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Journalists Are Out of Touch With Reality

Headlines coming out of the third and final 2016 presidential debate all followed a similar theme: Trump will not commit to accepting the election results if he loses.

The four largest newspapers in the country ran front page headlines that adhered to the same script, echoing post-debate comments from broadcast commentators:

  • Washington Post: “Trump Refuses To Say Whether He’ll Accept Election Results”
  • The Wall Street Journal: “Trump Won’t Commit to Accepting Vote if He Loses”
  • New York Times: “Trump Won’t Say if He Will Accept Election Results”
  • USA Today: “Keep You In Suspense: Trump Won’t Commit To Accepting Vote Results”

Out of a ninety-minute debate, viewed by more than 71 million Americans and covering a variety of topics, this was the major takeaway?

Despite the blaring and repetitive headlines, Americans’ view of this election and whether it’s rigged is unlikely to be shaped by an increasingly out of touch and out of time press.

The belief that Trump’s failure to commit to the outcome of the election was a major gaffe simply illustrates just how out of touch major news organizations are with the country they cover.

Americans increasingly believe the system(s) is rigged against them and view corruption as widespread in government and business. Few will be troubled by Trump’s “rigged” rhetoric since most already believe corruption is a huge problem in the country.

According to Gallup, three in four Americans (75%) perceive corruption as widespread in the country’s government. While this number is from 2014, it’s been steadily increasing since 2007.

So what do Americans fear most? Corrupt government officials. According to the 2016 Chapman University Survey of American Fears, six in ten Americans (61%) identified corrupt government officials as their top fear, eclipsing both terrorist attacks (41%) and not having enough money for the future (40%). Government corruption was also their top fear in 2015.

Americans’ view of government and government officials is dismal and their assessment of the economy and businesses are not any better.

Seventy-one percent of Americans think the U.S. economic system is “rigged in favor of certain groups” according to a June 2016 poll conducted by Marketplace and Edison . This belief was shared regardless of political affiliation or ethnicity.

In a follow-up poll conducted in October 2016, nine out of ten Americans who believed the economic system was rigged in favor of certain groups agreed the U.S. economic system is rigged to benefit politicians (89%) and corporations (86%).

Amidst this backdrop of distrust, why do journalists think voters care if Trump accepts the outcome of November elections? They probably don’t. If anything, they probably agree that it is rigged.

And as much as the legacy press highlights “the gaffe”, their ability to influence voters’ opinion on this topic is increasingly weak. Americans view the press just as negatively as the aforementioned government officials.

In a poll conducted in 2016 by the Media Insight Project for the American Press Institute, less than one in ten Americans (6%) have a great deal of confidence in the press. Four in ten (41%) Americans said they have hardly any confidence at all in the press. In the same poll, more than one out of three (38%) Americans said they have had an experience with a news and information source that made them trust it less.

One of the great challenges ahead is finding a way to restore faith in institutions and most importantly, the press. Sadly, the damage will take decades to repair. These types of initiatives are often generational and will require the passing of significant time before peoples’ memories of this era fade.

The first step to restoring faith in the press is for the media to admit there’s a problem. Second, media organizations need to accept reality and understand how the public actually thinks.

Too many journalists and thought-leaders view the country as they wish it to be and have segregated themselves into hive minds that shelter them from opposing opinions.

Journalists and legacy media are some of the worst offenders of this phenomenon, often opting to challenge the grammar of a dissenting voice than understanding the beliefs and judgments of the messenger. Granted, sheltering yourself, regardless of your profession, against the trolls and vitriol of social media is tempting. However, it skews your view of the country, which is a big problem if you’re a journalist.

Without trust in the press, it’s unlikely faith in any government or political institution will be repaired anytime soon. The divisions and distrust we see today will only continue to grow.

It’s high time journalists and the media return to reality, perhaps survey their audiences to learn how they think, focus coverage on issues the public actually cares about, and then report it accurately.

