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The only problem I’ve ever had in life, is not getting my own way.

I’ve spent the last 24 hours with some of the brightest minds in publishing.  The C-level folks from organizations like Hearst, CNN, SheKnows, USA Today, HuffPo, and more.  Really smart folks who’ve built legacy brands with massive reach.

At their core they want to be an agent for change in the publishing space.  They want more revenues, more ROI for their advertisers, more audience engagement, more, more, more.  They want to be really good at a lot of shit. 

In my media business, I’ve done very well at leveraging network, finding the right folks that are doing one thing really well and plugging them into another group doing something else very well.  The returns are prolific.  The advertisers get reach and ROI while the consumers don’t feel screwed watching a damn commercial or ad in every thing that they watch, read and consume.

Ads are increasing the amounts of misinformation and pressure to put out more content more cheaply . At the expense of quality. It’s unsustainable.

I’m not suggesting that I have the solution to any of this.  I’m merely suggesting that publishers get out of their own way.  They’re stuck in ads and subscriptions, while talking about platforms like Facebook, Snapchat and more.

What if they listen to consumers rather than advertisers in order to go beyond ads?  I get it.  ROI is important.  It’s a great buzz word that comes up often.  How many brands (not publishers) have learned to embrace ROR (return on relationship) and have won big because of it?  I’m not sure that we can focus on advertisers and their needs without focusing on consumers and their wants.  Connecting to consumers garners the data that becomes meaningful to advertisers.

I get the sense more and more that marketers (brands) get it.  Agencies do not.

In all of these conversations and roundtable discussions one theme emerged.  All of us want the same thing.  And none of us are getting our way.

“I shot an elephant in my pajamas.”
Sure, it may seem as natural as breathing to you and me, but English is a mighty perplexing language to the non-native speaker. Some words are spelled the same but pronounced differently, some sound the same but have different meanings – even capitalization and the placement of commas can change everything. So with apologies to Groucho Marx, consider that first, simple sentence.

What’s it really mean? Was the elephant wearing your pajamas? Were you wearing pajamas? Or was the elephant in your jammies in the figurative sense (like by slipping his/her trunk up your pants leg?)
See? And while this example is sorta silly, similar slipups abound in corporate life. The other day I got an email that began with this sterling prose:

“Hi, as we discussed you are both going to work together.”

Wait, what?

My more attractive readers may recall that last November, I posted a blog called “How to Get My Attention” where I gleefully unloaded on a spammy email I received, but heaped praise on (and acted upon) a good one. This piece today is certainly related in that it involves bad communication, but the email example from last year was poorly researched and not applicable to me. This time I just don’t know what the #&% they’re talking about.

So what’s a BBQ loving, cigar stubbing, sales grubbing Texas country music fan to do?

I’m going to fight fire with fire (more on that later.) But first, I want to be sure I’ve at least tried to convince you that this is a real problem today, and not just me on a jet-lagged rant. Consider the following:

  • A Watson Wyatt study found that companies with effective communication are much more likely to have turnover lower than the industry average. With the recruitment and replacement process costing as much as several times a given person’s salary, we are talking about real money here.
  • Private company studies consistently reveal that poor (i.e. inadequate, contradictory, insensitive or otherwise incomplete) communication hurts employee morale, which is directly correlated to increased absenteeism (again – ka-ching ka-ching). But similar studies show that when employees believe they are in the loop, absenteeism is below average.
  • And perhaps most alarming, consider this – if you are not communicating effectively with your employees, what do you think is happening when they speak to customers? Are they magically translating your garbled messages into soothing marketing magic? No, chances are they are frustrating your customers because they are frustrated themselves. And in my experience, frustrated customers won’t do business.

Here’s an example of poor communication from the customer perspective. You’ve done your research and you find the truck you want at a local dealer. You walk in, greet the salesperson, point to the vehicle, and say you’re willing to pay X dollars for it. The salesperson says it’s worth at least X, but you meet in the middle and shake hands. Elapsed time – two minutes.

Then Elvis canters in astride a hot pink unicorn with “Ride of the Valkyries” as a stirring soundtrack. Exactly – you are dreaming. The only thing you can do at a car dealer in two minutes is find a parking spot. It will take your sales drone at least four trips to the cage to determine if they can sell you anything. And this is poor communication. Why not have the minimum acceptable cash price on all vehicles available to the sales staff all the time? Then deals can get done without the endless frog marches around the showroom. Poor communication sucks for customers and employees. Think it’s a coincidence that Carmax stock has outperformed its industry for 15 years while being a perennial member of the Fortune “100 Best Companies to Work For” list?

