Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Clown Show - Chapter 1

Clown Show

Part 1 - Enthusiasm

Chapter 1

May, 1989

For everyone else, this was supposed to be a banner day, a career-defining day, a zesty feature in Ad Age day. The entire National Package Delivery team at Leonetti & Washer, minus the creatives, was parading up to White Plains to present the media plan for the upcoming fiscal year, July to June, highlighted by a shiny new, fairly innovative sports promotion. Getting client approval on the cooler shit was invaluable to generate some new business interest, award potential, and to elevate morale, especially for the Media team. It was also Ian's turn to hold the check on the way back to the office at 200 Fifth Avenue - the monthly fees NPD owed the agency, a little more than $6 million. Count your lucky fucking stars.

Ian McManus was one of three planners on the agency's second biggest account and he didn't buy into the thrill of being the payment delivery boy. It only served to hammer home the indentured servant-like conditions of his employment. Most recently, it was six straight weeks of monkey work: pulling competitive ad spending data until 10 pm, all to support $70 million in Print, Radio, Newspaper, Out-of-Home, and TV ad buy recommendations. Yet guidance from said research would be trumped within about, oh 8 minutes, by the client, CMO Mitch O’Connor, and his unassailable business logic. So, a $23k salary over 2,500 hours a year meant Ian enjoyed the privilege of being told he was useless for about $9.20/hour. And here's the head-up, shoulders-back pinch of goodness: Ian's title was just bumped up to Planner from Assistant Planner. There wasn't any legitimate change in role or responsibility, just a loss of $5k in gross income because he would no longer get any overtime pay.

Justifiably, Ian was also the definition of hungover that morning. Once the presentations were put to bed, he went to a Rolling Stone magazine party at the new Ritz on 54th (where Studio 54 used to be) the previous night. The open bar was fully embraced. Ian brought his roommate, Steve Concord, who made the brilliant decision to bypass the main bar for a side bar on the 2nd floor. Shots of JD with Bud chasers went down way too easy, with no wait for subsequent rounds. Shit, they even introduced themselves twice to Axl Rose, the evening's special guest of honor. Much shorter in person - he was maybe 5' 6".

His attitude was made worse by the sycophantic cheerleading Ian endured after he was blessed with the duty of carrying the check. Matt Ellery, the effervescent toady on the account team, was actually envious of Ian. Bursting with Tennessee hickness, Matt constantly reminded Ian of this huge honor and insisted on high-fiving him about every 3 miles.

Ian wondered, "I should wipe my ass with this check, to see if Accounts Receivable would still deposit the money."

The only one in worse shape than Ian was Dennis Thurber - the agency's head of Network TV buying. While the Upfront negotiations were intense, they took 2 weeks to close. The window for big sports sponsorships was 3 days at most. Dennis had been up for 36 hours straight, juggling 4 possible deals for NPD. He locked up a $5 million Monday Night Football commitment just 45 minutes ago. But the package he had brewing with CBS was what had Dennis twitching. Pending verbal approval today of the $12 million buy, he could mellow to some state of equilibrium. Dennis inhaled his third coffee seconds before entering NPD headquarters. To the untrained eye, he was a nebish, soft-spoken and frail. But when negotiating, Dennis was brilliant, becoming possessed and taking the responsibility personally. He fed off the pompous swagger of the network sales VPs. The buys Dennis crafted were like his children.

During the drive up to Westchester County, Ian weighed the plusses of his job. There wasn't a concert or sporting event in the New York area he couldn't score tickets to, for free. Ian derived fleeting moments of pride when he could at least point to campaigns he worked on. He'd kill himself if he was working on a kitty litter or feminine hygiene account. The agency was one step removed from college, especially for the big magazine parties and co-ed softball games. There seemed to be a requirement that one out of three of the female employees under 30 had to range from really cute to hot. Office romances weren't just tolerated but borderline encouraged. And he didn't dread the effort of getting to work because he genuinely liked most of the people he toiled with.

No, Ian was struggling with the charade of the media planning and buying roles at an agency. Art directors and copy writers could dazzle narcissistic clients with clever imagery and frothy storytelling, and cling to negligible loss of integrity. Account guys slept soundly thinking they were an extension of the vision, just one layer removed from the client’s unquestioned genius. But media spend was the cornerstone of billings. Yet, in 1989, what differentiated L&W’s media strategy from what Ogilvy or Lintas would suggest for NPD? “You need to reach business decision makers – I’d go with Fortune, Forbes, Business Week and WSJ.” Just brilliant.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Running Tally - January 28, 2009

It's been more than 2 weeks since the last announcement, but given what's happening at Conde Nast, and the larger economic issues, another "style magazine centered on home", was bound to fail. Look for more closures from this publisher and certainly from this category.