No Research Is Better Than Bad Market Research

For the past few days, news gossip site FTV Live has chronicled survey research being conducted by Cox owned WFTV in Orlando. From the screenshots posted in the stories, it appears WFTV is testing potential anchor changes with area viewers using an online survey with embedded video.

Potential leaks are always a possibility with online survey work since respondents can take screenshots of the questions or take a picture of the screen with a smart phone or tablet. That’s why you should test multiple topics or try to balance the questions to mask the sponsor or goals of the research.

Not only does it help protect your business strategies, it also improves the quality of the research.

For example, if I’m a loyal viewer of a competing station’s news programming and it is rather apparent that the sponsor of the research is WFTV, knowing the likely sponsor could impact how respond to the questions being posed in the survey.

FTV remarks that “Cox won't change the paint color in the men's room at the station without fully researching it first and having a focus group weigh in.”

First, let me say that Cox is a good and well respected operator among the current media companies left standing.

However, if the screenshots are any indication of the research being conducted, they should just save the time, money, and effort.

Without going into all of the issues I see in these questions, let me just say that trusting your gut and your experience is far better than basing a decision on bad research.

Not so long ago, I spent a few years working for another media company that is often accused of relying a little too heavily on research. I’ve seen work whose sole purpose is to offer cover, support, or opposition for a predetermined business decision that had already been put in place. If the decision (i.e. a new anchor pairing) flops, managers can then use the “it tested well” argument to deflect any criticism they may face down the road.

This creates the corporate researcher’s paradox. Do it right and have the results potentially conflict with management wishes, or go along to get along and live to see another day.

The latter course of action is better for career advancement, and the former is better for our profession. 

I know it’s difficult and counterintuitive, but if you are good researcher and the wrong tools or questions are going to end up being used, recommend against the research. Cite budget issues or the opportunity to deploy the funds elsewhere for things like promotion.

Do what you can to avoid taking the hit down the road if the project goals go south.

Corporate researchers in rapidly changing industries like broadcast media have one of the most difficult jobs imaginable battling more demands amid shrinking resources.

I feel your pain.

So please do what you can to stop a bad research project or call a consultant in to fight the battle for you if you can’t stop it on your own.

Our industry is facing enough issues right now. So please be honest with the limitations of what can or can’t be done using market research.

Your future career and our industry may depend on it.

How To Create Videos That Go Viral

Viral content isn’t random or dumb luck. Research from the Journal of Marketing Research sheds light on why people share content and provides insight into designing effective viral marketing campaigns.

Video content that arouses strong emotions -- such as awe or anger -- in viewers is more likely to become viral than videos that induce sadness or relaxation. The study by Wharton professors Jonah Berger and Katherine L. Milkman, also found that positive content is more likely to be viral than negative, although negative content was also linked to virality in cases with exciting content, such as a high-speed car chase.

How Newspapers and Publishers Should Reinvent Themselves

The Audit Bureau of Circulations released the semiannual newspaper FAS-FAX report which includes top-line circulation data for all newspaper members for the six months ending Sept. 30.

This is the second reporting period in which ABC is counting circulation differently, so you can’t really compare current figures to previous periods and it doesn’t appear that anyone is really trying (or cares enough) to figure out a way to do it.

Circulation of the top two newspapers, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today, was down slightly compared to the previous six months.  The New York Times' circulation was up 25 percent due to its paid online subscribers. The digital paywall The New York Times erected in March appears to have also spurred an unexpected increase in print circulation.

Most analysts, me included, believe that publishers will not be able to collect enough from digital revenue to offset the declines in print revenue. The economics of the industry and digital media simply will not make up the difference.

Most newspapers offer undifferentiated content which drives down the price of their products to their marginal cost (i.e. the cost of producing one more unit of a good). The problem for most of these companies… as Mary Meeker likes to point out… is the marginal cost for digital content is $0. Content creation is cheap. Very cheap.

