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How the vuvuzela is ruining business media

My excuse for watching the World Cup has been to wonder what it might teach us about the current state of the business media industry. I have been surprised by how much insight into our business watching Rooney, Heskey, Terry and the rest of them, has provided.  Who would have thought that Wayne Rooney could help us rebuild the business media industry?

Let’s start though with the wretched vuvuzela.  The players complain they can’t hear each other or the refereees whistle.  Nobody can hear what the crowd is singing or the tactical shouting from the dug out.  The wider audience at home might be thinking it would be more pleasurable to listen to the grunting at Wimbledon than the incessant buzzing of the vuvuzela.  What has been the result of all this cacophony?  For England a demonstration of what we have always done.  Hoof the ball up the field, thinking perhaps it is still made from rain sodden pigs bladder encased in half the hide of a Blackpool donkey rather than a precision object to be passed between each other.  We know it doesn’t work.  The coach knows it doesn’t work.  The players even know it doesn’t work.  Somehow the noise around them drives all sense from their brains and they become too frightened to try something new.  They can’t hear, for the noise of the vuvuzela orchestra, the increasingly desperate pleas from the coach, the fans and the experts, to change their approach on the pitch.  Instead they turn on each other. They blame the boss, the ball, the pitch and in Rooneys case the fans.  We, the armchair pundits know what to do, but it appears that no one is listening.  They can’t hear or think for the sound of the blessed vuvuzela.

In business media hardly a week goes by without news of a redundancy round, a reduction in publishing frequency, a magazine closure or the fire sale of a title.  This hasn’t happened suddenly.  It has been happening at an acclerating pace for a number of years.  Like the footballers who keep hoofing the ball, we keep doing the same thing.  It used to work didn’t it?  If we keep at it maybe it will work again we think.  All around us our readers (the fans) and most of the experts are telling us to change the approach, but save for occasional moments of inspiration (I rather like, for example, the work RBI has done with ExpertHR which has built a bigger and more sustainable business than Personnel Today ever was) nothing much seems to change.

So what is causing this deafness?  What is the business media equivalent of the vuvuzela? How could we get it banned? The African horn is made of plastic and blows a single note when air is puffed into it.  The business media horn is made of false hope that the methods of the past will still be useful in the future.  It is made of vanity and pride that our magazines are still great, it is the fans (readers) fault for not reading them any more.  It is made of the naievity of thinking that third rate web publishing will somehow save us.

How can the noise be silenced? You can’t move from hoofing it up the field to an elegant passing game iteratively.  The whole approach of everybody in the team and in the management of the team has to change. Everyone has to believe that the new way is the right way.  No dressing room tantrums.  No water cooler bitching.  No hiding from the detailed responsibility for getting it done by the CEO.  It starts with leadership and the ability to explain what we are doing to colleagues and customers (players and fans) in simple straight forward and logical language (I may have stumbled on the problem with the England management set up!).  It needs everyone to let go of the past.  When it gets hard, as we try and do new things in new ways, when things go wrong we cannot revert to our old ways, we must stick with it.

So lets let go of  the old pubishing model, lets find new ways to win in business media.  Let’s expect things to go wrong from time to time.  Lets pursue the new future together, with commmon aims and approach.  But to do this we need clear heads and we must all go “Shhhh!” to the bloody vuvuzelas.

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June 23, 2010 - Posted by | business media strategy

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