Friday, March 27, 2009

Spec Work: The Word is Sleazy

Some recent sightings of the spec work specter.

Spotted on A post for a salary-plus-commission corporate Web Marketing Director. Pay tied to results.

And, for good measure, the application process involves drafting and submitting an online marketing strategy for the company. I kid you not, read for yourself:

"Web marketing specialist.​ We are looking for an experienced individual to drive business to our retail website.​ This a salary position, but terms of employment are performance based.​ Duties include: Search engine optimization, website editing, monitoring competition, creating measurable promotions.​ Ideal applicants will have experience with .​html, .​php.​, .​asp, etc.

Qualified applicants will be asked to submit a brief analysis of our site, our competition, and outline some basic ideas on how to increase traffic and business on the web."

And recently some idiot was trying to fire up the Mechanical Turk to do logo design for him on craigslist. Good luck with that.

And then, of course, there's and the American Idol model for sourcing design work. (Designers "compete" by submitting designs, and the winner gets underpaid.)

And yes, I agree with Andrew Hyde that spec work is evil. And unsustainable. As in, nice try, Crowdspring guys, to aggregate and then sell access to suckers, but.... no.

Why do companies think this will work? Why would anyone labor 40/hrs per week at your headquarters doing marketing work for subsistence plus tips? Why is anyone going to sit down and do design work as part of a contest in which, if they win... woo-hoo!... they get paid?

Especially when they can do digital marketing and design work on behalf of their own online enterprise. That way, they get 100% commission on the resulting sales. The barriers to entry to enterprise are now negligible to nonexistent. Working for themselves for a deferred payout makes a lot more sense than working for you.

Companies, get real. Paying people little to nothing and/or dangling small carrots is not going to motivate them to labor on your behalf.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Social Web Reaches Critical Mass

The cultural shift online has reached critical mass, the revolution is here.

Here in Ann Arbor, our local newspaper's demise was the wake-up call. Yeah, some folks still think it has something to do with the economy, and God knows, a lot of what's going on in Michigan does.

But not this. The Ann Arbor News is a casualty of a broken business model.

And the first of many to come. Down the road about 45 miles, trade magazine publisher Crain Communications (where I worked for 10 years in the 1990s) is also laying off workers and closing books. And, for once, it's not the economy, stupid. Not really.

I'm also noticing critical mass on Facebook... within the last 3 weeks, I've reconnected with several old school friends and coworkers, all of us... ahem... of a certain age. And all of a sudden my Facebook account matters to me, and it's a place where I check in every day.

Although by no means a social media early adopter by the standards of most people reading this, I have been active on twitter for a year or so. Suddenly I am getting a steady stream of new followers, several a day. Which is remarkable, considering I'm not a power tweeter with follows in the thousands. I've always kept it to about 100 mutual follows, give or take. But in just the last couple weeks my follower count has more than doubled.

It's just because there are so many new users on twitter.

There's a great video that made the rounds, [We're Living in] Exponential Times. It's pretty amazing.

And consider that even geometric progressions can be staggeringly rapid: it feels as if we're at the point where 50 percent is poised to double... and then it's all over. It's happened. A done deal.

Clay Shirky's great blog post, Newspapers: Thinking the Unthinkable, compares the enormous cultural changes triggered by Gutenberg's invention to what's happening right now. Just as technology that allows anybody to publish changes things irrevocably, so does technology that allows everybody to publish.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Another One Bites The Dust

Ann Arbor News announced that it will close in July. It will reinvent itself as

The page, as of today, consists of a statement of intent to build relevant content for the community, both readers and advertisers. Poignantly, and with searing honesty, it says:
"We’re not only soliciting your input on the site, we need it. will be built from the ground up, so you can help create what it becomes."
Here's a major small-city newspaper who has played the Armageddon card and is now trying to rebuild from scorched earth. Starting with nothing, not even their name.

Consider that established sites like The Huffington Post that have succeeded in providing relevant and widely read online journalism have yet to build a sustainable profit model based on that content.

But the fact that this new incarnation of the A2 News is willing to start with a publicly blank slate, inviting their audience to participate in their re-creation, is pretty unprecedented. And commendable.

