2022 still has a long way to go. But we've already witnessed a series of amazing events that are impacting our lives, our families, and our businesses.
COVID still has a lot of life, as we've learned often the hard way. And now we have Monkey Pox to deal with, and potentially other viral threats.
The Ukraine/Russian War has been with us for months now, exacting a toll in many ways. So have the many climate disasters we've already faced, a grim reminder of how so many politicians, especially here in the U.S., were simply dead wrong about the ecological threats.
Mass shootings have not stopped, and in fact, have accelerated, reminding us that efforts to curtail these tragedies have woefully fallen short. And abortion laws, highlighted by the Supreme Court's recent decision have turned 2022 into another memorable year, not necessarily for good reasons.
We're seeing that WFH and the “Resignation Economy” weren't just passing fads. They are becoming part of the fabric of our working lives. The ways in which companies and their employees interact with each other may have forever changed. We've seen this play out in weird ways, especially in the airline industry where once reliable companies have turned out to be anything but.
And then there's inflation, an issue that even the most dispassionate Americans are well versed about. Even those who say they don't care about politics are wide awake every time they fill up their tanks. And while the price of gas has moderated these past few weeks, other goods and services are crazy expensive. Due apparently to supply chain shortages, buying a new or used car is no longer a relatively easy and predictable transaction.
The high cost of virtually everything has rankled the country. Everyone's pointing fingers – at Russia, Joe Biden, COVID, the oil companies – every which way. And that's why it was downright bizarre when Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, stepped up to the mic back in late May and uttered these words:
“I was wrong…about the path inflation would take.”
Just watch the first minute of this Yellen interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, a remarkable admission for a politician:
It was an amazing admission by a high-placed government official, in contrast to what we've become accustomed to from our country's leadership.
It may be happening in the business world, too. That's an arena where corporate titans are typically loathe to step up and take the fall for an ill-fated decision.
But that's precisely what Shopify CEO, Tobi Lütke, (pictured) did last week when his company laid off approximately 10% of its workforce. In the announcement, Lütke stepped up and owned up to the miscalculation of assuming COVID-levels of online shopping would continue unabated, even during the recovery.
While the company's press release walked analysts through the process that led to these staff cutbacks, it took Lütke just four words to sum up the decision:
“I got this wrong.”
He could have blamed his research division, his marketing department, or his executive team.
As Inc.'s Nick Hobson put it, he could have written the whole thing off as a team decision. As in “We got this wrong.” But instead, he took the hit, as the company must face up to its declining numbers while forging a new path forward:
Perhaps some of these highly visible apologies spawned a series of great mea culpa essays from some of the most popular columnists from The New York Times
In a series aptly called, “I Was Wrong,” the newspaper encouraged essays from their best-known op-ed names admitting they had made the wrong conclusion about a key issue.
They included Michelle Goldberg saying she got it wrong when she called for Senator Al Franken's resignation so early in the game. David Brooks admitted bad judgement about the value of capitalism. Conservative columnist Bret Stephens said he missed the boat on Trump voters. And Gail Collins came clean about her observations about Mitt Romney.
There were eight of these in all. And they have stimulated me to go through a similar exercise. When I meet many JacoBLOG readers at conferences and events, many are very complimentary about this column, my writing, and my ability to predict trends revolving around the radio broadcasting industry.
I appreciate the accolades. But I also know that most of you conveniently forget about the not-so-great calls I've made over the years. When you write five posts a week, they're not all going to be great. And they're not all going to be right. But the frequency of my writing doesn't mean I deserve a free pass or a Mulligan when I screw something up.
So, today's post covers three topics I simply got wrong. No one lost their job or a lot of money over them, thankfully. But I was clearly off-base, a reality I feel compelled to admit. Perhaps it's a reminder to read my digital scribbles with more of a grain of salt than you already do. Or that no columnist – or consultant – is infallible. We get stuff wrong, probably more often than you think.
