Friday, April 11, 2008

A memo to Tribune Company employees

Posted By on 04.11.08 at 06:33 PM

This is from Lee Abrams, the Tribune Company's new innovation officer and the man who might save the company if his ideas ever catch up to his rhetoric:


It's Been One Week

One week in. Some general thoughts observations and comments. You'll probably either violently agree, disagree or be completely confused. The idea behind this thing is to get some thinking on the table...and see where it takes us...

THE OPPORTUNITY: Whether it's new opportunities for unleashing creative and journalistic greatness so it can touch more people, exploring new advertising arenas, or just the sheer magnitude of what we have the potential to do...it is amazing. I guess some who have been around for awhile may be hardened to the opportunity. Well, most people I know would kill to be here...because of the opportunity to do what you probably got into the business to do in the first place.

FEAR OF CHANGE: There seems to be a fear of it in some quarters. Fear?! Why? It's MUCH scarier to be across the street from the guys forcing change. As WE get in gear, it's the ride you WANT to be on.

BLURRING THE BASICS: Change/evolution, whatever you want to call it is often overly complicated when it really isn't. (at least the thinking it up part--execution can get a little intense) But It's easy to MAKE it complicated. Sometimes you just need to think about the basics. I stood in front of a few huge rows of newspaper boxes on a busy street corner yesterday and Thursday morning for a few hours. Watching and talking to people who scanned the different papers and in many cases bought one...in some cases, just walked on. Talked to a few of the customers. I must preface this with the fact that these are just observations--hardly scientific, but there was some "food for thought" consistency. In print, it might START with:

LOOK--What it looks like. Does it cut through on today's terms?

POV--What is it. Not talking political, talking what the hook is. There's a reason Wall Mart or Southwest Airlines are successful. They have POV. You know what they're about, people want it and they deliver the goods. Is our POV blurred or dated?

HITS--Not internet hits...or song hits..or TV hits...TOPIC hits. the ones that hit nerves. Thre are too many choices to not be hitting the target.

DEPTH--If you are about depth...people need to be able to find it when hrey need it. Not as easy as we may think.

This probably seems like "well..of course"! But, I'm thinking that we may:

*Be on cruise, accepting that the look and POV are fine, when historically they might be, but the history may hold us back from competing and winning in today's vastly changed and intense new environment.

*Be TOO generic in image in an era where generic can be dangerous. And generic being a perception more than the truth...but a perception that may be holding us back.

*Be required to re-think about how people FIND the incredible depth that's in our products.

My point here is to think about/address/invent the new versions by dealing with the obvious first....once that's attacked, the other points will fall in line. A creative domino effect.


Apple I-pod is a beacon of simplicity. Open the box, plug it in and there's a world of music to explore. Other electronic devices require a 200 page manual to understand the 50,000 features. Apple does well with Look POV and depth. Does that translate to media? Yes...as they've figured out their world pretty well. And their world is just as, if not more competitive than ours. We gotta figure out and AFDI OUR World.

FROM THE RUMORS OF DEATH ARE PREMATURE DEPT: It will make more sense to explain this in person as there's a likelihood that it'll get COMPLETELY misinterpreted, but there is one radio analogy that in this case, has some strong similarities to what you often hear about newspapers:

1953: Radio was declared dead because of TV. Radio was also working off the 1930's playbook.

1956: Radio entered a NEW golden days, making more money and reaching more listeners and generating more fans than ever.

Key Reason? Oddly enough, the same things as on this print thread;

It was re-invented.

a)HITS: Instead of Fibber McGee and Molly interspersed with whatever the Announcers wanted to play, it was organized into the 'repeated play concept'. Top 40 was really a song organization strategy.

b)POV: Instead of a station bouncing all around with the POV ranging from Walter Winchell to The Lone Ranger, "format radio" created distinct station POV's aka 'sound'

c)LOOK: In this case it was what came out of the speakers. It was Technicolor sound.

It'll be easy for people to look at this and equate it to "Top 40" newspapers. That isn't it at all....not even close...it's all about the striking similarity and the opportunity for something declared dead to re-invent itself. But you gotta DO it...it isn't going to happen on it's own.

Newspaers are dying? Fight back.


DANGEROUS ADDICTION TO THE PLAYBOOK: Is the playbook for what we do dated? Probably. Again, things move so fast today that playbooks need to be re-written a lot. I wonder if the newspaper playbook has been re-written lately. Probably not. TV, same thing. Web. I KNOW that hasn't been written.

RE-THINKING MEANS DUMBING DOWN: Usually does. But that's the last thing we need to do in this era. Someone told me that the editorial people are not going to like what I offer, assuming re-thinking and re-inventing means introducing cheap tricks to jack up circulation. Ah...not exactly. It's really all about looking at re-formatting so quality can have some breathing room and get seen more effectively. It's unfortunate that in media, it usually IS dumbing down that is the quick fix. But I think our future is more about what some other industries are doing, or trying to do---Smarten.

Most media lives in a world so locked into the mechanics of trying to be keep your head above water that you are anesthetized on what it actually takes to re-invent yourself .. There's opportunity in being gutsy enough to generating mass appeal lasting quality on today's terms.


UNITY: Sometimes I wonder if we realize what the combined resources of Tribune properties mean. There are of course some major brands under the Tribune umbrella, but when we connect it all together better, it's insanely big...and it can be big for the RIGHT reasons. Every brand needs it's unique identity, but there are ways to put it all together where individual identity is maintained but there's a union of brands locally and nationally, displayed to the public and behind the curtain. What if all the web, TV and print properties were REALLY tied together. I'm not talking about looking the same--in fact the exact opposite of that. If they look the same, what's the point. I'm talking about a News/Information/Entertainment powerhouse. No media company has succeeded at this yet. We will.

