloom from both sides. There’s some good, folk advice out there that goes something like, “It takes all kinds.” Indeed it does and will continue to be that way.

I’m excited and energized by the possibilities. Whether a marketer, at an agency, in sales or in any other corner of the media industry, I’m having a hard time locating a more disruptive point in media history.

I’m choosing to embrace it – to seek to drive change and not remain complacent. I’m going to do my best to keep my sarcasm in check, but my healthy skepticism in place to drive positive change. To keep my mind open, and be pro-active, patient yet aggressive.

Necessity is the mother of invention. There will be a lot of necessity coming at us in 2009. Let’s invent!

PS: Perhaps my fave album title was used in developing the title for this post…thx, Yo La Tengo

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On Calculators, Spreadsheets & New Media

So I really, really liked Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky (did I mention that if you’re reading this you should read the book already at some point? Yeah, I did). Anyway, I haven’t annotated a business book this much since The Long Tail.

In the Epilogue, Shirky tells a story about when he was in junior high and the powers that be were lamenting the increased use of calculators in schools, decrying it as laziness and bemoaning the inability of future generations to effectively do long division by hand, fretting over what would happen when the calculator fad was over. Shirky points out that he and his peers had already internalized and assimilated the benefits of this new tool, taking the obvious shift in doing math via calculator not as a fad but a change that was here to stay.

When I was starting my career in an agency media department, I recall the stories from my supervisors of doing media flowcharts by hand with slide rules and rulers. I still recall how when I got my first batch of office supplies, my supervisor told me to get my name on my ruler quickly because people had no qualms claiming them. As I was still trying to figure out why I really needed a ruler, I turned back to laying out flowcharts in Lotus 123 (kids, that’s a spreadsheet program not made by Microsoft, not sure if it’s still around).

I also recall my supervisors crunching large amounts of numbers on a calculator/adding machine (i.e. a calculator that had those roles of paper hanging out the back), then ripping the sliver of paper off to use as reference in a meeting. That same supervisor that told me to write my name on my ruler quickly also told me to do the same on the bottom of my calculator and to make sure I always had a calculator w/ me in every meeting. I nodded my head then went back to developing formulas and various other calculations in my spreadsheets so I wouldn’t have to rely on making sure I held onto little slivers of papers or develop formulas while rifling through data from disperse sources on a calculator in front of demanding clients and crabby bosses.

The point? To paraphrase Shirky, it’s not that I (or those starting their careers at roughly the same time I did) knew more useful things – we knew fewer useless things. We came of age professionally (the early to mid-90s) when the tools now taken for granted – tools that have been vastly approved upon – were in the process of overtaking the way things had been done for decades previously.

Another little fad started taking off as I was starting my career – these things called “banners” were starting to be sold on this thing called “the Internet”. So, if you’ve ever wondered why it’s taking so long for “new”, digital media to catch up with “traditional” media in terms of importance even though time spent with “new”, digital media is growing while pretty much every other media is decreasing in time spent, remember this thing called “the Internet” was coming of age as a medium when a generation of media people were still reliant on rulers and calculators to do their work.

Now nearly 15 years on, those of us who understood the inherent power of digital tools in more effectively and efficiently doing our work and saw the initial promise of are coming to points in our careers where the Young Folks coming to work for us don’t know what it’s like to not have a computer connected to the Internet within easy reach. And they’re taking for granted the tools available to them.

So, as I told my former colleague in response to not the first rant of his I’ve heard on this subject matter, I like to recall Gandhi’s quote: “First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.” Feels like on most fronts, truces are being negotiated.

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Read This Book

Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky you must read. If you claim to be in marketing, advertising, media or just have a general interest in understanding how technology empowers people to connect and what it means for society – good and bad – in general you must read this book.

