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They Said it Couldn’t Be Done: Journalist Becomes Marketer/Salesman

It’s basically part of our DNA: We editors are sales-phobes. Traditionally, salespeople bring in the revenue; we spend it. We’re friendly and appreciate our sales brethren, but they tend to be “the others” to us. But I’m excited because I can feel myself becoming part of that other side — at least, to an extent.

For someone who got a Bachelor’s degree in journalism & mass communications, but who wants to work his way into the marketing/communications world upon receiving his walking papers this week from my current editor-in-chief gig, I must say that all the self-promotion I’ve done lately to achieve my career goals has been quite an eye-opener.

The best lessons I’ve received have come from all the work I’ve put into my LinkedIn page and profile. Today, I contacted a bunch of people and asked for recommendations. Many were kind enough to write them for me; a few asked me how I’d like theirs to read. Talk about shameless self-promotion! I don’t believe I could’ve done this as recently just a month ago.

But a lot has changed in my life since I received a fateful phone call out of the blue on Nov. 3 from my boss and company H.R. director, two lovely ladies I still love to pieces, regardless of the rotten news they had to smack me down with. Like they say in sports, “it’s business,” right? I harbor no ill-will. If anything, it launched my new education into sales and marketing, and for that I’m grateful.

I’ve been on a self-marketing tear (which at times has rhymed with “beer”) ever since. Obviously, everyone goes through this at one point or another in their careers. These days, with all the online tools available — LinkedIn being only one of many — you can really learn more about yourself than ever before possible, by blabbing it out there for all to see. You explore every angle of yourself and of the kind of work you want to do. You’re really forced to do this, but like many, awful-tasting foods, it’s good for you.

My job search remains a work in progress, though I’m pleased with where I’ve come so far. I feel ready to take on myriad types of jobs, rather than limiting myself to just another editorial gig — although I’d be just as happy if I remain in editorial, what with my extensive background (there I go boasting again). LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, The Ladders, and so forth — you get great on-the-job training as you fill out all these forms and communicate with all your contacts. It’s just been a great, mind-opening experience all around.

I’m confident I can offer marketable content, and I can sell it. And in this environment, if you can’t sell it, ain’t nobody else is gonna do it for ya.

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Black Friday? Cyber Monday? It’s Binge Discounting All This Week

Blogger’s Note: Following today’s entry, I’ll take a hiatus until next week. So today, I offer you a broader assessment of how the discount retail shopping game is shaping up this week.

Who knows where we’ll be a year from now, but at least for this season of store and online retail bargains, the killer sales are already going on. Although there will still be big store sales this Friday and probably even bigger ones online next Monday, the big retailers already began to duke it out for the lowest prices earlier this month.

As an article on the front page of Tuesday’s New York Times noted about the biggest store retailer (Wal-Mart) and online merchant (Amazon.com), the gloves have already come off. And as the Times article points out, Wal-Mart has used the media to pick apart Amazon.com’s discounting efforts, trying to ensure the public that its prices will always be the lowest. Meanwhile, Amazon.com has taken more of a high road, noting that bargains can come from all over, not just Wal-Mart.

These two “shopping holidays” haven’t been around all that long. Although Wikipedia tells us that the term “Black Friday” dates all the way back to 1966, it also notes that it didn’t take on a true shopping connotation until 2000. Cyber Monday didn’t hit its stride until just four years ago.

Now, however, with cash-strapped consumers perhaps looking to get back in the shopping game this holiday season, they’re hungrier than ever for a good bargain. Retailers, e-commerce merchants and catalog sellers are equally eager to offer the bargains to show some sort of sales gains this season to make up for the miserable time they’ve had throughout the Great Recession.

Then, you have to factor in the tragedy that took place at a Valley Stream, Long Island, Wal-Mart store just 12 months ago when bargain-hungry shoppers trampled over a defenseless Wal-Mart employee as the store opened at the stroke of 5:00am on Black Friday, fighting their way to the store’s sale items. Wal-Mart announced just last week that although its stores will open at 5am again this Friday, it would keep its stores open a full 24 hours thereafter to try to prevent more The Who’s 1979 Cincinnati concert-like stampedes from occurring again.

What this all adds up to is the likelihood of these two shopping holidays expanding beyond just the two days. This year will offer just a taste of it. Next year could see a considerable expansion of sales days at this time of year.

It’s a trend not unlike the so-called “fifth quarter” of retail business that evolved over the past 20-plus years as the holiday shopping season took on greater and greater importance to retailers, catalog marketers and later, online sellers. What started as a surge of sales immediately following Dec. 25 kept expanding week by week over the years, leading all the way back to this very week we’re now in.

If you can date yourself all the way back to the recession of the early ’80s, you might recall the last extended period of time in American retail when cut-throat discounting reached such levels. As the economy picked up in the mid-’80s, discounting eased up, full-priced retailing edged back and service levels improved. Perhaps that could occur as soon as next year at this time, but I’m guessing that the current state of binge discounting will prevail.