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I think not. I believe that well-informed employees are healthier, happier, and more productive. This flows right to the bottom line, and (dare I say it?) will make me look good.

Poor communication can have even greater consequences for brands. If you’re a marketing person, you know that brands aren’t just something you do during the day. You live and breathe your brand. You have to, because it’s a living thing that can wither and die if you don’t feed it, flatter it, and talk it up to others consistently.

  • You spend many tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars annually on brand-building activities, and then (for example) your social media staff launches a Twitter campaign the day after your fleet is grounded due to labor issues. Poor internal communication – this happened to Qantas Airlines in 2011.
  • How about this one – you’re one of the largest tobacco companies in the world (possibly the galaxy) and you release a study concluding that premature deaths from smoking are a good thing due to reduced healthcare and pension costs. Unless your PR staff are all named Mr. Scrooge, how do you explain that gem from Phillip Morris in 1999? Epic failure in communication.
  • Some folks just can’t help themselves. In 2007 the Spanish retailer Zara pitched a handbag featuring colorful flowers, bicycles, and…swastikas? The bags were pulled, and presumably the entire design and communications teams were told why this was unacceptable (and then fired.) But seven years later Zara went off the rails again, marketing a sweater the resembled a concentration camp uniform, complete with a huge yellow Star of David. Can’t fix stupid, right?

Obviously, poor communication is both personal and corporate. So what do I intend to do about this crisis? I plan to beat offenders with their own sticks.

For example, my response to the “Hi, as we discussed…” email mentioned earlier was “yes.” If someone is either incapable of or won’t take the time to ask a coherent question, then my response will be equally nebulous and nonsensical. Time is money, people. I can be much more productive by ignoring those who can’t tell me what they want or need and shifting my attention to people who fully engage their brains. At the same time, I will be sure that I am crystal clear in my statements, instructions, and messages.

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I want to be successful, I want my people to be successful, and I want Wright’s Media to be successful and an industry leader. To be successful in 2016 and beyond, you must have a clear vision of what you want to be. Then you have to live it (personally or corporately) while cranking up the marketing machine and spreading your gospel of greatness. Sub-par communication during any part of this effort will slow it down, derail it, or worse. Do it well, and you will save money, save time, boost sales, increase customer and employee engagement, create brand advocates – all things that will improve the performance of your company.

 

keyboard courage
Function: noun
1: A quality or characteristic displayed by a person through the written word that this person would not ordinarily possess. 2: The confrontational attitude exhibited by someone via an anonymous entry to an internet web-page or posting. 3: An attitude demonstrated by someone when they realize that actions taken by them or words written by them across a computer connection will have little, if any, personal repercussions. 4: A false bravery possessed by an individual who does not possess the true quality in person.

I love this definition of keyboard courage.

Sometimes I catch a ball game on the weekends, spend time on my family farm or even book a last minute getaway. But not last weekend. I went to Beautycon for the first time ever.
I’m sure I could use a ton of the products they were selling and demoing, but I personally think the eye shadow would clash with my favorite bowties.

All jokes aside, the event was phenomenal. I was able to spend a few days with some top notch bloggers, you-tubers, content creators and influencers. All of them use the power of social media to share their journey, much like influencers in the corporate world.
As one Beautycon influencer shared the continual backlash of negative comments she would receive on a daily basis in a panel discussion, she was firm in her belief that it’s not worth the time or energy to even respond.

We’ve all been there. I work in media and have gotten the same type of backlash. Somehow a computer screen gives people the courage to act like a complete jackass, yet most of them would never do it in person.

Both in business and our personal lives (which are closer than we want to think), we put ourselves out there using social media of some sort. I’ve even had negative responses on LinkedIn – which is probably the most unlikely place to get those, you know, since recruiters and employers use it regularly to get insight to who you are before hiring.
Opening ourselves up to people we don’t actually know and quite frankly some of whom we have no desire to “get to know,” we often get feedback we don’t like.

Negative comments on Instagram, YouTube or blogs can get downright absurd. Internet trolls get off on posting hateful noise across any social media posts to degrade the original poster and solicit negative responses.
Whether you’re a beauty blogger, a marketing influencer or a content creator in any other industry, you’ll find yourself dealing with trolls. So what do you do about it?
I wasn’t a bit surprised when this same question came up during a panel discussion with Beautycon influencers. Know how they respond to negative comments on social?

