In the last decade or so, media brands have been especially challenged to maintain positive performance levels, while transitioning their business models to best deal with technical disruptions. While startups face some of these same challenges, legacy media players have been especially pressed to keep up with the times, while making smart decisions about the latest and greatest in tech.
Given all the new gadgetry, platforms, and innovations, mistakes are easily made. And while every entrepreneur and coach reminds us that failure is a building block of invention, no one wants to hemorrhage dollars, or worse, suffer the loss of face and reputation with a failed venture.
You'd better believe this will be a topic of conversation at Borrell Associates' LOAC event in New York City next month. There will be radio execs in the room, of course, along with many representing the newspaper and TV industries. All are grappling with prioritization of human and financial resources as they try and figure out how they businesses can adjust and adapt to these changing times.
And hence the phrase: “Eat the elephant one bite at a time.”
Companies simply can't pull this off with a few quick strokes. It's a process, and it takes a plan, a timetable, and even patience. You can't eat the so-called elephant all at once, hence the last part of that saying: “one bite at a time.” The NAB's Chief Technical Officer, Sam Matheny, has been known to advise, “Don't boil the ocean.”
It amounts to the same thing because transforming traditional media outlets in a hurry isn't just a bad plan – it's simply not possible to pull off. That's why it's essential for managers and strategists to maintain a sense of focus and priorities, even in the midst of this firehose of innovation.
We continue to face that same challenge in our own companies. As most of you know, Jacobs Media has been around for 35 years, but originally established ourselves as rock radio consultants with an emphasis in research. That's what we're famous for – our sweet spot, our primary focus.
But over the years, we've pivoted, transformed, and transitioned. And Jacobs Media is now firmly ensconced in many other key verticals, including public radio, national web surveys, the connected car, podcasting, talent coaching, and digital strategization. We now lead tours every year at CES for broadcast radio C-suiters, and over the years, we've produced many Jacobs Summits and DASH Conferences.
But perhaps our biggest and most dangerous venture was starting a mobile app company in the teeth of the Great Recession, a mere 100 days after Apple opened its now-famous App Store. Nine years later, jācapps has many more employees than Jacobs Media, and became a separate company a couple years back.
Yet, like many traditional broadcasters, we face many of the same challenges trying to staying focused – looking ahead and considering the future, without diluting or harming our core business.
In prepping this blog, I started thinking about Al Ries and Jack Trout, the two marketing gurus of my generation. In the early '90s, they wrote “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing,” a book that has been a primer for strategists and tacticians from myriad industries. And I figured that one of those “laws” would speak to this issue of prioritization and focus – but none really do.
And so with all respect to Ries & Trout and their many minions, I propose a bill to enact a 23rd immutable law – “The Law of Bright, Shiny Objects.”
It takes a steady hand and a curious mind to be able to differentiate fads from trends, the real deal from the flash and trash. And that's where research can help us better understand the changing consumer mindset and what it means to radio. Techsurvey 2018 comes out of the field this week, already 60,000 respondents strong and growing. A record 500+ stations will have taken part – a record. And that tells us more and more broadcasters realize they need answers before they act.
Last year's Techsurvey was a case in point. We learned that smart speakers are, in fact, rapidly becoming “the next big thing,” and that's why we've been designing them as part of our SonicAi division for more than a year now. Even though we've all being “doing audio” for our entire careers, it is being redefined by new technology. As Gordon Borrell told me a few weeks ago, TV and newspaper owners are often more Gung Ho about podcasting and smart speakers than radio execs.
Now, some of you reading this post might be thinking that both our companies, this blog, and yours truly have been complicit in hyping “bright, shiny objects.”
In fact, we do our best to let you know about the latest and greatest, without panicking you about the next “four alarm fire” that may or may not happen. Or that are so far down the road, they can't possibly impact your business.
We have also done our best to “walk the walk,” rather than advising you to take risks while we stand on the sidelines. We've developed more than 1,100 mobile apps and scores of Alexa “skills,” we produce podcasts, we put on conferences, and we don't just talk about CES – we walk the floor with you.
I know a lot of the “old guard” from radio's glory days often disparage today's state of broadcasting. While radio's mission and purpose may be about the same as it was in the '70s and '80s, its a very different business today, loaded with sand traps, pitfalls, and hazards. Radio licenses are no longer “licenses to print money,” general managers aren't responsible for just one property, and the number of local advertisers have shrunk due to consolidation, big box stores, and ecommerce. As they say in Olympic diving, the “degree of difficulty” is exponentially greater today than it was back in the “good old days.”
So, the media world is changing, shaking, and baking at breakneck speed. And we're trying to figure it without seat belts or air bags.
I promise we'll do our best to help us both get there vital, relevant, and intact.
So, beware of bright, shiny objects. But let's be smart enough to be able to identify the real deal when we see it.
And let's eat this badass elephant, one crazy bite at a time.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,200 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.
Fred was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2018.