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Friday, March 15, 2013

Media Planners--Read and Read Some More

I have always been a big reader. Most of my reading hinges around how markets work, the business of marketing, the growth of international business and finally, lots of history. If we do not know where we came from, how can we forecast where we are going? Admittedly, that is definitely not an original thought but one that I have clung to my entire adult life.

Today, despite a lighter day to day schedule and hundreds of people at times e-mailing me articles and suggesting new books to digest, I find it very hard to keep up with changes in media, advertising and global business trends. Yet, I still find it fascinating and stick with it.

At the risk of sounding like an angry old man, it has been hard for me to get younger people in advertising and at universities to read with the same passion. Part of it may be due to the reality that today people want things in short sound bites. Someone who texts 40 times a day is not going to have the patience to curl up with the marketing/advertising/media version of WAR AND PEACE. At the same time, I don’t think asking someone to read a magazine article or commentary from the web all that onerous. Suggest to a classroom full of business students that they read THE WALL STREET JOURNAL or NEW YORK TIMES every day to prepare for their futures and the room erupts in laughter.

Over the years, I have always found that if you read the business and trade press religiously, useful observations will come your way that can make you and, more importantly, your company look insightful in client meetings. I once worked with a CEO who told each new account management person to read all the trade books in his/her client’s category cover to cover. At the end of a year, he promised that the young account person would be a budding expert in the category. It was that simple!  He sheepishly admitted that no one had ever taken his advice. No one.

I have often asked young people why they do not read about their industry. Most shrug, some they that they have a life and people such as I do not, while others say they will do it only if it is on company time. To some I have asked the big question which is “If you plan to spend 35-40 years in this business, why not learn all that you can about it.” Some say that they are not that interested. My response then is pure tough love. “If you interest level is not high, why not leave the business. Why spent decades at something you do not love?” As you might expect, this does not play very well. :) Moral to young people--read a great deal about your field--you competition likely will not.

Sometimes outside reading can also be a big help. A number of years ago, I started plowing my way through Dumas Malone’s six volume series on Thomas Jefferson. On a new business trip, I packed the last volume with me and read some on the plane out to the session. The prospect was an urbane middle European. One of our account people said, “I will get him talking about soccer and he will love us.” I countered gently that I hoped our sophisticated prospect did not want to discuss the nuances of Kierkegaard’s writings or we would all be out of luck.

At dinner, things were going poorly, when our winsome account guy played the soccer card. The client prospect responded, “I hate sports and especially football which you call soccer. Remember what your President Jefferson said about such sports?”  The table grew silent until I chimed in “are you referring to the letter he wrote to his nephew about time management?” Didn’t Jefferson say, “Games with the ball do violence to the body and do not build character?” He lighted up like a Christmas tree, talked Jefferson for the next half hour to most people’s boredom and the presentation went fairly well the next day. We did not get the business but in the early days of e-mail he would frequently write to me and ask my opinion about using cable TV, varying copy lengths in TV spots, and many other topics. We were never friends but I won his respect simply because he saw me as an ad guy who read.

An authentic eminence grise in media planning prompted this post when he wrote to me recently about how catching even small facts here or there while reading can make a huge difference in your success or that of your brand’s. He says:
“And as always, the first to move and catch the wave will be the one in the best position to hold on to or even grow their share of market.  This is one more reason why I always told the people who reported to me -- every morning go through the entire newspaper.  It's amazing the things you come across serendipitously that might have a huge impact on how you plan media for a particular account”.

Champion golfer Gary Player was reputedly the first person to say, “The more I practice, the luckier I get.” I think you could rephrase it and say, “The more I read, the luckier I get.”

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

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