Spoiler alert. They don’t.

The common opinion of the Beautycon influencers was that haters gonna hate (inspired by Taylor Swift, I’m sure) and getting wrapped up in their opinions is not doing anything for you in the long run. We all know that misery loves company and the posters only want to stir the pot with their comments.
Don’t let internet hate diminish your efforts.

But most importantly, don’t let the haters get to you. In the famous words of Miss Swift herself, “Shake it off”.

So I have good news and bad news.

The world of media has been turned inside out by the internet.

By now everyone knows that fact represents both the good and bad news. On the negative side, the online world facilitates “sharing” and digital thievery while conditioning audiences to expect everything for free. However, it also opens up the global marketplace to even the smallest company, giving any good idea, product, or service a chance to fly.
So the business channels have changed – publishers now have many avenues to pursue paying customers, such as by holding live events (and rebroadcasting them), sponsoring online and traditional conferences, contests, awards, print and digital advertising – all kinds of options including newsstand and subscription sales. But smart folks will always seek more and better ways to promote themselves and grow. For B2B publishers, data and lead generation have seen widespread adoption across most sectors of the industry. What else can be done?
In the publishing world, brand or content licensing refers to the leasing of media assets or intellectual property to a third party, temporarily, for an agreed-upon fee. It can take a number of forms, from awards programs and editorial “best of” lists to reprints and logo licensing (the “Playboy Bunny” being a classic magazine media example).

But does everyone get it? Does anyone get it?

We decided to find out. Folio: and Wright’s Media teamed up to conduct a short survey of 261 media companies across the consumer, B2B, association, and city/regional magazine sectors. The goal was to determine how well brand licensing was understood by publishers, and to what extent were they exploiting these opportunities to create more revenue.
Believe it or not, only about one quarter of publishers get it. The survey found that 28 percent utilize brand licensing as a revenue stream.
The stated factors behind this apprehension vary, according to the data. Some publishers simply do not understand what brand licensing is, while others fear the potential costs of initiating such a program will overwhelm any possibility of a positive return.

Brian Kolb, COO at Wright’s Media, says this is a common misconception among publishers.

“Most publishers seem to believe that they have to keep any content licensing activities in-house. Of course, this means they will need to hire a staff to manage the program,” he says. “Our partners understand that content licensing is an art form that we have many spent years perfecting. And when Wright’s initiates a content licensing program, there is no up-front cost for publishers.”
Indeed, more respondents (42) say they use an in-house team to monetize their logo and content than use external partners (34). Other respondents cite fears of a damaged brand reputation.
“Licensing the brand and logo would make it appear that we are ‘selling out,’” writes another respondent.
There was a glimmer of hope that publishers are pursuing additional avenues of revenue growth. Media companies are beginning to more vigorously pursue brand licensing initiatives (even without a formal brand licensing strategy). Fully one third claim to have an awards program associated with their publication currently in place, with another 8 percent saying they will add such a program in the year.

And yet, out of those with an existing awards program, less than half monetize the awards logo and trophy in any way.

“Your brand has value,” Kolb continues. “Every time you give away content assets or the use of your logo for free, you are slowly eroding the value of your brand – something you spent years building.”
Among those respondents who say they have changed their business model in the last five years to maximize brand licensing opportunities, most have invested in more awards, recognition programs, and editorial lists. Makes sense, since the survey also showed editorial lists such as “best of,” “top places to work,” or “rising industry stars,” make up the most commonly cited form of brand licensing (27 percent) where respondents see growth. A dedicated marketing communications department comes in second (17 percent), followed by reprints/e-prints at 14 percent.
Still, those publishers who have changed their business model to embrace brand licensing remain a minority, at just over 21 percent. “Publishers change their business models to keep up with the latest changes in their audience and in technology, yet nearly 80 percent of respondents haven’t altered their model to maximize revenue from content licensing,” adds Kolb. “A well-crafted licensing strategy generates a substantial new, sustainable revenue stream.”

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If there’s a clear takeaway from the survey, it’s that brand and content licensing remains a mostly untapped market for publishers. In a time when complacency can often lead to obsolescence, Kolb says it’s definitely worth considering, despite concerns over how it works or the investment required.
“When we start conversations about licensing content for publishers and creating revenue, we usually find great content, a trusted brand, but no staff or experience developing a licensing strategy. That’s where we come in.”