The only way these companies will be successful is to differentiate their content and demonstrate that they have something to offer or that they “know something” that you cannot get anywhere else.

This type of content is not cheap. Experts are expensive.

Consumers are not going to buy wire stories and poorly written local stories by overworked writers trying to feed the daily beast. I don’t want coverage, I want knowledge.

Less is more. Think niches.

Insider knowledge that clues the reader into inside information and insight that they cannot get anywhere else is the key. There has to be a reason I will pay for content. Create niches with content from someone knowledgeable about the topic. Don’t man it with a writer who just sources information; find someone who is or could be the source.

I’m not concerned that the writer is skilled at writing or reporting. I will pay for believable knowledge about something I care about, not necessarily about the writer’s ability to turn a phrase. Writing ability is a bonus, but not my primary motivation to buy.

Create personalities or content creators who offer inside information and a demonstrated amount of knowledge about a topic I care about and I will pay for it. It might be news and insight on my favorite sports team (i.e. Nashville Predators) or details on why the stock market dropped today or scoop on what the movers and shakers are doing in the local business community and who is profiting from it.

Prove to me that you know stuff I want to know and I might buy it. Don’t try to right the world’s wrongs. I want to learn something from a source that I trust. 

Want proof?

I subscribe to Stratfor Global Intelligence to stay abreast of political, economic, and military events and their significance. Stratfor sells what they call “human intelligence” on subjects that is not readily available. They provide content and context I can’t get anywhere else.

And guess what… I’m buying it.

Moving Books Online

A recent survey by The NPD Group reveals that 1 out of 3 consumers (37%) said they were "somewhat interested" or "very interested" in buying an electronic reader such as Amazon's Kindle or the Sony Reader.

Of the 40% who were not interested in owning an e-reader, 70% said they still prefer the look and feel of actual books.

Of the 37% who said they were interested in owning a device, the biggest appeal was the ability to buy and store multiple books (as well as some magazines and newspapers).

Consumers also said they liked the ability to download books from the Web instantaneously, and that e-readers are easier to carry than books.

Since it appears that Apple's mythical tablet Mac is headed to market, you have to wonder if Apple is about to wipe out the Kindle and the Sony Reader by providing a tool for reading books and accessing other multimedia.

Even more intriguing, rumors of another cool-looking tablet have surfaced and this one is powered by Google's Android. Google Books for mobile is already available for Android and iPhone users and they already have the publishing agreements in place to provide a mountain of content.

Migrating up to a third of books sales to online will be a huge story in the next couple of years and as these devices come online, book publishers will face many of the challenges that have beset the music industry for the past couple of decades.

Auto Dealer Closings Means Tougher Times For Local Media

Chrysler is closing a quarter of its dealers in a matter of weeks, a strategy that might help save the company but will wipe out thousands of jobs and a lot of local business owners.

General Motors Corp. announced today that they are closing 1,200 dealerships in the next few weeks.

A lot has been made about the impact of the closings of Chrysler and GM dealerships on local economies, but not a lot has been said about the impact on local media.

Local media - including local TV, radio, newspapers and outdoor - will really feel the pinch. The average car dealer spends about $341,000 on advertising. Typically, about 75% of that budget will be allocated among broadcast, print, online and outdoor media.

During good times, automotive advertising will make up about 10% to 15% of local advertising spending. This includes both spending by the individual dealers and by dealer groups. The impact on national advertising will be minimal, but the impact on local markets will be felt for many years.

Coupon Usage Is Attitudinal, Except During A Recession

In the late 90’s, I spent some time in marketing with shared mailer Advo. Now part of Valassis, Advo was the largest mailer in the country and the largest customer of the USPS. Each week, those shared mail packages containing coupons and inserts reached most of the households in the US.

One objection our sales team often faced was the perception that coupon usage was demographic and primarily used by lower income groups. To combat that perception, we commissioned research to show that all income groups used coupons. Usage was attitudinal and not necessarily based on income. As you might guess, there are a lot of wealthy Americans who use coupons. The research confirmed our message and was part of many presentations.