It wasn't hard for me find three miscalls I've made over the years. (Actually, there were more – I narrowed them down to these.)
1. Google Glass – Before there was the metaverse, a number of companies experimented with tech wearables, including Google. Back in 2014 when these techie glasses first came out, I got the invitation to become a Google Glass Explorer.
That meant shelling out $1,500 and even buying a new pair of frameless glasses. I didn't exactly predict Google Glass would be a huge success. Even at that point, its wearers were snarkily being called “glassholes,” a clear sign of pushback from cynics and naysayers.
Google Glass came under fire for potentially violating privacy laws, and the product was clunky and didn't work well. For a day or two in the office, it was a novelty. We all tried it on, but we all looked weird wearing this gadget. From the beginning, the experience was an uncomfortable one.
Nonetheless, i bought in – literally and figuratively. Less than one year later, Google pivoted. That is, they stopped making these hi-tech wearables.
Since then, companies like Vuzix have developed much-improved versions of smart glasses. It seems plausible these gadgets will be used in medicine, manufacturing, and other field operations. But when it came to Google Glass eight years ago…
I was wrong.
2.Elon Musk – For some time in this space, I lauded Tesla's innovative CEO for his sense of discovery, work ethic, and show biz style.
I've written several posts about Musk's inventiveness and marketing prowess, including one back from 2018:
“10 Reasons Why Elon Musk Just Pulled Off A Perfect Launch”
I gushed over that very first Space X launch, and Musk's mastery over both the technology and his ability to promote it. The mission went off without a hitch, and Musk's team pulled out all the stops to capture attention and buzz. He's a genius, right?
As we've learned in recent months, Musk is also a flawed executive and an even more screwed up personality, especially since becoming the richest person in the world. True, tech executives like Bezos, Zuckerberg, Gates, and Branson all have their foibles.
But Musk is proving he's in a class by itself.
He appears to be the second most narcissistic person in the world, and his recent comments about business and politics have whipsawed Tesla's stock price. The cars themselves are amazing accomplishments, but Musk's unwillingness to cooperate with the government as it tries to develop standards for self-driving vehicles speaks to his inability to play well with others.
And the Twitter debacle, which has ended up in court (unless he ends up writing a big check) may go down as one of his biggest miscalculations. Did he ever intend to buy the social media company? And what was the purpose behind his brash statements about Twitter, causing its value to plummet?
There was a time when I thought it might be cool to buy a Tesla. But, now my first electric will be made by another company. When it comes to Elon Musk…
I was wrong.
3. PPM – I came into radio broadcasting from the research side. My first job at WRIF/ABC Radio was research director. My job was to dissect Arbitron rating books to help the salespeople tell their stories. In the case of a bad book, my task was to uncover reasons why the numbers looked janky. It wasn't hard. The diary system was SO flawed. Still is, by the way.
I remember an instance where a station was off the air for nearly a week due to a transmitter blowup. I gleefully awaited the release of the numbers so I could see just how badly they'd been hurt by their technical outage.
They had a pretty good book.
It was then I knew the “recall” foundation of the Arbitron diary simply didn't give us a true picture of what people were listening to. Many years later, when Arbitron announced it was working on a methodology that used meters that captured listening in real time, in a panel format, I was all in.
PPM became the ratings “currency” in the nation's top 48 markets in 2007-08. To say the planets did not line up is an understatement. The nation (and the world) was on the verge of falling into the Great Recession, an economic disaster from which the radio industry may never recover. On top of that, the iPhone and the Apple App Store came online, changing the way we access content and the gadgetry we use.
All of a sudden, radio wasn't just competing with the Eagle, Mix 92.9, and NewsTalk 680 – it was up against everybody. Sadly, the original assessment from Arbitron, researchers, and yes, consultants was to tighten up, cut back on talk, and play it safe. Strategically, those were not the qualities best suited in a highly-charged, content-rich environment but they seemed to work in PPM.
