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Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Tipping Point and Media Planning

It seems hard to believe that Malcolm Gladwell’s THE TIPPING POINT--How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference was published back in 2000, over thirteen years ago. The term has invaded our vocabulary in a big way ever since.

Gladwell did not invent the term--its roots go back to the 1950’s and was coined by Morton Grodzins, an American political scientist. Gladwell called it “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.” I always saw it as “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Webster defined it as “the point at which a series of small changes or incidents became significant enough to cause a larger, more important change.”

Many high brow people do not like Gladwell as they say he, a marvelous storyteller, tries to explain things a bit too glibly when scientific or statistical data is needed to back up some of his conclusions. I have found that he makes you think which is a very good thing.

Thoughts of The TIPPING POINT came rushing back to me this week. There are a number of young media planners across the country who read this blog. Several write to me regularly and I make sure that I offer them constant encouragement.

A young man more than a 1000 miles from New York labors in a small to medium sized ad agency. He is absolutely on fire about media. Part of a tiny department he writes most of the plans in his shop and sometimes negotiates TV, radio, and local cable in adjoining markets. He gets little praise from the shop’s owner who, he claims, does not understand media well and tries to ignore many of the changes going on today. So, he labors alone although his clients seem to like him.

Recently, he sent me a draft of a media plan for a multi-market retailer that he handles. As I read it, I made some quick notes on a piece of scrap paper and was getting ready to send him an e-mail with a few comments. At the end of the plan, he outlined a list of tactics by market which he was going to handle personally. I was stunned. It was, quite simply, pretty damned wonderful. He had taken a perfectly acceptable media plan and made it really good. The “tipping point” in the plan was the inclusion of customized tactics that he had worked out across six Nielsen DMA’s. As Malcolm Gladwell has told us, “Little things can make a big difference.”

His client is being well served. Had a mega-shop or media buying service been executing the media strategy they never would have had his attention to detail or spent the time to create a unique effort in each DMA. They might have negotiated a slightly lower rate here or there (none of the markets were large) but they would have set it and forgotten it and moved on to the next group of buys.

I asked my young friend if he would like to work in New York, Chicago, Dallas, or Austin where he could learn a lot from peers and meet many like minded people. He said that even though he arrives first in his shop and usually stays an hour late each day he only lives five minutes from the office. He has lived in his small city for several years and has a nice social network and a great girlfriend. Life is good despite being lonely at the office.

How many other young people are out their like this outstanding young man? He needs more stimulation and exposure to new ideas and colleagues as the digital train has long left the station and is changing everything. For the moment, he is doing a remarkable job. Yet, when the “tipping point” hits and means the end of conventional media as we know it, this marvelous young talent may be left behind.

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

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