Welcome to the new Adweek—not your father’s trade magazine.
In fact, my dad was in the advertising business and pored over the ad trades. He owned his own agency which he started with a buddy after the second world war. It was a creative boutique (although that notion didn’t yet exist) that he called Force, Inc., which, he explained to the trade press, was about the force of ideas over the force of arms—certainly an adman thing to say.
The curious thing is that he went into the ad game. There was nothing in his Depression Jewish background to have given him access or inspiration to join the nascent media revolution. That first generation of media guys must have been very much like the first generation of people in the digital business, making it up as they went along, lured by the cool and the opportunity. I remember the showmanship: my dad’s office designed as a Japanese tea garden, his glen plaid suits, the ardor that he brought to magazines, radio, and television. In the late ’70s, in the first whiff of the future, he was gobbled up by a big agency that in turn was gobbled up by an even bigger agency, which in turn…
This was when I came to New York and jumped into the media business. Adweek, too, started in the ’70s, a stylish and sassy alternative to the “other” ad trade. It was founded by Jack Thomas and Ken Fadner, in flight from Rupert Murdoch, who had grabbed New York, the most iconic magazine of the day where they worked, from Clay Felker, its famous editor (who would shortly come to edit Adweek).
Then came the ’80s, the most exciting and profitable decade in media history, which saw the rise of the great media empires: Murdoch, the Saatchis, WPP, Time Warner…
But then something happened to the great business. It wasn’t so easy anymore: conglomeration, fracturization, the earnings demands of public companies, an oversaturated audience, the terrible recession of the early ‘90s. And the carnage had really yet to begin.
That started in 1994, with the newly commercial Internet and the resulting cataclysm: the end of newspapers, the humbling of the great magazine empires, a broken ad agency model, nothing less than a full-scale war for control of how we watch video, and the continued advance of technology that passes power from producer to consumer.
It’s hard to think of anybody who, in the cataclysm, has done much right, from the richest media companies in the world down to Adweek itself, which went through a set of hapless owners. But it isn’t just the hoary old media that’s gotten it in the neck. The new may be an even harder place to play, with successive dominant players in the digital business leveled on a hyperspeed business cycle.
We are in the middle of a technological revolution that is existential in its effect and meaning. This has created a vacuum which has, quite naturally, spurred a power struggle, based not just on new ideas and cleaner code, but also on brute ego and basic greed. The Web of a trillion flowers is itself now the battleground for new moguls and monopolists.
And yet somehow many of us find this bracing. Surely, there is more opportunity— whether you call it a boom or a bubble. With a little heart and imagination, it is certainly a shorter climb to the top. Some have a taste for chaos and raw power plays. As for the rest of us, what is the choice? The remaking of the media and communication business—a revolution in delivery, in creativity, in audience behavior, and in audience targeting— happens with us or without us.
To put it mildly, trade magazines, with their narrow-focused insularity, are not the most logical place to turn when the world is exploding. So the reinvention here at Adweek needs to be as total as any in the media world.
This is the proposition of the new Adweek: In minute-by-minute reporting on the Web and in close analysis and profiles in the magazine, we will tell the story of the uncertain transformation of our business. We need to be more Tolstoy than trade reporter.
And yet, one thing, in an almost humbling sense, remains constant: Seller must meet buyer. Almost every transformative permutation of the media model still relies on advertising; almost all methods and theories of branding still rely on reaching and influencing audiences. But, alarmingly, never before have media practitioners and marketing professionals been so remote from each other. Sellers and buyers, the best of pals in my dad’s day, hardly know each other any more.
But we know them both. Lunch?