In the current economic climate, I don’t think anyone would be surprised to see increases in coupon usage among a lot of different groups and markets. The amount of increases will vary from market to market. According to MRI, here are the top 10 DMA’s who used cents-off coupons in the last year:

  1. Harrisburg/ Lancaster/ Lebanon/ York, Pa.
  2. Pittsburgh
  3. Rochester, N.Y.
  4. Philadelphia
  5. Albany/ Schenectady/ Troy, N.Y.
  6. Syracuse, N.Y.
  7. Buffalo, N.Y.
  8. Hartford & New Haven, Conn.
  9. Minneapolis/ St. Paul
  10. Wilkes Barre-Scranton, Pa.

Source: MRI's Market-by-Market study, www.mediamark.com

Needless to say, one common element in each of these markets is job losses, particularly in the manufacturing sector. During difficult economic times, coupon usage and spending at discounters definitely increases, but this will vary from market to market. It is no surprise that these markets would be leading the pack.

It will be interesting to see if usage will hold up as the economy improves. Will this downturn be deep enough to have a lasting effect on usage and on attitudes? I’m guessing that a lot of people at Valassis are hoping that it will.

eBay Comes Full Circle

In 2003, I put together an analysis of the impact of eBay and Craigslist on the newspaper industry. In short, I concluded that the private party business for newspapers was about to go over the cliff. Not quite the answer the requesting audience had expected.

This morning’s news that eBay has launched an online automobile selling site closes the loop. eBay Motors has developed what might be called Craigslist for Cars, a local classified ad section for individual sellers.

The site is intended to connect buyers and sellers within a 100-mile radius of their local markets.

Losing private party auto liner ads will negatively impact the print ad revenues from dealers. The readership of those auto classified pages with their large dealer display ads is bolstered by the liner ads placed by private parties. As the liner business slips away, so does the readership and the response advertisers can expect from their ads.

It is not a surprise that eBay would finally take a shot at the private party liner ads. I’m just wondering what took so long.

The Perils of a Celebrity Spokesperson

Entrepreneur Magazine offers up a listing of tips to smaller businesses and startups interested in employing a celebrity spokesperson. The article’s advice for companies looking to boost their visibility offers more than a dozen tips on finding the right celebrity endorsement. Here are some of the more important takeaways:

  • Define expectations, budget and time frame
  • Be sure values, ethics and personalities jibe
  • Don't settle for just any celebrity
  • Evaluate with your head, not your heart
  • When shooting for the stars, aim high
  • For businesses whose market is strictly local, think local celebrity
  • Look for someone with charisma
  • Find someone willing to go beyond the call of duty because he or she has genuine interest in your product/brand
  • Weigh whether to hire an outside firm to help in the search
  • Know the risks-—and have an exit strategy

That last item is the most important. While the article spends a lot of time talking about the positive aspects of a celebrity spokesperson, it also brings a lot of risk.

When you employ a spokesperson, you are aligning your brand and organization with the face of a single individual. This can be very successful for all types of organizations. Wendy’s had a great run with Dave Thomas, Priceline has done very well with William Shatner and George Foreman made the Foreman Grill a success.

However, trouble for a spokesperson generally means trouble for the business or brand. Despite the familiarity and appeal of a celebrity (often calculated by us researchers as a Q-Score), their troubles are now your troubles.

Here’s a great example. Many years ago, a mid-sized southern regional bank tried to position themselves as friendly and caring about their customers. The campaign included the tag line “Where banking is still a people business.” It was great campaign that made the CEO the face of the organization. The CEO was the epitome of a bank CEO, tall, gray hair, and always wearing a blue suit. The CEO was included in local commercials dismissing the importance of technology and automation, always closing with the tag, “Banking is a people business!”

The organization spent a lot on the campaign and on customer service and measuring customer satisfaction. The entire organization was focused on customer service and customer surveys.

