Monday, November 22, 2010

Writing, cleaning or driving - the choice of unskilled tasks is yours

Alan Kohler published an article today in Business Spectator on the new challenge faced by media - at least the traditional media. He points out that the human desire to interact is creating so much content that professional journalists i.e. bods who write for a living, are struggling to have their voices heard above the din.

If you work in marketing communications you will know, of course, that everyone can do your job. Everyone can write, is qualified to comment on, or amend, your copy and so on. As Kohler points out, the only thing saving professional writers is the fact that not everyone has time to write (which incidentally brings into question what's lacking in my life?). He argues that this trend may make professional writing akin to cleaning or driving, in which our participation is directly linked to the time we have to allocate to it.

So as marketing and communication people better start thinking about what they need to do to build a bastion against surges from the infidels. We better start thinking about our personal brands!

The commoditisation of communications really began with the internet and Microsoft's ubiquitous presence. I ran a communications and marketing consultancy for 12 years and saw the writing on the wall as the capacity to self-publish grew exponentially through the 1990s. I'm talking about self-publishing in the corporate sphere, rather than at the individual level.

In that business, return on revenue dropped from 22% to 6% over the course of the last five years - not enough to keep me interested in supporting the infrastructure necessary to turn out quality advice and services. Good people got more expensive, as clients squeezed budgets.

So, while the business was still holding the line, I closed it, selling off a few pieces of IP that had accumulated over more than a decade. Since then, I've seen marketing services companies pursue growth by acquisition to overcome the same challenges I faced. In nearly all instances, their share prices are reflections of the difficulties and the struggle to establish a clear value proposition in the eyes of clients. They cling on, desperately hoping for rescue by a private equity firm that has outlived the GFC.

This phenomenon is no different to what Kohler's on about with regard to journalism. We must all create a clear value proposition in the eyes of our customers. In my humble opinion, that proposition comes from within because, in most commoditised sectors, the only differentiator between one offer and another is the quality and uniqueness of the persona and skills set the organisation presents to the world. It is the way of doing business as well as the outcomes that define a brand, whether corporate or personal.

This means that organisations wanting to survive must be brave in their recruitment process and start creating their uniqueness from within. This often means being willing to take a bet on a team able to occasionally challenge the status quo and try something new. As marketers and communicators, our value to our employers and clients is the capacity to identify opportunities and connect in order to take advantage of them. If we fail to meet that 'brand promise' as a profession, we'll be competing with the journos for Kohler's cleaning and driving jobs.

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