So, the field is now wide open. Mary Morgan's Ann Arbor Chronicle has a head start. As does Steve Pierce's These independents have readership, and are operated by some of the community's most tech-savvy people, who "get it". Even if they, like most of us, may not know exactly where it's going. My impression is that Mary and Steve are publishing to fill a community need, because they are smart and they can, and maybe to create a modest revenue stream. But not necessarily to recreate the big-profit publishing model online.

The Ann Arbor News' existing online presence,, is widely read, but obviously not as profitable as it needs to be to sustain parent company Booth Publishing. Maybe the crux of the matter is that journalism can no longer sustain large enterprise.

Today's twitterstream surfaced a couple of great observations: there are still plenty of people who don't really know, or want to know, how to get local news online. And there are still plenty of businesses that can't imagine any other way to advertise. Take the newspaper away, and these folks lose a lifeline.

But we've reached a point where connecting Luddite constituencies is not enough to keep the newspapers profitable.

We're living in interesting times.

Helping Entrepreneurs Launch

New businesses are popping up like spring bulbs lately. This being Michigan, people have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Many of these folks are funded by their own savings, and are hard-pressed to afford even a small design agency's services.

The first thing they need is a logo. Then business cards. Maybe a print flyer, but probably not. And then, a website. And marketing 2.0 advice along the way. I'm great at this!

The small business launch formula seems to be logo/bizcards/web... then, presto, they're up and running. Pretty simple, really. No campaigns, no expensive media buys, no sales staff. Barriers to entry to the marketplace have come down. And their web presence can be basic at first, then grow and evolve as it needs to. And the initial small revenue stream generated can fund growth.

Working with entrepreneurs is fun, it's a low-cost lab where we can test the new online marketing strategies, and it's gratifying to help local people affordably launch new businesses.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Advertising Creative Director... NOT!

Lately I've noticed that when people ask me what I do for a living, I am stumped.

A year ago, I was quite content to say I was an Advertising Creative Director. Now, I really choke on that.

"Great creative" now means great content. Push marketing (advertising) is losing relevance to pull marketing (search). Marketing copy is being replaced by something approaching genuine journalism.

Ad campaigns are less relevant than useful, searchable information.

The web is different, and the old advertising and marketing formulas don't work online.

"Lack" campaigns... where you neg your audience, then offer your product as a solution to the implied problem, are impossible to pull off in a world where customers with real, self-identified problems reflexively go online to solve them.

"Aspirational" campaigns where gorgeous people are depicted doing enviable things just don't work at 200 pixels wide and 72 dpi. Tiny, little, low-res people don't make anyone want to be them.

"Shock" campaigns, the kind that always dominated the award annuals, where you essentially flash your audience with the company logo tattooed on your, er, marketing vehicle, are annoying on the web.

Interruption marketing is intolerable online. "Sell" copy is unbearable, like a bore at the party. It doesn't take much effort to click away, and people do.

And with broadcast and publishing breaking down, there are fewer and fewer places to reach people offline.

So where does that leave me as an "award-winning advertising creative director"?

I'm not sure what parts of my skillset are still useful. Maybe the most important thing is that I know what doesn't work anymore.

Is Advertising Broken?

I've been talking to people a lot about how many of the old business models are broken.

The recording industry went first. And now, broadcast and publishing... and with it, advertising. And I've been thinking, reading, and talking with people about how the move away from old-school push advertising is affecting marketing.

What amazes me is how uninterested in these changes most traditional marketing people are. It's truly astonishing. There is no curiosity about social media, blogging, search ranking and search marketing, and the content-rich web... they're still stuck in the days of direct mail, billboards, tv, radio and print. Some even argue vociferously that nothing is really changing.

Agencies and marketing professionals, who need to be be on top of these shifts in order to do their jobs, are almost clueless. Many of the companies they work for, and with, are clueless as well.

I think to them it sounds like "blah blah blah Facebook blah blah blah". They think it's just kid stuff that they don't have to concern themselves with.

This blindness and lack of interest among marketing professionals may sound unbelievable, but I kid you not. I see a great divide, and I see it widening rapidly. It may already be too late for some to find a way across.