Adweek: Under New Management.

They still post an occasional story about ads, under the category of “Agency.” They still have that little rascal, Ad Freak, God bless him.

But mostly Adweek is no longer about advertising. According to the new man in charge, Michael Wolff, it’s all about media. In his words, the media industry is “undergoing one of the greatest examples of modern industrial transformation… This is the opportunity we have (with Adweek) to not only be great for the media business, (but also) put ourselves in the sweet spot of what we’re covering.”

And so the edgy alternative to Advertising Age has now become an online magazine primarily serving the media. That means stories about “up-fronts” and “cable contracts;” companies like Viacom and Comcast; people like Glenn Beck and Rupert Murdoch.

It also means I will no longer be reading it. And I suspect most of you won’t be either. The fact of the matter is I just don’t care about that stuff. And neither do you.

Wolff’s no idiot, however. He’s not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. He’s just putting Advertising in its place, which is somewhere in the corner, ironically where media used to be. Wolff’s as aware of the all the “death of advertising” talk as we are. And he’s acting on it. Of course I hope he’s wrong. It’s certainly possible. After all the name of the show is Mad Men not Media Men. Yet, we already know his rebuttal: Mad Men is about then. This is about now.

It’s not like Adweek never covered the media. Back when the magazine was made of paper they ran a story or two about new TV shows and rating points. But we never read them. We looked for news about agencies and ad campaigns. We wondered what Barbara Lippert had in store. My favorite items were those dealing with agency pitches, often detailed like a sporting page, with favorites and dark horses. I loved that. Many of us rifled through the pages looking (hopefully and fearfully) for coverage about our agency and our work. If something we did was written about that meant something for the scrapbooks, something to send to Mom. It also meant our stars were rising or, God forbid, falling. Either way, Adweek was a must-read, one of the first things we did upon entering our offices on Monday morning.

But like the ‘agency memo’ or TV reels and BETA, it’s now history. For advertising news, we scroll through our favorite blogs, check Tweetdeck or Facebook. Maybe some of us don’t even bother at all.

There is still the venerable Advertising Age. One assumes Wolff’s vision of Adweek brings tears of joy to the editors of AdAge. But also apprehension. Any good editor will tell you a competitive publication is good for both parties. But then that’s J-school talk and last I checked newspapers were getting thinner and thinner, with even online versions struggling in the face of social media. Most schools don’t even call it Journalism anymore, favoring terms like “Integrated Media Training.” A fitting way to end this story, eh?

Damned if you do; Damned if you don’t…

Of the many people I follow on Twitter and befriend on Facebook a noticeable percentage are members of the advertising trade press and various PR companies. All of them were atwitter over the “Mad Men” premier last Sunday, because so much of the story had to do with moody Don Draper’s bungled interview with Advertising Age.

“Who is Don Draper?” the reporter asks him, opening the show. “What kind of question is that?” responds Draper. And it’s downhill after that. When the story comes out, it is, by all accounts, an ambiguous portrait of a dark and mysterious man. “A missed opportunity,” grumbles “Sterling Cooper’s” aged founder. And indeed it was. For there would be no ballyhoo for the new agency and its fledgling staff, when they needed it most. Frustrated, Don kicks a garbage can across the room. It is a rare demonstration of emotion from the show’s enigmatic anti-hero.

I feel your pain, Don. In all the times I’ve been interviewed by the trade press the story has never come out right. Reading them has always –and I mean always- been like discovering photographs of myself that I despise. Those you can tear up, showing no one. Unfortunately, this is not the case with articles written about you or your agency. For a week, a month or even longer, the artifact haunts me, especially if it has drawn the ire of my colleagues or, worse yet, a client. Both have happened. A lot.

Thing is, save for writing the piece myself, I don’t think there is anything anyone or I could have done to change the outcome. It is damn near destined that these bits of vainglory will bite you in the ass as much as pat you on the back. And it is as much the interviewee’s fault as it is the interviewer. For the reporter wants an angle and you want publicity. Motives are at odds. It is like trying to stick two magnets together; they are repelled. Often, the best one can hope for is a canceling out. We take the good with the bad. Thus the old saw, “any ink is good ink.”

Despite a seemingly predetermined bad outcome, we try and try again; the allure of a fresh story is just too tempting. Our PR folks provide us with talking points in order that we stay on message. This, in turn, frustrates the reporter, who may or may not take them at face value, which, in his view, is limited at best. On the other hand, if the interviewee deviates from said talking points, who the hell knows what will happen? “I was taken out of context,” is not a cliché without reason.

I’m surprised we are surprised when the tainted document appears. And when I say “we” I mean everyone: colleagues, clients, us, me.