Paper Looks Different to Me

I spent my Sunday afternoon going through a ton of old magazines, conference brochures and other 8-1/2″ x 11″ printed materials I’d been filing on some bookshelves of my home office. It was the first time I’d purged myself of stuff like this in four years and I only hope the recycle collector has enough room on his truck for it all.

Funny thing about this process though. I found myself looking at all this paper differently than ever before. Even though I’m constantly tossing newspapers into the recycle bin, the enormous stacks of magazines I got rid of really made me feel like I was unloading what’s becoming a bygone era. I almost felt like I was throwing out old phonographs or 8-track tape players.

As I prepare to leave my job of the past 3-3/4 years once it’s terminated next week, I’ve come to the realization that as chief editor for a national business publication in charge of every letter and image that’s printed and posted on our Website and e-newsletters, about 95% of the files I kept throughout my tenure were on my computer. I threw out almost all my file folders because most of them I had inherited from my predecessor. And they’re pretty useless now.

Having grown up with so much print all around me, I feel like we’re really smack dab in the middle of a major transformation from print to digital. Because my wife Donna does a lot of catalog and online shopping, we still get plenty of catalogs. And catalogs are far from dead yet. So are magazines. Like I said, we’re right in the middle of this shift.

It’s hard to say how soon we’ll move toward the end of this transformation, but I just found it a bit eerie today, because it really began to sink in that the shift is taking place for real now. The reality is, I believe the message that people like Al Gore have been preaching for years is starting to sink in on people in a subtle sort of way. Perhaps it was accelerated a bit by the recession or the rising cost of mailing printed publications like magazines and catalogs.

Hard to say, but it’s happening.

As Magazines Go, So Too Do Catalogs

For some people in catalog circles, the news earlier this week of J.C. Penney’s decision to discontinue its “big book” catalogs, could have a lasting impact on them for years to come — “I know where I was when I heard Penney was closing down its big book.”

Most consumers, namely Penney customers, probably won’t notice it all that much. After all, they prefer Penney’s smaller specialty catalogs and are more inclined to shop online anyway.

Of course some will miss the big books, especially since Penney’s was the last of what’s now basically a dead breed. There are still plenty of B-to-B catalog big books, but those only go to people in their trades. And let’s face it: Little kids don’t go paging through B-to-B books looking for birthday or holiday wishes.

Speaking of B-to-B, the death of the catalog big book isn’t all that unlike the ongoing death of the B-to-B magazine. Many B-to-B publishers are trying to get their subscribers to opt for digital editions — files of pdfs of the same pages you can see published in print. In many cases, readers are fine with this, but are they really reading the digital editions?

And will customers give consideration to as many of the hundreds of products that used to be advertised in the Penney big book once they’re all only made available online or in stores? I have to believe plenty of products from the nearly 1,000 pages of the Penney big book won’t be found online. They’ll be there, but it’s doubtful that as many customers who used to find them in the big book will still find them in the 2010 digital big books.

Are catalog companies like Penney going to lose a lot of sales by hedging their bets on the Internet? What about B-to-B publisihers? How many readers will those handy online substitutions lose? I believe quite a few.

People Always Love Their Brands’ Stories

I was riding on the railroad from my Westchester County, N.Y., home to New York City this morning with a fellow who recognized me. Nice guy. I sort of recognized him, but didn’t know (or remember?) his name. But he knew mine, because he used to watch my son play on the high school basketball team. We talked almost the entire hour-long ride about a myriad of subjects. Inevitably, the issue of my forthcoming unemployment came up.

Explaining to people what I’ve done for most of my professional life — editing, writing and reporting for a B-to-B publication/newsletter/Website serving the retail/catalog/e-commerce business — has never been easy. I get a lot of quizzical looks. Sure, they perk up a bit when I say “y’know, companies like Lands’ End, L.L.Bean, those…,” but more often than not, they just don’t get it.

That’s fine. I’d venture to guess that about 30%-50% of the world’s professions can’t be easily explained to the average Joe. But the cool thing about my profession — if there is a cool thing about it, and while it lasts — is people have heard of the kinds of companies I’ve covered over the years.

So this gentleman and I got into a whole involved conversation about our families and he talked about his family’s devout love for skiing and lodging up north. Then he got into some of the brands he’s either bought from over the years or received catalogs from, like REI, Patagonia, Eastern Mountain Sports, and others. He really led the conversation, raving about REI, its service and its cooperative set-up to which he gains annual dividends. I was quick to inject that I wrote up a big cover story on REI just last May (see http://www.allaboutroimag.com/article/the-camping-gear-marketer-has-changed-its-approach-but-not-its-focus-406552_1.html). We had a nice connect.

