Stop Interrupting; Listen, Engage, Earn Attention

Youre not listening anyway. by MadRussianPhotography
You're not listening anyway. by MadRussianPhotography

You know the stereotype of the guy on the first date who can’t stop talking about himself, only to wonder why he doesn’t get a kiss at the end of the night, never mind a second date?

That guy is like advertising.

In the latest flare-up of the “print is dead” debate, Michael Josefowicz’ provocative article for MediaShift entitled “The Fallacy of the ‘Print Is Dead’ Meme” has generated some interesting feedback, partly for daring to counter the meme, and partly for clinging to the ad-supported model that has pushed many newspapers and magazines onto the endangered list:

[T]o extrapolate from personal experience to a statement about what is going to happen in the world doesn’t work. But that’s exactly what many of the people foretelling the death of print are doing.

That’s because most of the public discourse tends to be dominated by information junkies and there is little doubt that if you’re an information junkie, the web is the way to go. But the reality is that info-junkies are only a small tribe. They consume the news at a prodigious rate and the web is the fastest way to satisfy their appetite. Thus, they’re also the most vocal tribe — so it’s easy to get the impression that theirs is the most widely held conclusion. But if you listen to some of the discourse, it soon becomes apparent that it’s only one way to look at it…

Because every business understands the value of print advertising, the trick is only to make the buy for a print/web ad combo easy and affordable.

Responding to MediaBistro’s highlighting of the article, I noted: “I agree with Josefowicz that print isn’t dead, but he’s wrong about advertising; that ship has sailed. Interruption IS dead.”

I am definitely an information junkie, and the Internet has been my pusher ever since Google replaced Dogpile as my search engine of choice and I signed up for a Bloglines account back in April, 2004. (Later replaced by Google Reader. Brand loyalty is rare on the Internet.) There’s a tendency most people have, myself included, to use themselves as a benchmark, supported by personal anecdotes that can add up to a very skewed perspective, especially if you have a particular agenda. I see plenty of people reading books and newspapers on the train every day — as do I when I’m not glued to Tiny Twitter on my Blackberry — and have only spied one Kindle that wasn’t my wife’s in the past six months, but you’re not going to see me extrapolating that to say digital media is just empty hype and no one’s embracing it.

Amber Naslund has a great post about this, You Are Not The Benchmark, that should be bookmarked by anyone in a decision-making position related to anything digital.


This post isn’t about the viability of print media, though, nor where the Internet fits into the evolving media landscape. As I’ve noted several times recently, I believe print is fine and will remain a viable channel for content curators with the right business model. The ad-supported business model is not that model, though; in print or online.

An over-dependence on advertising is what’s killing many publications right now, along with the ridiculous amounts of debt many of their owners are carrying thanks to clueless wannabe-media-moguls over-leveraging themselves to the gills — like minimum wagers getting sub-prime adjustable rate mortgages — now unable to turn a “decent” profit since the economy went off the cliff last year, full speed ahead. And, continuing the theme of excess, there’s an overabundance of publications covering the same topics in the same ways, so a natural culling is, well, long overdue.

While the economic situation has wreaked havoc on publishers’ bottom lines who have spent years devaluing their content and, to a lesser degree, their readers, it’s presented a unique opportunity for savvy marketers with a quality product or service to offer consumers who are still buying things — including magazines and newspapers — focusing on the necessities and being more selective about the luxuries than in the past.

smashLABS’ Eric Karjaluoto wrote a great, tough love post exhorting marketers to “Stop acting like a sissy and market your company.

What baffles me about all of this is how people are choosing to cut their spending. I can appreciate reducing office space or negotiating a lower lease rate. I similarly understand reducing staff members or entertaining job sharing options. What I can’t quite grasp, however, is this tendency to narrow the pipe for incoming sales. When you aren’t getting dates, you don’t go home and watch re-runs of Matlock; you get out of the house and meet people…

The time is definitely ripe to make a splash, but not by snatching up discounted display ads in print and online that tell people what you think — or worse, what they should think — about your product or service. That’s akin to the clumsy pickup lines that are funny in movies but rarely work in real life.


In fact, I’d argue it’s been dead for a while, propped up Weekend At Bernie’s style by publishers and agencies with a vested and misguided interest in the status quo, and now they’re left with a rotting carcass and no idea what to do next.

