Today in The Age of Disruption

A couple of weeks ago I was honored to present to a major publisher’s entire company. My topic was on what’s a publisher to do (in this day and age of disruption), and my assignment was to discuss how my own business has changed, and how publishing is continuing to change.

I like to come early to such meetings and listen because I learn the mindset of the audience I’ll be addressing. If you are a presenter, and you get that opportunity, you will never fail to learn some things that will help adjust your own presentation. Here’s what I learned before I took center stage.

  1. If your budget is $14M, you can do a lot. One of the presenters talked about their campaign for a major brand. You saw people in the audience drooling: the spend was $14 million, and the campaign included everything from buying billboards to social media and print. It was a very effective campaign according to the presenter: the goal was 1.4 million impressions, and they delivered 83 million. But, what’s an impression? Like “hits” (or How Idiots Track Success), an impression is just that: a fleeting look. Granted, you need impressions to start the ball rolling, but spending all that money to create an impressions is, well, wasted if you can’t know who you are impressing or you can’t turn one of those impressions into a sale (or prove you did). That’s been the battle since Wanamaker said half his money spent on advertising was wasted, only he didn’t know which half. Unfortunately, most of the time that’s still true.
  1. Be aware of triggers of opportunity. In the agency and publishing business, sales people should be looking for triggers of opportunity, or situations (client problems usually) where a door will open for you. One trigger is research, and we were encouraged to follow the research – something we are a proponent of since we opened our own doors. But research can also lead to blind alleys; in fact, there’s an enormous amount of money spent on research that leads nowhere. And that’s how it should be. Research is inherently designed to help you make go/no go decisions. Probably the hardest thing a company can do is do research, find out they made a miscalculation, but decide to go ahead anyway and lose a fortune. It happens a lot – a lot more than you’d think. Transitions are another trigger. When there is a change in management, a change in a process, that usually spells opportunity. But to find them, you have to be listening – carefully. Sometimes transitions happen suddenly. Other times they evolve over time, with clues being scattered in front of you like breadcrumbs. The key is to pay attention, and then be agile enough to move quickly, neatly and efficiently.
  1. The website is the center of the experience. We’ve been preaching this for many years, and it was good to hear it being reinforced. More than anything else, a company’s website holds the opportunity for success or failure in any marketing venture. In this case, the presenter recommended creating a blog on the client’s website, and using all the marketing tactics to drive people to that blog. A very strong idea, and proven time after time. You should consider it.
  1. You can’t be a know-it-all. Another presenter discussed the uncomfortable situation where a salesperson doesn’t know the answer to a question that’s being asked. Sales people like to know everything, and many find it tough when this situation of not knowing the answer to a question arises. Some make up answers. Maybe because I used to be a teacher, I don’t mind saying, “I don’t know.” Now people who work for me will find what I just said to be a contradiction. I tell them those are the three words I hate the most: “I don’t know.” Our clients expect us to know, because they don’t. If they did, they wouldn’t need us. However, when you are in front of a client, saying “I don’t know” it is actually a good thing, especially if the conversation has led you into an area where you don’t know. Gene Kranz wrote FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION. In it, he noted: “The first rule of flight control is if you don’t know what to do, don’t do anything!” That’s because doing the wrong thing would get people killed. He concluded: “I had gained something precious. I now know how much I didn’t know.” As a salesperson, not knowing is a chance to help a client find out a solution.
  1. You are the sell sheet. Salespeople depend on printed material – on something to put in front of a client. Part of the important discussion I heard was when one person turned to the audience in an open forum and said, “YOU are the sell sheet.” The lesson was to go in without anything in order to listen to the client or prospect and figure out the problem. I once started a meeting with a President of a major firm and after the brief introductions, he said, “What do you do?” I told him I solve problems. He said, “I don’t have any problems.” I replied, “Nice to meet you,” and got up to leave. Stunned, he said, “Where are you going?” “You said you didn’t have any problems.” We had an excellent discussion that I blogged about following that move.
  1. Big Ideas. Clients, according to much of the discussion going on, want “big ideas” or “less traditional advertising.” The Big Ideas in one discussion was what they called “road shows.” That is, they targeted the top ten cities and brought the “event” to those target audiences in those cities. 20 years ago, we did road shows with magazines. Instead of holding one press conference, we took the press conferences on the road to magazines in major cities. Connecting people is never out of style. It never will be.
  1. Walls are Crumbling. A panel was discussing selling custom content and how to get editorial involved. This is a big topic in publishing today. According to eMarketer, “The lines between native advertising and editorial content are continuing to blur, as more magazine publishers involve their editorial team in the production of native ads than use a separate native ad team.” It was also pointed out that magazine execs are worried about the lack of division between their editorial and advertising side – something that was expressed in this panel discussion I heard. One of their fears was a sales person making a commitment that they couldn’t keep. I learned also that magazines will use freelance writers when required – something I forgot about. There was discussion about getting the opportunity to write clients’ white papers, a discussion about custom content versus sponsored content and how important it is to lay-out the entire scope of the project. They also discussed social media. “We did a Twitter chat and it was more legwork than I thought,” said one person.

When I went on (I was last up before dinner), I was not only well prepared because of my original content; I had all these stories to weave into my own narrative. It was a great experience for all. Thanks for reading!

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