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Advertising & Marketing

Fighter Pilot

In 1980, retired Air Force Col. John Boyd walked into the Pentagon and pitched a concept that reshaped how the United States trains its pilots to win dogfights: the OODA loop. It stands for Observe-Orient-Decide-Act, and it’s a framework for decision-making that is used today by everyone from Olympic athletes to Wall Street traders. One of Colonel Boyd’s hallmark insights with OODA was this: Moving quickly through the whole decision cycle is more valuable than speeding through any one part of it. The world’s fastest trigger finger can’t hit a target that’s no longer there. Over time, pilots that cycle quickly – reacting and reorienting with each loop – will dominate their competition. The OODA concept can map to programmatic advertising – specifically to a single RTB auction.

Read the full story at AdExchanger.

100 Best Companies to Work For

Numbered lists are hot items on websites and in magazines because they generate clicks. Here’s what Reuters chief executive Andrew Rashbass wrote in an internal staff memo, as reported by Politico’s Dylan Byers:

Getting people to click on stories has become a science. The leading technique is the enticingly-headlined numbered list. Buzzfeed are the masters. At the moment they’re running on their homepage “18 Unexpected Side Effects Of Being An Adult,” “21 Things A Guy Quickly Learns After Moving In With His Girlfriend For The First Time” and “16 Gluten-Free Dishes You Can Eat At Almost Any Restaurant.”

I’ve been following one of the “best” lists since it came out in 1984 – Robert Levering and Milton Moskowitz’s”100 Best Companies to Work For In America.” In 1997, FORTUNE magazine took over publishing the “Best Companies to Work For” list annually. I began following it to see what media companies appeared on it so I could blog about their presence (or absence) and rank.

A Glaring Omission

On the original 1984 list, Time, Inc. was the only media company on the list. In the 1993 update of the book, Levering and Moskowitz put only two media companies on the list: Knight-Ridder (newspapers) and Readers Digest, but they both have since faded from the list. America Online was the only media company on the list in 2000, and The New York Times Company made the list (#93) in 2003. 2005 was a banner year for media and media-related companies: Discovery Communication, Emmis Communication, John Wiley & Sons, Valassis (newspaper inserts) and Arbitron made the “Best Companies to Work For” list.

Notice that none of big-six media companies made the 2005 list. In a 2005 blog, I wrote:

I have my suspicions about the validity of the lists because of the way surveys are conducted. FORTUNE claims that about 1,000 companies are contacted and only about a third (356) complete the “exhaustive survey process.” The 57-question survey from Levering and Moskowtiz’s company goes to a minimum of 350 randomly selected employees from each company and two-thirds of the total score for the list comes from these employee responses. The remaining one-third of the score comes from Levering and Moskowitz’s “evaluation of each company’s demographic makeup, pay and benefits programs, and the like. We score companies in four areas: credibility, respect, fairness, and pride/camaraderie.

Therefore, if a company doesn’t want to participate, it doesn’t make the list. I suspect that several media companies that I know are good places to work, such as A.H. Belo, don’t participate. And companies that aren’t such great places to work do participate and “suggest” that employees say nice things in the survey.

The only media company other than Google to be on the list from 2005 to 2013 was Dream Works Animation (#6) in 2013. Google has been on the list for eight years, five as number one, but it wasn’t considered a media company until 2007 or 2008, I think, and has been number one in 2012, 2013 and 2014. One thing this impressive string of wins means is that Google has gone to the trouble of filling out the applications to be on the list. But that, of course, doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t have won if every media and media-related company had bothered to fill out the applications. Google probably would have won.

Best vs. Most Admired?

Compare FORTUNE’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list to its “World’s Most Admired Companies” list. At least this list isn’t based only on those companies that apply, it’s based on the following criteria:

Our survey partners at Hay Group asked executives, directors, and analysts to rate companies in their industry on nine criteria, from investment value to social responsibility… To arrive at the top 50 Most Admired Companies overall, Hay Group asked the 3,920 respondents to select the 10 companies they admired most from a list made up of the companies that ranked in the top 25% in last year’s survey, plus those that finished in the top 20% of their industry.

The only media company on the 50 “Most Admired” list is Disney (if you don’t count Google and Facebook as media companies), and the top ten are:

  1. Apple
  2. Amazon
  3. Google
  4. Berkshire Hathaway
  5. Starbucks
  6. Coca-Cola
  7. Walt Disney
  8. Fed Ex
  9. Southwest Airlines
  10. General Electric

So, the only company on the “Best to Work For” list that is on the top-ten “Most Admired” list is Google. What does that tell you? That the lists don’t mean much?

Well, no. I guess if you can get a job at Google, SAS, Boston Consulting, Edward Jones, or Quicken Loans, Genentech, Salesforce.com, Intuit, Robert Bird or DPR Construction (the top ten on the “Best” list), you’ll probably be happy.

