Contrary To Unpopular Belief
September 12, 2014
It is never fun to be told that you have a problem, even if it's true. ESPECIALLY if it's true. That brings me to a particularly disheartening moment at this year's Radio Show in Indianapolis. I think it points to a problem this industry has that needs to be addressed, like, now.
The moment in question was the keynote address by a former ad agency CEO calling himself "The Ad Contrarian." He came out snarling and dripping with anger and condescension, attacking digital media and social media as "frauds" and selectively using examples of "failed" digital ad campaigns to prove his argument that, um, traditional media rules, new media drools. (Apparently, this is a stock speech; I noted coverage of a similar rant from a European conference earlier this year, and much of it dates back to a 2011 blog post.) I'm not going to go into detail on how wrong he was, because a) it's not exactly the point I want to make, and b) Mark Ramsey beat me to it. I'll just say that by using selective examples to "prove" his points and by mischaracterizing modes of advertising in the digital realm, he managed to reach a conclusion that just isn't supported by the facts. Oh, and after taking shots at Millenials, he insisted that radio concentrate on reaching and selling the over-50 audience, which, of course, has been the ticket for rapidly declining ad sales and ratings for years. Turned out he had an agenda: he has a business offering marketing services targeting seniors. Oh. Go read Mark's post and, if you're so inclined, go back to my Twitter timeline for my live-tweeting of the thing, and you'll get the idea.
But that's not the issue. He has his opinion, he has a right to express it, I have a right to disagree, we're all good. I wouldn't be surprised that if we spoke one-on-one, we'd find some common ground. My problem is with the reaction. The audience ate it up. They loved it. Other trade reporters were talking it up. People at the show were cheering in agreement. Whatever he was selling, they were buying. And besides it being short-sighted and inaccurate, it was something else:
It was what they wanted to hear.
That's the problem. I've been going to broadcasting conventions since the '80s, and it's pretty much a given that people whose opinions aren't sunny and warm generally don't get handed the mic. (We end up just sitting in the back of the room, muttering and tweeting.) And in this case, I don't think the audience for this keynote paid that much attention to the details; I think they just loved the idea that a guy styling himself as a "contrarian" was ripping the Big Bad New Media and Big Dumb Agencies.
This industry is not alone in this, though. I encounter it in pretty much every walk of life, and it's toxic. We want to be told all is well, that we don't need to change, that it's not our fault. We want to have our suspicions confirmed, our prejudices bolstered. We go to these things seeking a pep rally. That's not an entirely bad thing, but it should be based on actual positive signs, not factually deficient or ad hominem attacks on the enemy, who may not really be the enemy after all.
And that's the takeaway people SHOULD have been getting from the keynote. Social media CAN be effective in marketing your operation and building your brand, like any other medium, when it's done right. Digital media can be used as part of an effective marketing campaign. Millenials are not evil and are not the enemy of boomers. It's pretty much the opposite of what the guy said, with the added fillip of nuance, 'cause generalizations and blanket condemnations are only good for, um, talk radio, I guess.
If it's beneficial to learn from our mistakes, we have to be willing to hear it when we make those mistakes. If we're on the wrong track, we shouldn't be angry at the kid yelling at us that we're going the wrong way. Conversely, we shouldn't just blindly accept what someone says just because we agree with it. And if we're going to gather as a group a few times a year, we should be willing -- eager, even -- to hear the whole truth, not just the parts that'll make us feel better about things.
While I wrap things up in Indianapolis, you all just go ahead and check out All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics for all of your show prep topic needs, with hundreds of items and ideas for segments on your shows plus kicker stories you won't see anywhere else. Click here for that. And the Talk Topics Twitter feed at @talktopics has every story individually linked to the appropriate item. This week, we also have "10 Questions With..." KGO/San Francisco Producer Brian Pelleier, who is not only one of the young talented people the radio industry has been trying to attract but also teaches high schoolers about broadcast journalism, so he's helping to keep the flame burning.
Full Disclosure: I also serve as Director of Programming for Nerdist Industries (a division of Legendary Pictures, and, no, I've never met Godzilla or Batman), which includes the Nerdist Podcast Network, one of your major podcast entities.
There was more to talk about here, but I'll save it for future columns. Don't want to burn through all my material all at once.