Alas, we never learn. Just as the male Black Widow spider mates only to be eaten alive by the namesake female, so to do we engage with the press. Like the spider, we are compelled to meet our maker, for publicity is our agency’s lifeblood. The reporter is equally compelled to get his piece. One reputation up against another.

In the show’s closing scene, we watch with relish Don Draper go at it again, with a reporter from the Wall Street Journal. This time Don plays the creative star of his agency. He is their dream weaver. He is the centerpiece. Like a devil, Don spins gold for the journalist. But the Black Widow merely bides time, knowing wherein the real web lies.

Most of us agree that nowadays social media has made scripting messages all but impossible. Judging from the grimly accurate storyline on Mad Men, maybe it never was.

* * *

Rance Crain wrote about the same scenes from “Mad Men” in AdAge. Good perspective on the trade press during that era: Rance Crain, in AdAge

Proving my point, a story came out today in the marketing blog of the Chicago Sun Times. It was ostensibly about my new novel slash social media project, Sweet by Design. But of course it was about so much more:http: Marketing & Media Mix, Chicago Sun Times

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Sweet by Design (novel, synopsis and contest)

The Rogues Gallery.

How does the old Steely Dan song go: “And I’m never going back to my old school.”

Well, after 23 years I finally did. On April 24th I accepted an invitation to speak at Professor Dhavan Shah’s advanced communications course at the University Of Wisconsin in Madison. (pictured w/ beard) UW had been trying to get me up there for years and, for no good reason or all kinds of good reasons (I’m not sure which), I always demurred. Selfishly, I’d rationalized that since my folks paid out of state tuition I owed the college nothing. Nice guy, huh?

And so I found myself at the lectern staring out at some 60 juniors and seniors, the future of my business, the new Gods of Advertising! I was as nervous as if I were standing before the Global Product Committee of General Motors. (Speaking to a group, any group at all, continues to be one of the most all-encompassing things I will ever do. Nothing is more exciting or scary. It is somehow both empowering and humbling. Those of you who have done it know what I’m talking about.) But I digress…

The Facebook generation was looking right at me. Hotties and Hippies. The pierced. The hung-over. The ambitious and ambivalent. College, baby! When I had sat in those very seats the only apples we brought to class were for eating and then they were usually burritos. Computing was but an obscure class on the other side of campus, personal computing the odd dream of odd students. Here and now, everyone had his or her laptops open. I wasn’t sure if they were I-chatting or taking notes. Either way, I had to capture their attention. Despite Prof. Shah’s lofty introduction I saw myself as some older, balder intruder.

Perfect. I love a challenge.

What I had for them was a presentation I’d given at Cannes a few years ago entitled “Inspiring Belief.” The basic idea being that great brands created a myth about themselves, which, if done well, turned idle consumers into fanatic believers. I showed a video and followed with a 20-minute presentation.

Without going into it, the class ate it up. And rightly so. It’s good stuff. Meant to be inspiring, not daunting. I’d spent a lot of time on this thing and I knew and believed in the material. Writing it got me my first boondoggle at Cannes. And now it was going to inspire the newest generation of brand builders. Oh, Jerusalem!

After the class the Prof took me on a tour of Madtown. Wildly different but, in many ways, still the same ramshackle bohemia. We paused at the various dumps I called home. Shah snapped a picture of me pointing at my bedroom window on West Doty Street. (see above) We drove by the saloons that started me on a path that could only end in 12 Steps. I remembered working on the newspapers here, all three of them. I recalled my goofy roommates: a Korean exchange student and a farmer’s only son. Of course they adored me. Me with my long hair, an earring, bandanna and Judas Priest concert tee shirt. Sexy!

All those thoughts. And a hundred more. I think now the reason I hadn’t gone back to school was because it reminds me of a time I can never have back. (Insert violin music here)

We closed the evening in a small, glitzy bar non-existent in my day. The cliental were very dressed up. Guys in jackets. Dresses on the girls. Shah told me it was part of a relatively new phenomenon on campus he called the “Sex in the City” phase. Lots of martinis and cosmos. Silky clothes. An upscale vibe with more than a hint of implied sex later. Back when, we drank 7&7s against a juke box blaring Van Halen. Most of the time we went home drunk with a sack of junk food. A musician friend once wrote a song about it: “If you can’t get a girl, get a gyro.” Progress.

Look, I don’t have a moral to this story, or a theme, or even a point. I just wanted to capture a bit of it before another 23 years passed me by. Who knows –the next time I return to UW it might be with my daughter in tow.

Anyone who happened be in that class I welcome your post. Validate my trip beyond these waxed over memories!


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