Abrams: Intellect May Be 'Commercially Viable'

It's another year -- and another rambling think piece from Tribune Chief Innovation Officer Lee Abrams. And he seems to have reached a turning point. Abrams says truth, integrity, and intelligence ... might actually be profitable. "Junk Culture or Junk Food media does sell, but I'm sensing a trend where intellect is commercially viable," Abrams writes. 

A newspaper with intellect? Is the world ready?

Abrams opines that massive change is coming and the "tired 1980s style of media" is dying. He hits his usual themes about having soul and being cool and anti-corporate, pointing to corporations like Apple and Southwest Airlines as examples to follow.

"The public matters...and they ain't buying 'corporate' anymore," Abrams writes. "The 80's...it was fashionable. Wall Street was cool. Now, main street is cool again."

Abrams also makes this observation: "Any study on the dissatisfaction with the status quo, pretty much point to a desire for change."

Ya think?

The piece in its entirety below and after the jump:

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THINK PIECE: 2009

Thanks to William Childs at the Morning call for this timely quote:

"We open the book on a new year. Its pages are blank. We're going to put words on them ourselves.
The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is today."

--- Edith Pierce

I think we all feel massive change about to emerge. Personally, I believe we are AT the tipping point in terms of the tired 1980's style of media that is so prevalent is not only dying, but being aggressively rejected by the New Mainstream.

AUTHENTIC: I hear this word a lot, but often it's anything but. A marketing word usually aka a lie. You see it a lot in foods. "Authentic Italian" at a chain based in Ohio...you know the drill, telling people something is authentic, hoping they'll believe it. It's headed toward backfire. People just aren't buying the marketing lies. Talking authentic is all the rage at agencies and in marketing studies, but rarely is something that claims to be authentic, actually authentic.

Example of real authentic: Tom Skilling on WGN TV is the real deal. He may not be pretty, but the man knows weather and Chicagoland respects that.

SLICK: My biggest issue with a lot of TV is the slickness. Very well produced and focus grouped...but soul-less. Very 80's, when soul-less sold. I'm not saying amateur and unprofessional is a tactic...I am suggesting that the slick thing impresses

people in the business but has greatly reduced traction among the public.

Example of rampant slickness: Most TV production. Every station is so equally slick and over produced they cancel each other out. It's the visual equivalent of a modern day #1 song. Heavy on flash...low on lasting substance. Aka Vanilla.

ANTI CORPORATE: Well, this is a no brainer, but we still too often behave in a traditional corporate manner in the way we present ourselves. As if we are here to impress other corporate entities. They don't matter. The public matters...and they ain't buying "corporate" anymore. The 80's...it was fashionable. Wall Street was cool. Now, main street is cool again. By corporate I'm referring to an attitude...a style, that is, well, 80's.

Example: You can start with the U.S. Car companies, and it goes downhill from there...

TRUTH: I was amazed at the GM ad where they admitted to making sub standard cars. That's a good start. Everybody is lying about the best, biggest and baddest. It just doesn't cut through...few believe the hype.

Example of the power of truth: Some Newspaper columnists who tell it like it is, maybe not always popular opinions...and a ton of feathers are ruffled...but they're the ones that become "must reads"

SOUL: I got skewered for suggesting that our business needs soul...well, keep skewering. It does. The days of media being corporate, untouchable and all about Wall Street are over.

Example: Fly Southwest Airlines some day and observe the attendants...then compare to one of the big old line carriers.

INTEGRITY: Junk Culture or Junk Food media does sell, but I'm sensing a trend where intellect is commercially viable. A backfire to the vanilla, disposable media that engulfs our culture. we have the talent to do something about that. Naysayers will point out that our newspapers are dumbed down. I read all of our papers and while they look different and might be thinner, it's hard to find anything dumber. With that said, I think we need to be smarter. TV needs to be less clichéd and reclaim innovation in sound, visuals and content; Newspapers need to maximize their inherent journalistic excellence but package it so more will embrace it and the websites need to invent themselves.

Example: Apple. I'm jaded as I own a lot of their products, and literally everything, from their stores to their service to their designs reek integrity and quality on 21st Century terms.

THE OBAMA EFFECT: Change. We at Tribune are talking change...The President elect is talking change...AMERICA is talking change. I think we should passionately embrace change.

Example: Any study on the dissatisfaction with the status quo, pretty much point to a desire for change.

COMPETITION: Fortunately traditional media companies aren't writing the future, it's the hungry new guys. We have to be the one big company that DOES change. Fight the urge to do it the same way...challenge it! Not just our major brands, but in everything we do. I keep going back to the TI Christmas Card example. It was a silly snowman...but 5 minutes of rethinking created an infinitely better card. My point is that EVERYTHING no matter how simple or small, needs to go through the 'is this the best we can do' filter.

Example: Just look around at who is innovating. It sure isn't the giants of the last century.

COOL: Another marketing word. I was at a meeting with a major old school department store chain several years ago and they were talking about making their stores cool. The only problem is that that room was about as cool as a bank. We have people that get cool...in every department. A lot of times they are inept at rising in the food chain because they think cool not traditional and are unappreciated. Find them. Empower them. They'll add a dimension and depth to our presentation. We have to avoid Focus Group cool. You know what I mean. Cool isn't a marketing term, it's a spirit that some have...and some don't. NOT being cool is important too. It's back to that balanced culture where cool people can intermix with traditionalists to create a 360 degree effort.

Examples: Again, Apple, and again Southwest Airlines. A few years ago when you made plane reservations by phone, I called Southwest. Put on hold. A voice came on and said if I wanted to move up in the queue press "7". I did and got a reply "sucker". Can you imagine a traditional carrier having that sort of warped sense of humor? Instead of cursing the airline...I laughed and told people about it.

URGENCY: Over-used for sure, but despite that, it is an issue. We over-think. Still look for reasons that something might not work instead of trying things...with urgency. If they don't work...fine. We're not so important that the world will collapse by trying some new approaches. And I seriously doubt that you will be penalized for trying something new. It's just a good time to be edgy and even experimental, and a lousy time to be conservative, simply because the new leaders and people that are creating the new blueprint, aren't. We need to be in that club. Not easy for a big company, but that's the deal if we're going to grow on today's terms.

Example: The last Presidential election. It defined urgent. They had an election day deadline. We have no deadline. We need one, otherwise things drag. Many of our papers would have never been re-thought without a firm date.

IT'S THE ECONOMY: A lot of it is...not much we can do about that beyond providing the public services to deal with it. We CAN be in position to make some noise when it inevitably improves. I look at this time as one to pull out the stops. Again, EVERYbody has to...every department...all levels, otherwise we ain't gonna move this thing forward. We have to deal with the unfortunate economic realities, but we can't allow ourselves to feel self pity. Now's the time to be strong, focused, incredibly innovative and passionate about what we do.

Example: Let us be the example of fearlessly prevailing.

Posted by Lee at January 5, 2009 07:56 AM

Comments

What struck me immediately after reading your chosen quote is that it represents the old, traditional media. Blank book, page after page, linear. What is exciting about the new media, the one we must embrace and make our own in order to survive as an entity, is that it is not linear. A single entry on that print-bound page can inspire, in hypertext, comment, comments on comments, new actions, new voices -- a Web of interactivity that is freed from the confines of time and space (word count).

Now, I'll keep reading...

Posted by: Mary Paramore at January 5, 2009 08:45 AM


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