An example of "owning" a story better via coordination and maximization of Tribune properties. The headline : FAA BLASTED ON SAFETY. A few thoughts:

*Go to the web and, it's just a printed story...basically same thing you get in the paper. BUT---there is SO much you can do to deepen and animate the story, including:

--The absurd amount of interesting info deep in the NTSB, FAA and other aviation sites. Much of it "scannable" and fascinating to anyone who's ever stepped on a plane.

--Video. From plane crash tests to intense aircraft safety videos It's all on YouTube--nice and grainy.

--Interviews with pilots and controllers about behind the scenes safety. The ""stories" are a story in itself.

*TV. Didn't see tribune TV coverage, but I'll bet it didn't co-promote website and newspaper story.

*Print. Personally I think a picture of a cracked 737 fuselage might be more compelling than the two guys at the hearing, but more importantly, it would be great if the story promoted the web and TV properties for the deep and animated extra coverage.

My point here is that this is an example of how Tribune can "own" a headline story far beyond ANYone else. Just a matter of coordinating all of the resources for maximum impact. The result is a news "superbrand" that is untouchable IF coordinated like this consistently...day in and day out.

TV: Fast & To the point

Print: The complete story for the record

Web: The best of: Fast OR complete OR a Deep Dive that allows you to really drill down into the topic...

Sounds pretty simple, but it isn't all being tied together. A challenge we will solve. One of the BASICS

WORDING: A great idea from the Sun Sentinel:

Every Friday we publish a full-page house ad listing all the inserts scheduled to run in that Sunday's paper, probably using client logos...."Look in Sunday's Sun-Sentinel for these great values", with a disclaimer of "not all ads available in all areas" to handle zoning. We also establish a minimum number of inserts an advertiser needs to run to qualify.

...but then there's the exercise of how do we make it bettER:

A small point, but I think a way you can make this more impactful is through non traditional wording. For example, give it a theme that can grow into a 'trademark' Maybe something like:

S.O.S.
SAVE ON SUNDAY
Another Exclusive Service of the Sun Sentinel

A daunting collection of ways to save money with South Florida's premier products and retailers, exclusively in the Sunday Sun Sentinel..

The point here is that "great values" might be SO overused, that alternative wording and making this a "theme" may resonate with the readers better as something special and exclusive.
WHAT OTHERS ARE REALLY THINKING: When you are in a company for a long time you can get "hardened". Where it's all a job. You would be amazed at what people are saying


DRUDGE: Saw this on Drudge. Not bad.
THANKS FOR MAKING MARCH '08 THE BIGGEST MONTH IN THE DRUDGEREPORT'S 13 YEAR HISTORY!

MAIN PAGE LOADED 590,943,577 TIMES... TOPS MARCH 2007'S 425,371,511... TOPS MARCH 2006'S 287,443,312 ... MANY THANKS FOR YOUR CONTINUED SUPPORT... THE LOVERS AND THE HATERS... AND NEWS ENTHUSIASTS IN OVER 100 COUNTRIES!

TV HEAD EXPLODER: This is not intended to piss off every hard working TV person. But these are questions that need to be asked.

These observations are from Washington DC

Most Local TV News is pretty average...or worse. Opie and Anthony watch it before going on the air…for inspiration. When a comedic morning show uses Local TV news for material, you know something is up. Watched a few different local newscasts this week. Maybe this stuff works…I tend to think it’s vulnerable as (at least in media saturated, ethnically diverse and relatively sophisticated areas like the Northeast Metropolis) it’s just kind of “there” on a slow path to irrelevancy. I'm not in that business so I don't know...but I can assume there is the same addiction to cliché as in radio. Some casual observations from my local (Washington DC area)TV news watching:

*All the newscasters look the same.

*Mature looking anchor with Female sidekick…jocky Sports guy…eccentric weather person….

*All the slogans are the same. Eyewitness, Action, Leader, etc…

*There sure are a lot of fires and shootings...but no "meat" ---just fires and shootings.

*All the “intro music” is the same

*The “format” of the newscasts is all the same.

*All their websites look the same. Color content, look and layout

*The banter is annoying and cloying and soooooo fake.

*The wording is Journalism 101---which becomes more dated by the day.

*All the sets look the same.

*Everyone is too damn happy

*Everyone is too damn clean cut and “TV” looking. A parody of itself.

*News people try SO hard to be “loose” that they come off uptight.

*The jokey back and forth ISN’T funny…it’s goofy.

*They tell you about a weather emergency then make you wait 20 minutes

*The weather emergency really is no big deal after all.

*There is NO point of view. Strictly vanilla.

*There’s this standard timbre and style that everyone has.

*You can just smell the focus groups and consultants.

*Everything is colored blue. Must "test" well.

*It’s so “formatted” it’s surreal.

*There’s an arms race with snappy hi-tech weather graphics.

*The big blur. No defining lines between important stories and junk stories. Junk is fine, but I’d think it should be separated. How can anyone have any cred when they report on Paris France AND Paris Hilton.

*It’s all cliché hell.



A few closing thoughts:



PASSION: Designing the future is a mission...not a job

INVENTION: Fearlessly accepting, attacking and re-inventing anything average or dated

MUSCLE: Unleashing the culture moving power of the Tribune Nation

MOTION: Moving at the speed of 2008...Getting in sync with now...building the blueprint for the future.

FIRST: Someone is going to do it...probably a good idea for it to be us

ANSWERS: They exist.

Lee

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