Who is on your side?

Kerry Knudsen

Kerry Knudsen

When I was in my marketing sequence in grad school, the professor one day told us how to control a magazine from the outside. “Get to be friends with the editor,” he said. “Buy him a pair of Nikes or a trip to Florida. Then he won’t be able to say ‘no,’ when you ask for a profile or a product review.

“In effect,” he said, “you can own the magazine for $3,000 a year.”

Cool, eh? However, what he failed to mention is that a “bought” editorial product stinks to readers from a hundred yards upwind, and they run the other way. This is why magazines are having trouble, not the internet. It’s called losing value. When there is no customer response, the advertisers have no incentive. My erstwhile professor said agencies believe when one magazine dies, another is sure to come along to take its place. That was then. In tight markets they are just dead.

Simple logic, then, proves editors kill magazines.

What else do we know about editors? For one thing, they tend to vote liberal, with a small l. One of the most-cited sources is a Roper Center study from 1995 showing 89 percent of journalists in the U.S. voted for Clinton in 1992. A survey from March this year in Australia showed only 13 percent of journalists self-identify as being right of centre. That leaves 87 percent on the other side, so the ratios between 1992 U.S. and Australia today are approximately equal. This proves that journalists tend to be leftists and can be bought for a pair of sneakers.

However, owners and managers of small businesses tend to be conservative, small c. From a marketing perspective, this is critical. Communication, either internal to an industry or external to an industry, is more important than anything else. Communication can energize a project, define a reputation or summon a defence. It would require communication to identify foreign products as sub-standard, notify Parliament and consolidate production standards here. In Parliament, no action will occur without evidence, and letters and magazine articles are second only to established law and public safety in importance as evidence.

In my mind, this raises a critical question for businesses in Canada. We have already established that a substantial percentage of jounalists owe their allegiance to government control (left), yet the majority of businesses in our sector are owned and managed by people that see themselves as personally accountable (right). This raises the specter of businessmen having their most powerful communications media controlled by the enemy. It is feasible, for example, that the media in your sector might advocate for union-based job-security initiatives, when the recent recession left you with no job security, or for the media to advocate for the enforced purchase of some exotic safety equipment when one of its advertisers is selling that product. When those journalists’ articles get to the legislative conference tables, the industry is viewed as having representation, and it does not. The editor, however, may have a brand-new, carbon-fiber safety helmet with 32 coloured LEDs. Cool.

In fact, you have to ask yourself whether it is even acceptable, at all, that such agglomeraters as Rogers, Business Information Group or the huge U.S. publishing giants can hire writers that can’t tell the difference between cost and value. Should an industry be required to use enemy sympathizers as its speech writers?

Years ago, I was offered a free trip to write a “story” about a fishing lodge in Labrador. Also cool. However, when I mentioned some industry standards, such as reporting accurately, the owner told me to grow up and live in the real world.

I do. A majority of business owners follow laws and standards, not as a moral issue, but as a business plan. Their objective is to create a good reputation for their products, their employees, their companies, their towns, their sectors and their countries. That is the real world.

A minority of business owners, to borrow a vulgarity from the Greatest Generation, shit in their own mess kits. They study loopholes, pass blame, violate standards, overcharge and move on, basically unable to do the right thing and needing an excuse. That is also the real world. In their minds, laws and standards are obstacles that mean-spirited moralists throw at them to stop them from succeeding.

I am against mean-spirited moralists. Animal radicals and Occupy-ers come to mind. However, people that see quality as a business plan have historically been forced to submit evidence to legislators to pass laws to stop the loopholes, the sub-standard materials and the overcharging. If they don’t fight, they lose. It has never been otherwise. That is the real world.

The communications world is in turmoil. The internet has dominance, but no credibility. In its inception, it spawned bad information and porn, but really fast to large audiences. Credible magazines and newspapers get bought because they have value, but are often subordinated to the whims of those seeking short-term gain, so print media has suffered. (Of note, if you believe in sticking with winners, both Warren Buffet and the Koch brothers in the States are buying print media by the buckets.) In short, we are living in a stage of information chaos. And it’s not working.

If I were in manufacturing, retail, installation, construction or any related field, I would take a look at the existing media, and I would take direct action to tell the appropriate newspaper, television station or magazine and its advertisers that you want relevant information from people that know your business and want to help, not from political operatives from an opposing philosophy that will do anything for their peers’ approval and a business-class ticket to a resort.

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