Advertisers, Journalists Share Ideas about Need for Transparency, Truth & Authenticity

September 30, 2009
Category: Uncategorized

As someone who’s immersed in both journalism and advertising, I get to see how these two fields diverge and, increasingly, overlap.

So it was with great interest last week that I went to the annual Advertising Week conference in New York City, where top executives at companies such as AOL, Facebook and major ad agencies, as well as college students and job seekers, gathered to appear on or watch panels, network and display their wares.

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I spent the week at The New York Times conference center, the Paley Center for Media (former home of the Museum of Broadcasting) and other locales throughout the city, and got to witness some new technologies and innovations that journalists can act on to better present their work.

While talking with the likes of Chris Anderson, author of “Free: The Future of a Radical Price”; Geoff Ramsey, CEO and co-founder of; Nick Law, chief creative operator and executive vice president of the ad agency R/GA; and others, I also noticed some consistently emerging themes.

Advertisers, like journalists, are talking about being “part the conversation” and about the need for truth, authenticity and transparency in communications.

Gotham CEO Peter McGuinness told me (as part of a video interview series I was helping produce for a Google/Wharton School joint project) that marketing is increasingly reaching into organizations, forcing businesses to change their processes and operations. Gone, he said, are the days when ad agencies are just assigned as a mouthpiece to trumpet a message devised in a corporate suite. But R/GA Executive Vice President and Chief Growth Officer Barry Wacksman said that “even as the world of advertising changes at breakneck speed, the curriculum has not caught up at most of the major schools around the country.” (Any of this sound familiar to you, journalism educators and managers?)

Ad agencies are having to deeply rethink the skill sets for which they hire now, Wacksman added. Randall Rothenberg, president and CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, a major trade group, said of marketers and advertisers that now, “we’re more orchestrators than creators.”

This is reminiscent of what some in journalism say when talking about the editor as “curator.” There were also many variations of the phrase “small is the new big,” which Anderson, also the editor of Wired magazine, interpreted as the need to “scale mass models down to a million niches.”

Many of the executives at the events talked about a new marketing methodology that mirrors how software gets made: launch, learn, iterate, re-launch, revise, rinse and continually repeat. That, for marketers, is a far cry from the days of devising a full-on campaign across platforms — based on creative ideas and a modicum of focus-grouping — then spending big money to put it out there and hoping it sells.

The concepts reminded me of reporters and editors who have described the process of journalistic blogging as being “self-correcting,” that is, putting something out and then changing and melding it over time as feedback and corrective material come in.

Again, it’s a big change from the days of assuming that whatever story is put out to the world is the final, fully baked version, and that corrections will be run only when they’re of enough weight to justify placement in the corrections box or a special place reserved on air. It struck me that the conversations going on in the realm of marketing and advertising overlap a lot with what’s being said in journalistic circles.

If “transparency is the new objectivity” for journalists, perhaps it’s the new credibility for brands. If the community of users is forcing deep debate and organizational change at the largest news organizations, the social net is forcing brands like Starbucks and Jet Blue to rethink how they communicate and handle their internal processes as well.

Only a fool would suggest that inner workings of any organization would ever be fully transparent. Yet, it’s heartening to see people being driven toward openness, accountability and participatory work by the technological and social developments taking place in both advertising and journalism.