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Media’s Titles Are Often Just Insignificant Semantics

Earlier this week, I read a very insightful blog by Darrah MacLean, a copywriter at Smith-Harmon, a digital marketing services agency and a unit of Responsys, about how the media — and the general public — have adopted “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” as shopping “holidays.” His overall take on both is that they’re both pretty weak monikers, mostly negative and even a little lame (particularly the outdated-sounding “Cyber Monday”).

I’d agree with Darrah to an extent. Especially the negativity that comes from the first term, which he pointed out was originally coined after the stock market crash of 1987. Except when applied to African-Americans, the word “black” is usually negative, so there’s really little positive to be found in the expression, “Black Friday.” I also agree with Darrah that “cyber” anything is old and outdated. I vividly recall about 13 years ago somebody telling me in what was then a new tool called email that I should loosen up and “get cyber!” Old stuff now.

But here’s where I disagree: Darrah and some of the people who wrote replies to his blog suggest that “Black Friday” should just be referred to as the “day after Thanksgiving sale” or something more positive or better descriptive. To that I ask, What’s in a title? Do consumers really care?

Darrah said in his blog that when he entered a J. Crew store that day, a clerk said “welcome to Black Friday.” Would that have led Darrah or the average consumer to panic and scream “Yikes! I’m gettin’ outta here!” and to bolt? No. All consumers want are the bargains. What do they care about media-induced semantics? If I knew that all the stores in the local mall were offering all their merchandise at, say, 75% off with no exceptions (which would be about the only way to get me to shop on Black Friday), I really wouldn’t care if they called it “F**k-Off Friday.” A bargain’s a bargain.

If my memory’s correct, I believe the first football championship game to be called the “Super Bowl” was the third one when the Jets stunned the Colts. Does that mean that the Packers, who won the first two championships between the NFL and the old AFL, never won a Super Bowl? Of course not. Just semantics spread by the media.

Is Anything Really ‘Interesting?’

I tend to be a very no-nonsense kind of editor. As I just mentioned to someone this morning, with rare exception, I’ll always delete the word “interesting” from any article, because it’s a way for the writer or person being quoted to say something about some-thing or somebody when they really have nothing noteworthy to say. If you read that something’s interesting, does that really mean anything to you? Neither does Black Friday or Cyber Monday. Just insignificant semantics.

Labels and titles can be nice (“Super Bowl” makes the winning team feel truly “super”); they can be quite revealing (“Mother’s Day,” “Father’s Day”). But with the two recent shopping “holidays,” I believe they can be mostly inconsequential.

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Marketing, Lagging Print ROI Have Broken Up the Media Team

Considering that blogs are, by in large, highly personal ramblings, the inspiration of mine since I launched it a few weeks ago has been how I’ve shifted from being a fairly hard-core journalist to becoming more a part of the marketing world. I’m still a journalist by trade. But now that I’m a free agent who’s been busy lining up freelance marketing work while seeking my next full-time endeavor, I’m looking to produce content that contributes more directly to the bottom line.

Being a career business-to-business journalist, I represent a portion of the half of the media team that has made, or is trying to make, this shift. Like other fading or transforming trades victimized by the steady death of print and the rise of the immediacy of the internet, B-to-B journalism isn’t nearly as profitable as it once was. I was laid off, because my position was eliminated, thereby saving the company the money it needs to continue operating my publication profitably.

While other B-to-B publishing companies have gradually slimmed down their editorial staffs over the past few years, some have gone a step further by forcing editors to take furloughs. A former company of mine forced its editors to work four-day work weeks this past summer. That amounted to a 20% pay cut while the editors were forced to do what already was about six days worth of work in four days.

Most B-to-B publications are free to readers and paid for by advertisers. But the vendors who advertise in the trades aren’t doing so anymore. Either their ad budgets are getting hacked or they’re turning to less-expensive online ways to generate leads. Even webinars that B-to-B publishers stage supported by advertiser sponsorship money are a tough sell, because many vendors are putting on their own webinars.

That leaves many B-to-B journalists like myself out looking for the kind of work that companies will be willing to pay for. And I’m finding that unless I can bring some sort of tangible, bottom-line guarantee to the table, I’m not going to be very marketable. So I have to join the part of the media team that’s more closely tied to marketing.

That’s not a bad thing. Journalistic objectivity and integrity aren’t going away in the B-to-B journalism world. You just have to look a little further to find them. If you want the true stories, the behind-the-scenes scoops, you best turn to the newswires for them. BusinessWeek and the Wall Street Journal are still around (in theory, those journalists play for the other media team, the one not directly connected to marketing). But they’re not very healthy either, so who knows how long that team is for this world.

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.!

How the Media, Marketing Lines Keep Blurring

If you’re a sports fan, do you ever watch one of those broadcasters — not the retired professional athletes, but the career broadcasters — who hound players after a game, inject their opinions into their interview questions, and get all palsy with the pros in the process? Ever ask yourself, “Who do they think they are trying to look so in-with-the-in-crowd when they never stepped foot on a field or court or the ice?” Certainly there are some great sportscasters who never played ball earlier in their careers. They’ve accumulated an enormous wealth of knowledge about the sports they cover. Plenty of the players who know them admire them for all their knowledge.

My point is,  I feel like one of them. I’ve spent the majority of my 27 years in the professional workforce following the marketing and advertising field, interviewing executives on such matters as how they calculate their return on investment, why they contact some customers more than others, when the right time is to offer free shipping deals, how they cut costs, even how they go about laying people off, and so forth.

I’ve long since become an expert in the e-commerce/retail/catalog/direct marketing fields — thoroughly knowledgeable on how the trades work. But with a brief exception when I did a little freelance consulting work for a few companies in the field in between jobs in 2005, I never took part in a single “play” on their fields.

I know my stuff, but as I look at some of the want ads for positions like “e-commerce marketing director” or “VP of marketing” and see such requirements as “10 years of marketing experience,” I figure that rules me out.

But does it or should it rule out people like me? Maybe not.  Since I was informed of my impending layoff as the editor-in-chief of All About ROI (formerly Catalog Success) and since I informed all the people I (think) I know in the trade, many have come to me and suggested that that requirement is changing.

Now that it seems like every Tom, Dick & Harry is a journalist today, with the easy ability to do what I’m doing right now on a free service like this one, WordPress, all these marketing companies need people with writing and editing skills. They need to get in their customers’ faces with blogs like this one that subtly pitch their wares. They need to be on Facebook and Twitter and even LinkedIn. But they need people to do all this writing and editing. The people who run retail-related companies have never had to focus on this kind of editorial work before. They need this kind of help.

Although I’ve been pretty depressed over my upcoming layoff, deep in the back of my mind, I get the sense that I’m going to be more marketable than ever once the Great Recession lifts. A writer/editor with marketing knowledge. I still have no hands-on marketing skills of course. But that may no longer matter, as the lines between marketing and us in the media keep blurring.