Mongolian Death Worms

Kerry Knudsen

Kerry Knudsen

Carrying forward from our last e-letter and Advertising Age magazine, Ad Age reported survey results in a recent newsletter claiming marketers rank right down there with politicians in terms of respectability. That would put them alongside journalists and lawyers in terms of social respect. According to Ad Age, only PR professionals rate lower.

Of course, we all have seen these, or similar, results. This time, however, the survey looked a bit deeper and discovered, “Overwhelmingly, the survey respondents agreed that marketing is essential to business — and they agreed that it works. When asked to consider the value of marketing, more than 90 percent of consumers and marketing professionals responded that it’s a field that is ‘strategic to business’ and 90 per cent said that marketing is ‘paramount’ to driving sales.” We need to keep in perspective that surveys are not gospel. They do, however, raise interesting talking points. For example, what do marketing, politics, journalism, law and PR have in common? The thing that comes to my mind is that each is an intermediary between a product and a target.

In shooting sports, you have a cartridge (product) and a target. Anything that affects the effect of the bullet reaching the target is a variable. These can include the harmonics (vibration) of the firearm, wind, temperature, powder and bullet, barrel length, obstructions, purposeful interference, inexperience or inability to read conditions and so on.

In shooting sports, the ability to overcome the variables and hit the target is called shooting “true.” For the sake of argument, let’s pretend law, politics, public relations, journalism and marketing also rely on truth. Deviation from shooting true offends spectators at a target shoot (as well as in Afghanistan), so deviation from shooting true may also offend on-lookers at a trial, an ad campaign an impending bill or a magazine story.

Let’s call all the variables the Mongolian Death Worm. A Mongolian Death Worm is a mythical creature purported to live in the Gobi Desert. It is described as a red worm with a wide body up to five feet long. The worm is the subject of a number of claims – such as the ability to spew acid that will turn humans yellow and corroded (and dead) and it can kill at a distance by means of electric discharge. If what I have described is an accurate metaphor (and it has to be, since I am currently in control of the mythical creature), then deviation from the truth would cause yellowness, corruption and, eventually death, in journalists, politicians, lawyers, PR professionals and marketers.

That metaphor, however, leaves several individuals within each group standing. Jokes aside, I think most of us can think of a trustworthy lawyer, a trustworthy journalist, a trustworthy marketer, a trustworthy PR professional and, yes, a trustworthy politician. For myself, one of my mentors in grad school was the Dean Simms, owner of Public Relations International in Zurich and (go figure) Tulsa, Okla. Simms was one of the architects of the famous recovery Tylenol made from its PR debacle when some jerk laced Tylenol capsules with cyanide back in the ‘80s.

Similarly, while the Law may seem arbitrary and capricious (especially to losers), it is a system that relies on honesty for its support, and a sufficient deviation from honesty (and I admit it has its tendencies toward corruption) will make it fall. The only point to be made by spotlighting corrupt lawyers is that evil infiltrates everything good. That does not suggest we should do nothing. At the moment, marketers, politicians, PR professionals, lawyers and journalists not only share a poor showing in respectability surveys, we eye each other with suspicion.

In fact, we may be looking at each other as being the authors of our predicament. However, what if we are not the fault of each other’s problems, but are actually the only solution? My profession, for example, has tried circulation audits to prove we are actually read so we can sell ads. The audits started out proving only that copies are sent, and ended doing whatever is necessary to keep publishers happy. In fact, so many magazines deliberately subvert the interests of their readers that Wood Industry  was recently reported by a major industry ad buyer to be, “the only magazine in North America that cannot be bought.”

Plagiarism has become so rampant around the internet that its practitioners are actually proud of their cost savings and call it “aggregating,” when they are only proving they have no original thoughts. It is analogous to a third-world producer putting your name on stuff made of arsenated weed fibre. Meanwhile, Facebook continues to show unfulfilled promise for “social” marketing, and Twitter has been named the new TV Guide . All forms of communication are badgered by unreliable communicators. The Mongolian Death Worm is everywhere, even if we can’t see it.

This issue is  our annual Readers’ Survey issue. If we were good liars, we would say we are credible, so we are just asking you to take a look at Wood Industry,  judge us according to our work and help us help the industry as we face the now-imminent challenges of 2013. Happy New Year, and Merry Christmas. In all, 2012 was a good year, with much to be grateful for. I can even be grateful for the Mongolian Death Worm, if it challenges us to do better.

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