If you’ve ever been concerned about the phenomenon of echo chambers (couple more books in here that I’ll be reading right after this one to get different perspective – i.e. step out of the echo chamber – on roughly the same topic) and their effect on the work you’re involved with (that’s me), you must read this book. Late in the book, in a section called “It’s Not How Many People You Know, It’s How Many Kinds”, the following appears in relation to a company going through a transition in management and re-org:

“…a dense social network of people in the same department (and who were therefore likely to be personally connected to one another) seemed to create an echo chamber effect…new managers rejected ideas drawn from this pool with disproportionate frequency, often on the grounds that the ideas were too involved in the minutiae of that particular department and provided no strategic advantage…”

Again, back to the section title, it’s not how many you know, it’s how many kinds…

If you’re looking for a professional life-changing experience you should read this book. It did mine. I will say that I thought the first few chapters were slow and re-hashing things I already know or believe, but with Chapter 4 and onward, Shirky has really challenged my thinking.

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The Kids are Alright / Young Folks

For those alright kids oblivious to a reference to The Who, the post-slash title is hopefully a more friendly 21st century reference to Peter, Bjorn & John w/ which you can relate.

Not sure how I missed this (thanks freak for catching me up), but back in April, many people w/ “C” in their title leaned from their ivory towers of the revered advertising and media world, people who control a very large chunk of global ad spend, are playing Dr. Phil to each other, saying “Get over it”. (The fact that within the article there was a reference to Cher slapping Nicolas Cage in Moonstruck – a movie that premiered 21 years ago – perhaps sets up nicely what’s about to be said with regards to Young Folks.) This digitization of media thing ain’t going away and if you want to continue in this here industry you need to figure it out. And that starts w/ the aforementioned Young Folks.

This quote from Lee Clow, Chairman & Chief Creative at TBWA/Chiat/Day (or whatever they’re called these days – need a Young Folks memory abilities to keep the industry straight):

“If you want to participate, you’ve got to start hiring young people, and don’t tell them what to do — ask them what to do.”

Click the link and check his picture – this dude is what Young Folks would call “old”. He probably remembers the “secret” acronym for the shoe company on his t-shirt…

Some lyrics from Young Folks for you to ponder when you think about recruiting Young Folks into this industry – let’s assume the narrator is the ad/media industry:

if i told you things i did before
told you how i used to be
would you go along with someone like me
if you knew my story word for word
had all of my history
would you go along with someone like me

Hmm, let’s see, an industry that’s shifting at a grinding pace towards media spaces where Young Folks spend the preponderance of their time, always have and – more importantly – always will. Yeah, maybe we shouldn’t tell them our story word for word, and we should listen a bit more closely.

They ain’t like we Gen X’ers (apologies to any Boomers reading this but I just made you younger and much more indifferent and cool) who had to adapt to this neat-o digital stuff – they were born into it. ‘Member how we thought it was really cool when we got a VCR in the house? Atari or Activision? Those ultra cool, ultra small, ultra mobile Walkmen – and the technological wonder of the Discman? Mobile phones that had their own special bag and made you look like an Army officer on some sort of mission?

Yeah, very few of these kids have known life without a computer in the house, are somewhat averse to the concept of a physical container for their music that isn’t made by Apple, and have slightly different expectations of what a “mobile phone” is and what it can do for them (hint: primarily not being used for placing calls).

Oh, and know how there’s this whole thing going on about the power of tweens, teens and young adults influence over their parents – i.e. Gen X’ers and Boomers? Guess where they’re needing to spend more of their media time to connect w/ the Young Folks? It’s interesting to take a look at the demographic shift of Facebook and MySpace if you haven’t…

Back to the central thought which is the need for ad/media pros to get over it (dammit, I hate how that keeps coming up) and let the kids take the wheel a bit more. From The Who’s The Kids are Alright:

I know if I go things would be a lot better for her
I had things planned, but her folks wouldn’t let her

I really don’t want to be the folks who wouldn’t let her. Check it – get The Kids are Alright ringtone here. Maybe you Young Folks do get it!

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