Hard Times for Hard Media

Hard Times for Hard Media

Media all over the planet and beyond are in disarray. The old order changeth, nowhere faster than in the media world. What has happened recently to precipitate this? My guess is that a huge middle-ground of not very techie people have suddenly caught up and are moving their allegiances from paper to screen. Media circulations are dropping fast, and hard media readership is declining, too. Once on the screen there is no going back – at least not for the present.

A side effect of this is hard times for advertising agencies with a possible resurgence of public relations. Since nobody really knows what the latter is, its flexibility and opportunism make for agility – a highly prized skill in our VUCA world. But PR alone cannot compensate for lost press, tv and other formerly mainstream media revenue. Several other industries are suffering, too.

Some media adapt, some bury their heads in the sand and some make waves that benefit neither producer or consumer. Facebook may go but Facebook, in one from or another, is here to stay until the next fad takes over. That will be a while yet but I suspect that we shall all be delivering mini-TED talks before we are through. The traditional media have been slow adapting to personal exchanges and the question-asking technique of communication.

The huge gains to be got from the new media are self-evident. The losses may be less apparent. Privacy has clearly gone to the wall, as has in-depth articles. Even books suffer though there is a sizeable cohort that buys them hoping life will last long enough for them to be read. I would add style and sensitivity as victims of the social media. Graciousness may not have been a stirring virtue since soon after Jane Austen wrote Sanditon in 1817 but many people long for it without perhaps being clear exactly what it is. Certainly honour and truth have taken severe knocks.

Could the established, and now ‘old’, media reignite some of the advantages of these soon to be forgotten human facets? The long establishment shots of pre-1970 movies gave you time to reflect. Expectations were then not provided but encouraged – you made your own stories, created your own judgments. Guidelines came as ten commandments, not 10,000 instructions. Humankind may be better educated than the old farm hands who taught me but it is absolutely not happier or wiser.

The desperate managers we now see in charge of the hard media are following the fallacious accountancy rule of ‘net profit’ instead of ‘contribution’. I don’t know what you have a corporation for if it is not to balance the books – and by balance I don’t mean fiddle but apportion the overheads. The balance is not all figures. It never has been.

Each company affected by the media rush will handle their situation in a different way. The ones I have seen doing it best are those who look for the most sensible entrance to the tunnel, not for the light at the end of it. The digitisation tunnel is a longer and darker one than we exerienced even at the introduction of computers and the internet. It requires a mixture of creativity and maturity that is not easy to come by.

Media came first but there are many other industries to follow this level of disruption. They can prepare only to the extent that they understand. The kind of chaos the traditional media are in now doesn’t respond well to panic solutions. It requires foresight, forecast and formidable courage.

Is your industry looking for the best way into the tunnel? Are you forecasting the effects of digitisation? Are you facing the inevitable bravely?

I do hope so. The price of not doing so is there in front of you.