As we learned (the hard way) there were fewer meters in use even in the biggest markets than expected. That meant that even though respondents remained in the panel for long periods of time, those promises of book-to-book stability never really came to fruition. And weekly ratings often introduced more instability than in diary markets.
We had also hoped the “real time” nature of PPM ratings would allow programmers to quickly determine what was working – and what was not. It was also believed we'd be able to see the true impact of music via M Score, but that hasn't worked out either. There aren't enough meters in the sample to make these determinations. And given the cost limitations of greatly increasing the sample among people less excited to participate in a radio survey, there likely never will be.
Despite the best efforts by Arbitron, and later Nielsen, PPM has not lived up to its initial promise. Many wish radio broadcasting could go back to the “good old days” of the diary. But trust me, they weren't the least bit great.
But when it comes to hoping PPM would be “the answer…”
I was wrong.
So, what does it all mean?
Maybe moving forward, you'll read these daily posts with more of a jaundiced view. I make every effort to get it right, but I am very fallible, as this post proves. Have I been around longer than most of you? And am I exposed to more research than you are? And do I have the luxury of talking to more executives, technologists, and perhaps smarter people than you do?
It's a likely “yes” to all these questions.
But that doesn't mean I've got a patent on the right answers or the correct predictions.
None of us does. That's what makes it so interesting.
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James Campbell says
Fred. more than being wrong, you were willing to admit it. That’s a tough one…I will continue to read your posts daily and will , maybe., feel a little better now that I know I am not the only one…Thanks for your insight and help.. Jim Campbell Radio Training Network….
Ron Harrell says
Fred, your job is to get decision-makers thinking. You accomplish that goal weekly. We appreciate the brain work. 🙂
Fred Jacobs says
Thank you, Ron. Comments like yours are motivational. Thanks for reading our blog.
Jeff Berlin says
so PPM is a failed methodology? I always thought the survey should be an iPhone / Android app participants simply download. People seem to have their phones on them all the time.
Thanks for having the fortitude to admit ever making any errors:) I have more respect for colleagues & people who own their mistakes. They’re honest, you can trust them.
Fred Jacobs says
We did some work with Arbitron during the formative years. There was a point where the smartphones were considered, but there are issues – among them battery use/life and privacy concerns. The new wearables come close, but they still amount to carrying around another devices besides the phone.
Thanks for the kind content about admitting one is wrong. Much appreciataed.
Clark Smidt says
Great article, Fred. Thank you, again. Much has changed in radio. Much has not. Same old, same old and cutting local people broadcasting real service in favor of non licensed podcasts has yet to prove consistent profitability. Hitting “refresh” doesn’t have to cost money. Just smart curation and local connection.
Fred Jacobs says
Thank you, Clark.
Pat Martin says
No worries Fred, your batting average over the years is extremely high. And loved “second most narcissistic person in the world.”
Fred Jacobs says
Appreciate it, Pat. 🙂
Bob Bellin says
I don’t think you were wrong about PPM. I could have done all of the things that it was purported to do if radio had been willing to step up and pay for enough meters to generate sufficient sample size.
I agree with Jeff – PPM’s should have been replaced with apps awhile ago and that would probably lower the cost enough to make the other things actionable. This is, for the most part, radio’s failure, not ARB/Nielsen’s. I remember in the 90s, when radio was in its best days, I was the only GM in my market to be willing to pay their share (about $1500/year) to increase Arbitron’s sample size by 70%. Same sh*t, different day.
Fred Jacobs says
Indeed, Bob. Someone once told me the radio deserves the ratings it’s willing to pay for. I know that for most stations Nilsen is usually one of the top spending lines on the station spreadsheet. The fact Nielsen (and Arbitron before it) could not find a more affordable (and accurate) yardstick is sad. It has hampered radio’s ability to strategize, plan, and compete. As radio’s advertising value has tempered, broadcasters are in a tough bind.