While a recent study noted that print ads are more effective than online ads — really, a “No duh!” moment, especially when you compare ad units and positioning on most web sites — its flaw is that it only measured siloed impressions, and failed to take into account the effects of impressions delivered via multiple channels as a result of an integrated marketing campaign. It also completely whiffed on measuring engagement, the ultimate determination of effectiveness, which it acknowledges: “Our findings indicate that we need to learn more about how to engage Internet users with advertising content,” said Rebecca McPheters, CEO of McPheters & Company.

Of course, engagement is at the very core of the rise of social media and is even more difficult to measure than impressions, if not impossible using the currently “accepted” metrics for digital media like page views, time spent, clickthroughs, etc. Unfortunately, too many marketers and self-serving “experts” are treating social marketing as a siloed activity, similar to how many publishers had separate sales departments for print and online advertising — or worse, as just another channel to push their messages into — instead of as a tool to add a deeper engagement with existing and prospective customers to their marketing mix.


Mack Collier, one of a handful of the dreaded “social media consultants” who actually have a clue and aren’t blowing smoke, did a great presentation on Five Ways To Increase Engagement And Build Community (scroll down) at Monday’s Social Media Club Birmingham Workshop, which I followed on Twitter, and one of the key points he makes is the need to get off of your island and become a member of the community you’re trying to engage:

When You Join Your Community:

  • Their wants and needs become your wants and needs
  • What’s good for the community, is good for you
  • Your community sees that what’s good for you, is good for them

Print advertising definitely is not dead, but it will need to evolve, and, as I’ve noted previously, publishers, agencies and marketers are going to have to hit the reset button on their digital initiatives and refocus on the most important part of the equation: the consumer.

Consumers are the most valuable piece of the entire media ecosystem. Ironically, their interests are rarely brought up in discussions about the future. But their influence will only grow because technology is introducing more choice and voice. David Meer, chief research officer at WPPs Enfactico, told me recently: We need to stay grounded in high-level theories of what customers want, how we can meet their needs profitably, and how we can communicate to motivate them. And we must do this in a world where consumers control the conversation.


There also needs to be some reprogramming around “paid media” vs. “earned media” — typically advertising vs. PR — with the emphasis being shifted to “earned attention“, as Greg Verdino, a savvy marketing strategist notes:

[W]hether you earn your media or buy it, the very concept of media (as we use it in marketing, at least) puts corporations — rather than consumers — at the center of the value equation.  Really, the only meaningful distinction between paid media and earned media is whether or not the marketer (or it’s agency) is writing a check for the privilege of bleating its message out.  They are different ways of saying what you want to say, but they are both still ways of saying — when what you really want is to be heard.  You don’t just want to get in front of people; you actually want to get their attention.

Soooooo… marketers really need to focus not on earned media but on “earned attention.”

Understanding that social media/marketing is a tool to allow marketers to earn attention and not a commodity that can be purchased like a display ad, there is still a place for traditional advertising in the marketing mix, whether for branding or lead generation, but those efforts need to be fully integrated with community-building efforts and the overall marketing strategy needs to be implemented by someone with actual experience in marketing, not a consultant with a Twitter account and a business card that says “Social Media Expert“.

Marketers and publishers need to start treating each other as partners and not adversaries, working together to develop initiatives that engage their respective communities, not just pitch products at them. Content should be valued and offered in a variety of mediums; rate cards should be abolished; RFPs should not include spreadsheets; and, most importantly, the product or service being marketed has to be worth paying for.

Going back to Karjaluoto’s analogy, you still have to “get out of the house and meet people”, and print and digital media, paid and earned, enable more people to cost-effectively hear about you before they meet you, allowing your reputation to precede you and setting the stage for a first “date” where you can reinforce that first impression by being an excellent listener and fully engaged in the moment.

Or, the alternative is maintaining the status quo, finding yourself spending more Friday evenings at home with Matlock and friends, aka unemployed.

The good news is, the choice is yours.

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4 thoughts on “Stop Interrupting; Listen, Engage, Earn Attention

  1. Agree completely, there's too much interrupting, too many silos, and too many people (both in 'old' and 'new' media) that think that 'their' way is the 'right' way.

    We need fewer teams and more teamwork. Thanks for the great post.

  2. Yes, I think we need to get past the “old” and “new” media camps quickly because there's always something new coming down the pike and the distinction is just a distraction.

    Keep up the great work you're doing. Thanks!

  3. Yes, I think we need to get past the “old” and “new” media camps quickly because there's always something new coming down the pike and the distinction is just a distraction.

    Keep up the great work you're doing. Thanks!

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