Just one problem. Profitability. The organization did a great job of focusing on the customer and developing the campaign, but they also made a lot of bad loans and lost sight of risk and profitability.

As you might guess, the CEO was removed and the spokesperson of the campaign disappeared. All of the investments that made the CEO the face of an organization focused on satisfying the customer was history, and so was the successful campaign.

Having a celebrity spokesperson ties your brand to that person. Everyone has ups and downs and their success or failure now become your worry. It can make a small company, just ask George Foreman, or it can be a complete headache. Whatever you do, it should never be done lightly and without some thought. I also would suggest not using a CEO. Being able to distance yourself from a celebrity is much easier than distancing yourself from your CEO or former CEO.

Mine, Turning Pages Online?

Having conducted a lot of focus groups for print products, I can tell you that the desire for customized content has been a recurring theme from readers for many years. Time, Inc is planning to test a new product that provides customized content. The magazine called "Mine" combines reader-selected sections from eight publications. The magazine is free but the print edition is limited to the first 31,000 respondents, while an online version is available for another 200,000.

Online subscribers will get digital editions that look just like the printed version, but in a special format that allows virtual page turns with clicks. Editors will pre-select the stories that make it into every biweekly issue, and readers won't have the option of changing the picks from issue to issue. There are 56 editorial combinations.

This summer, MediaNews Group, publisher of The Denver Post, the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News and other newspapers, plans to experiment with its own reader-created publication, likely at its Daily News in Los Angeles.

Readers will be allowed to choose specific stories, or those by author, keyword or subject. The customized publication will be laid out like a newspaper and sent with targeted advertisements as a digital "PDF" file for printing at home or viewing on computers or mobile phones.

I’m a little skeptical of both these ventures for one reason; they are both trying to digitally replicate a print experience. I applaud the efforts to try something new, but the online experience is different and distinct from print. Users navigate online products very differently from print and have very different expectations for each channel.

I would love to see both provide customized content online that is a true online experience. I think this would be a better test of how to purpose content by channel. Logistically, it would be a headache. However in the end, I think you would have a cleaner and more valuable test.

Earned Media In The Blink of An Eye

'High Life': All Miller needed to say.

Sales of Miller High Life popped 8.6% during the week after the Super Bowl vs. the same period a year earlier, and they were up nearly 5% during the week before the game, according to ACNielsen.

Miller announced plans to air the ads -- and placed a bunch of them online -- on Jan. 20. Despite NBC’s directive to its owned and operated stations not to run them, the spots and/or the hubbub around the spots worked. The one-second spot ran in more than 100 markets nationwide.

Great formula:

Leverage old media for earned media program + smart online strategy=8.6% growth.

One In Four Have It Right

According to a survey conducted by the Association of National Advertisers, 77% of marketers plan to reduce their advertising campaigns' media budgets.

Typically, advertising lags six to twelve months behind the economy. So, most advertising growth should occur in 2010. As the economy begins to improve late in the year, smart advertisers (i.e. the 23% not cutting budgets) will have plans and budgets in place to take advantage of lower rates, available inventory and opportunities to grab share.

It also looks like agencies will need to cut expenses to hold on to accounts. Check out these other findings:

  • 72% of marketers plan to reduce advertising-campaign production budgets
  • 68% plan to "challenge" agencies to reduce internal expenses and/or identify cost reductions
  • 48% are looking at reducing agency compensation

Don’t Just Rearrange The Deck Chairs

Brief post from Seth Godin this morning. Required reading for anyone in the media business or in any industry experiencing structural changes.

In short...

“The reason it's so difficult for people in traditional industries to embrace new models online is that the transition isn't structured in an orderly way.

The new business isn't the same as the old business, just with computers.”

Could not agree more.

In the very near future, the media biz will look very different and will be constructed by people operating under a different set of rules and expectations.

To steal a Peter Drucker quote... “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”