K.M. Richards says
While I certainly appreciate owning up to one’s mistakes (we learn from them, the old adage correctly says), I don’t think you got these wrong AT THE TIME THAT YOU SAID THEM.
What’s that other old adage? “Hindsight is 20/20.”
(P.S. As an EV owner, I have talked to a lot of Tesla owners at public charging stations who are PO’d at Musk for failing to build out the network of “superchargers” he promised them, forcing them to use the slower Level 2 charging stations the rest of us use. Most of them have said they would never recommend Tesla to friends, family or colleagues just because of this failing … and they all say that if Musk doesn’t get off his ego trip long enough to build that network, their present Tesla will be the only one they ever own. Nice job on being such a “brilliant businessman”, Elon. I didn’t know alienating your customer base was a good strategy until you did it! /s)
Fred Jacobs says
As you point out, K.M., we should support reassessing things when we receive more facts. In the case of Musk, there’s been lots of new evidence, little of it good.
Dave Mason says
Fred, you say “I was wrong” -which of course is an untrue statement. Based on the information given, you trustingly believed it was correct. The world (including radio) is filled with promises that didn’t make the cut. AM Stereo. FM Quad. HD receivers. HD transmitters (okay, they exist, but at a 10th of the power of the original signal?)
You can’t fault innovation, nor the intent of much of it. The person given the credit (or blame) for “Less Is More” can hardly be remembered for more than that.
Broadcasters have invested in “things” for decades. Some with amazing results, some that have created the situation broadcasters find themselves in today,
That broadcasters pay unbelievable amounts of money to use Nielsen’s data, flawed as it is (you are NOT wrong there), proves that the smoke and mirrors used by a large company to bamboozle the bean counters trying to measure radio’s use is still remarkable.
If they (broadcasters) were to say “We were wrong” in consolidation, centralized programming and formats – and focus on spending money on tactics and initiatives that get results for advertisers rather than promises we’d be in better shape.
Voices like yours are extremely important in this day ‘n age, Fred. Whether you’re right or wrong we need people like you to make us think.
Fred Jacobs says
I very much appreciate your comment, Dave. As a daily reader of this blog, you know the track record well. I think today’s post is also a plea to not be so judgmental. I’m guilty of that now and again myself.
As you note, innovation ought to get a hall pass. And there should also be slack for changing one’s assessment of a product especially when the data comes pouring in. I believe that’s the PPM story.
Lori Lewis says
A good reminder: no matter how much we get it right, it’s important to also get it wrong from time to time.
It means we’re at least in the arena participating.
Not yelling from the stands.
Thank you for leading the way. -Lori
Fred Jacobs says
Hopefully, I’m not leading the WRONG way. Appreciate it, Lori. And you did rock that Google Glass.
Steve Williams says
It’s refreshing to hear leaders admit that they were wrong, and even better (I think) is the fact that in doing so, they are giving the people who work for them the space to be wrong as well. Any creative pursuit has to leave extra room for wrong decisions, because only then can risks be taken and novel ideas be found. The alternative is “safe” (which is code for “boring”) creative. At least that is what I think —but I could be wrong. Steve Williams, vCreative
Fred Jacobs says
Steve, I think you’re right. As as you know, I’m never wrong. Except for today.
Jeff Berlin says
Sorry had to comment again – after hearing THIS song appropriate to this blog:
The Virtue of Being Wrong by R.E. Seraphin:
(likely to play on my “just for fun” volunteer college radio show tomorrow)
PPM killed the Smooth Jazz format, and with it the carreers of many. A scourge on the industry.
Fred Jacobs says
Mark, not to pick the point, but radio broadcasters killed the Smooth Jazz format, and Oldies and Soft AC, too. It was more of an age thing than a ratings methodology thing. That why these formats aren’t in diary markets either to any great degree. I am sorry for those who dedicated themselves to these formats, only to find out there no stations left. It becomes apparent that those who aspire to radio careers be as flexible as they can in developing expertise (and interest) in other formrats. Thanks for the comment.