April 13, 2010

The "Me" in Hearst's Newspaper Media


How often do we realize that there's a "me" in media? More often than not, we think "the media" has to do more with "them." Every one of us has a "me."

William Randolph Hearst had one, though the irony of his personal legacy was created by "them," the industries his "me" helped build. Is there a lesson there?

As compared to Advertising Week, Fashion Week is also an industry-wide celebration, though it focuses largely on next season's fashions. It is covered by 7th Avenue trade pubs, yet gets far more attention from consumer media, based on consumer curiosity and excitement of its future industry trends.

Advertising Week's runway focuses largely on its past. As compared to Fashion Week, where virtually all designers fight to get coverage of their soon to be in-store creations, how many advertisers bring the limelight on their next season's ad campaigns, in full view of their industry competitors? And how many consumers are interested?


Of course the difference between fashion and advertising is that consumers see new fashion more about "me." Advertising is seen as more about "them." Other than the business and ad trades - or unless something goes wrong like embarrassing attempts at parading in Times Square - consumer media largely leaves it alone.

This could be both in the interest of Madison Avenue and the media. Media companies may not want to bite the hand (Madison Avenue spends) that feeds them. Is that the same thing as "don't look a gift horse in the mouth?" We think so. We also think we know the genesis of that expression which may have something to do with Hearst, though we cover that at another time. Forgive us, we digress.

So for all the parading and rolling out yesteryears selling success story-boreds, was Advertising Week created based on the knowledge that - as compared to fashion - consumer are irritated if not hate its products?


It's hard to imagine that it was created for our industry. The last thing Mad Ave needs is more creative award competitions and conferences. One reason we can think of why Advertising Week is much needed is to shore up those talented young creative directors who generate brilliant work, yet for all their efforts are told that next year they can count on a whopping 8% salary increase, even though their efforts helped increase their clients' sales by $10 million. Competitively, adding more than a bruise to the ego, the agency across the street showing much more interest tried to lure them over with a 9% increase.

Of course, this has "nothing" to do with the fact that all the money being made on the street is funneled to the tippity-top of the agency food chain.


Hearst's fate, as exhibited in Citizen Kane may be a map to our industry's future. Hearst may not have had the common sense or the idea to have a trade show to help change public opinion about him, though that's because the media trade he may have sought to change his image were made up largely of his employees, who may have had a hard time seeing the warm and fuzzy side to him.

Is that any different than our industry? Since Advertising Week is not a much anticipated trade and consumer event, does it really prop up MadAve staffers get more excited about their job or the contribution they are making in society? We don't really think so.

The Hearst media empire pioneered marketing techniques that expanded consumer media usage, and thus the growth of Madison Avenue through his success in increasing subscriptions and ads. He called his efforts "new-journalism" though for better or worse, the media ultimately called it "yellow journalism," a cynical term surely not complementary to their own industry. It's also interesting how in Hearst's time, the cynicism of his efforts came after he succeeded while in our day, while cynicism of the role of new-media has occurred in its infancy.


Is that due to the power-brokers being "dear-headlight-like" about new media? Are these power-brokers also the ones that created Advertising Week? The answer to both is "yes!" Heck if we were making $750,000 while our next lieutenant in line is making in the neighborhood of $200,000 and the next in line under him or her was making $75,000 and lower and lower and lower, we would certainly use the company coffers to maintain the status quo.


One of the unhealthy outcomes of trying to squash new media with a thumb - not try to choke it to death while it's still in its infancy - the industry elite at the top of the new media chain are much more vicious to its own than in traditional. People are so much more willing to attack others that show their only too imperfect humanity with character assassination-like Karl Rove-esque tactics.

We hope this changes as it matures. Orson Welles personally paid an enormous price for also challenging the vested interests. It may make new MadAve'ers enjoy the position of watching from sidewalk curb more fashionable as our industry Historians (vs. leaders) parade themselves into consumer-irritating traffic.


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