But don’t pass up a job at Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, Coca-Cola or McKinsey & Co. because they aren’t on the “Best Companies To Work For” list. They more than likely didn’t apply. Apple and Amazon are notoriously secretive, so of course they wouldn’t apply for the list, and the absence of Apple, Amazon and Facebook from the “Best…” list makes it invalid to say the least, and, thus, leads the list of my worst “best” lists.

More of the Same

FORTUNE’s “Most Admired” companies list’s methodology is fuzzy, which makes it hard to understand why the list is worthwhile, even though the list at first glance seems reasonable. Plus, there’s only one media company on the list – Disney – which also seems reasonable, given the sparse appearance of media companies for decades of the “Best Companies To Work For” list.

However, with Wal-Mart, Target, J.P. Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo ahead of Facebook, will anyone under 40 pay any attention to the “Most Admired” list? Therefore, being so Wall Street oriented, out of touch and having fuzzy methodology, FORTUNE’s “Most Admired” list ranks number two on my worst “best” list.

Ranking third on my worst “best” list is a list within a list – the Cable and Satellite Providers list in the “World’s Most Admired Companies” list:

  1. Comcast
  2. Liberty Global
  3. Direct TV
  4. Time Warner Cable

Bloomberg News reported on a Consumer Report article that listed Comcast and Time Warner Cable as two of America’s least favorite cable companies. Comcast’s service ranked 15th out of 17 companies, and Time Warner Cable ranked 16th in a survey of 81,488 users – a good, solid sample.

But one thing for job seekers to note, on any of the worst “best” lists, is the absence of all legacy media companies but two – Disney on the “Most Admired” list and Discovery Communications on the “Best Companies to Work For” list – not including, of course Google (both lists) and Facebook (#45 on the “Most Admired” list).

The Big Takeaways

The point I’m making is that large, legacy media companies typically aren’t necessarily wonderful places to work. They tend not to treat their people very well because the demand for their jobs far exceeds the supply. Therefore, rather than being highly selective in hiring and treating their people really well, legacy media companies tend to make the short-term choice of not paying other than their stars well and not treating their people relatively well.

Mediaphiles beware, and even pay some attention to even the worst of the “best” lists when considering a job or a career, especially in the legacy media. And if you do want a career in the legacy media, don’t have high expectations of being treaded really well. You’ll have to get your satisfaction from the work you do, not necessarily from the company you work for.

Startup Entrepreneur

My story isn’t sweet and harmonious like invented stories.

It tastes of folly and bewilderment, of madness and dream,

like the life of all people who no longer want to lie to themselves.

-Hermann Hesse

Entrepreneurs are an extraordinary species. We are psychologically geared to be optimistic, and we often ignore the negative flip side of the coin. I am a serial entrepreneur as well as a fifth generation iteration of this particular group. For anyone wondering, those entrepreneurial roots stretch over thousands of miles and back into the late 19th Century.

The Internet is a dream-come-true for the entrepreneurial spirit. I feel eminently qualified to offer musings on this medium. We joined the Internet revolution in 1997 with our first e-commerce store. It has been one heck of a ride, and Herman Hesse’s words above represent the clearest picture of my journey.

Media and marketing is what I like to write about when not thinking about the abusive nature of the NSA, drone strikes or government sanctioned torture. But just as there are ridiculous attempts to justify and rationalize the most egregious actions by whatever party is in power, there is an equally dubious attempt to invent harmonious stories of marketing prowess amongst the digerati.

I recognize the optimism from the entrepreneurial echoes ever present in my mind. I love madness, even folly. And where would we be without dreams? But isn’t it time to separate fiction from reality? Outside of a few writers (and special kudos to Brian Morrissey over at Digiday for telling it like it is), the invented stories of successful marketing methodologies overwhelms the online publishing ecosystem.

What drives these invented stories? Is this just entrepreneurial optimism? I think not. The invented, self-serving stories of the chest thumpers ought to be taken for what they are: 180 proof BS. There are many middle men whose existence depends upon perpetuating the myth of their prowess. There are also many writers who seek out success stories to write about… until they settle on new story lines of ignominious failure.

So what is the Truth? I no longer sell media solutions, so I have no axe to grind here; I can afford to be honest. As a direct marketer, we operate in what is left over after all of the other marketers waste their money believing the mythology of those invented stories. Five years ago, there was an insatiable appetite for “behavioral targeting.” Today, it is Big Data and programmatic buying.

There is an ever-expanding din calling for more and more targeting. But amidst the ever-increasing advertising glut, advertising rates continue to decline. Simply put: The supply of advertising space is increasing at 100 percent annually, while the demand is only increasing at 15 to 20 percent. The rates must necessarily decline, and they are.

Here is a thought experiment: If advertising rates went down to zero, would anyone pay to target? The obvious answer, one would think, is absolutely not. Well, we have ad rates beating a path to almost free. It would seem to me that rather than spend money on targeting, brands and marketers should spend effort trying to take advantage of the ever falling rates.

Ubiquity might be a better strategy than targeting. Targeting often costs more money than the media itself. The only real beneficiary in the latest, greatest invented stories are those selling the services to a gaggle of marketers eager to continue lying to themselves.

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