But he wasn’t done. And keep in mind that this kind gentleman is in the financial world, but has no sort of business connections to the retail world. He continued to lead this conversation. Somehow we talked our way into Abercrombie & Fitch, sharing recollections of the Sharper Image-Meets-Brookstone A&F used to be back in the ’80s before it became a racy teen clothing phenom.

That led him to discuss Eddie Bauer and its latest comeback. He boasted that recently he had these two bags (I think they were backpacks?) he had bought from Bauer some 20 years ago — and what? three or four ownership changes ago? — and the inner lining of both had fallen apart. He decided to try to send them back and see what Bauer would do. Much to his surprise and joy, Bauer gave him a credit for comparable new ones.

It seems as though anybody can tell a good story about a merchant they’ve done business with at some point in their lives. People clammer to favorite retail brands and often get caught up in those brands’ evolution.

Everybody loves a story, and in retail or mail order or even e-commerce, they’re looking to be part of newer stories. As retailers and businesses of all types continue to tighten their belts, they shouldn’t lose track of the stories they tell – past, present and future.

The Media/Marketing Blur Gets Blurrier

Last week, I blogged in this space about how the lines between media and marketing keep blurring (see https://paulmiller1960.wordpress.com/2009/11/11/how-the-marketing-media-lines-keep-blurring/). Since then, I’ve experienced this first-hand, as it pertains to me, my skills and my background.

Having taken a very aggressive approach to job hunting since I heard of my impending layoff as editor-in-chief of All About ROI magazine (allaboutroimag.com) a couple of weeks ago, I’ve zeroed in on these two industries. Media being the one I have the hands-on skills and background in; marketing being the topic I’ve mostly covered throughout my career.

Now the opportunities are starting to roll in on both fronts. Some people showing interest in me are coming from the marketing field. I’m getting job descriptions that clearly call for people with a lifetime (and appropriate college degree) spent in marketing and its related fields. And we’re not even talking the public relations side of marketing; we’re talking hard-core marketing, the stuff people learned about in business school, while I was studying writing and editing in J-school.

What do I know? I’ve played the role of an outsider all my career being a journalist — a mere observer of these people’s businesses. Yet most conversations I’ve had so far have gone great. So I’m encouraged that they’re open to a cross-over type of situation here.

I’m also confident that if/when one of them hires me, I may need to hit the ground crawling a bit, but soon enough I’ll be able to run and execute. I’m a firm believer that most jobs can be learned on the spot, and if you have the background knowledge, you can not only prove your worth, but be a slam-dunk for whomever hires you.

In the media and marketing worlds, in particular, this appears to be far more doable than in other fields. The kind of B-to-B journalism I’ve spent my entire career in is becoming far more marketing-driven. Heck, that has a lot to do with why I’m being laid off. Neither myself nor my colleagues on our editorial staff at my current company bring home the bacon to our company’s CFO. But now I can take my skills and show real ROI at another company. And given that rare 2009-2010 opportunity, I’m more confident than ever this can become reality.

P.S.: One of my favorite rock bands is Blur (http://blur.co.uk/), but I swear I’ve exorcised no conflict of interest in the headline or theme of this article!

Assessing the Value of Networking in Media and Marketing

Since I’m now aggressively in the job market for the first time in years, I’m learning first-hand why it’s so important to network. The main reason I started this blog was for networking purposes; to get into peoples’ searches, make new contacts, get in my LinkedIn contacts’ faces, etc. And part of why I titled it “Paul Miller on Media & Marketing,” was to combine my two greatest strengths and assets: I’m a media veteran and a veteran of reporting on marketing. And although networking is equally valuable in both of these industries, the more I analyze them from the perch I’m now in, the more similarities I see.

For one, I’m discovering that the old cliche “it’s all about who you know” really rings true in both the media and marketing businesses. That doesn’t mean you can be an incompetent loser, but assume that just because some people know you and like you that they’ll still hire you. I’ve developed my journalism craft quite extensively for more than 25 years, and for most of the last 23 of them, I’ve developed my knowledge of how the marketing business works.

Not looking to boast about myself here — and God knows, when you’re job hunting you have to boast all you can. I’m just seeing more and more how closely aligned media and marketing are in a lot of areas, including networking. Throughout my tenure as editor-in-chief of All About ROI (formerly Catalog Success) magazine and particularly over the past year, I’ve received many resumes from people in the marketing field who had been recently laid off from their positions. They’re all doing the same thing I’m now doing – networking.

Those I didn’t know very well I told I would certainly keep them in mind if I heard of anything — admittedly, something of a blow-off line. Most of those who contacted me, however, I knew well and I really did keep my eyes out for them and made a number of intros when I saw fit. In fact, I was instrumental in helping at least two people land jobs and I’m not even a head-hunter.

Alas, I can tell you first-hand that networking not only works across both of these fields, but it works quite similarly. And I admittedly used to think it was all a bunch of B.S.!