Country Home Magazine
Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Total Print Circulation Loss

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Running Tally - January 13, 2009

Not even an environmentally conscious pub is safe. Plenty will not just cease as a print vehicle, but the Web site will be shuttered too.

Country Home Magazine
Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Total Circulation Loss

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Running Tally - January 10, 2009

I'm going to go ahead and call this one, and add newspapers to my list. Another Hearst property goes down.

Country Home Magazine
Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Total Circulation Loss

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Running Tally - January 8, 2009

I will post an ongoing list of pubs (and their circs) that disapper in the next 12 months. At this rate, we may see 50 big magazine titles swimming with the fishes by year's end.

Magazine; Circulation
Country Home; 1,300,000

Saturday, January 3, 2009


Merry New Year!

I've taken quite a few months off from posting - not due to any grand scheme, just sitting back and oberserving the dizzying string of events since mid '08 and finding that the dozen or so starts of my ramblings were rendered irrelevant 12 hours later. Not that there weren't a few "I told you so moments" - both well-publicized (Tribune, as well as the inevitable demise of most large newspaper firms) and less visible (long overdue forced exits, hollow business models exposed, et al).

My take on the legacy media/marketing carnage is that it had to happen. Decades of blind faith in specious audience delivery hit the wall just when budgets evaporated, period. And we're not done. Will advertisers magically return to higher CPM/lower viewed vehicles when there's more pressure on fewer dollars to drive measurable results? I can see 20+ well-known magazine titles disappear by this time next year. Not a huge leap, I've seen more dire predictions, but you have to admire the denial still in place. Admittedly, I like taking print media to the whipping post - multiple attempts at trying to right the Titanic tend to stick with you.

But consider this: Looking for a safe haven, even with fewer overall dollars, marketers will increase spending online in '09 but they will insist on locking up sure things, as best as possible. I believe we'll see an even greater split between quality inventory (trusted outlets with scale and superior operations) and "the pretenders". There will be much closer scrutiny placed on perceived CPM value at branded publishers which still treat digital as value add. And the speed at which the much-anticipated collapse of dozens, if not hundreds, of ad networks will be stunning.

However, the sheer volume of cheap online ad units will entice marketers to gobble up tonnage. The crime will be that too many advertisers will pigeon-hole these campaigns as narrow direct-response when they should be experimenting with brand impact in a low cost environment.

My hope is that after a tightly clenched Q1, savvy marketers will step back and begin to align their combined outbound executions with smarter site analytics to develop the right collective digital visbility instead of pitting one site, one creative unit or one keyword vs. another. Challenge Atlas, DoubleClick and Omniture to determine which combinations of search + social media + email + display translate into the highest value customers. Not just instant post-click e-commerce only customers, but latent online visitors (including existing customers) who could close across all sales channels.

After exhaling, that's what I would do.

Friday, May 30, 2008

A New Mission

Instead of only providing a monthly critique of insipid decisions in the digital media world, it dawned on me that I had to do more. But I was missing a catalyst, a rationale for posting more frequently. Well, today I am freshly inspired.

I'm announcing a new feature to the blog - "Affirmations for the Digital Amateur". Why am I embarking on this effort? After almost 15 years in online marketing and media, I felt it was my duty to supply much needed guidance to the truly clueless in our space. Who are these hapless souls? Not the junior-level staff members busting their collective asses every day. No, the beneficiaries will be the Directors and VPs granted ownership of some piece of digital P&L despite not having any experience in the field and amazingly are asked to manage a staff. Enjoy.

Affirmation for Friday, May 30th -The Right Way to Build Your Team

  • Your team is a reflection of you, so build your team in your own image. As such, you want to aim for incompetent sycophants. Getting someone who is either worthless or a toady will suffice, but the real trick is landing staffers who display strength in both traits.

  • Avoid hiring people who've actually worked in your same industry. What insight or value could they possibly provide? All information on the business, no matter how banal or trite, must be filtered through you. Play the wild card. For example, if you need a seasoned consumer e-commerce Telecom veteran, what better source than a B2B chemical company to fill the role?

  • Conversely, having ambitious, experienced talent on your team will only slow you down. With their work ethic, and history of delivering results, naturally you'll feel threatened. Do your best to marginalize their impact. If they're smart, they will find more compelling work outside of the intelligence-sapping environment you've built.

  • If these interlopers continue to make progress in spite your ineptitude, then every communication to them from you should be a lie. Dishonesty is the only way to maintain your relevancy to the organization. Take credit for their innovations. Hang them out to dry with other internal departments. Promise to go to bat for them, and then bad-mouth them to anyone who will listen, even after they've left your team.

Next: Picking the Right Vendors - The Objective Way to Advance your Education