Commentary

Media X: Controlled Burn

I was sprawled on the patio couch chugging a box of white zinfandel, as helicopters and supertankers roared over the apartment building's roof to attack the fire racing for my complex in hungry orange strides. Southern California Edison had planned an outage for today, so I had no electricity. The kid had phoned and awakened me at 7 in the morning to tell me he was sorry that all he ever did was call to ask for money -- and then called to ask for money three times since.

In other words, a typical fall Sunday in L.A.

I did idly wonder if I should get the disaster kit out of the closet and chase down and cage the cat, which was running around the apartment like she'd eaten acid. But I was chillaxed, watching placidly as the flames licked their way toward me.

A couple of hours later, when the fire was put down, the electricity was back up, the football back on, the kid given $50 and the cat a Valium, I realized I had not been worried by anything that happened that day.

You could say I've become jaded. I've experienced Sundays like this a couple dozen times in the past few years. But I was acclimated.

I've learned how to live in a disaster zone and like a Marine in an Afghan foxhole, I know when to stay put and when to start running. The same thing has happened to the communications industry. We haven't turned the corner -- we're not even close to the corner -- but for the first time in over a year, we can see the corner.

Pundits are emphasizing that recovery, while two years away, is coming. As I write this, for example, I'm surfing through Magna's latest media advertising forecasts, which "reflect improving economic conditions" and is filled with soothing words like "moderating" and "normalized."

In other words, calm down.

Oh, sure, spend is still negative, but the decline is slowing markedly. And all over the business, you sense a slow consensus building on how to make communications work in a digital world. As it has done when faced with existential challenges before, the industry has stopped panicking and started to absorb lessons learned and apply best practices.

No one really argues that social networks are ad channels anymore. Now, we're focused on using them properly: as customer relations and PR tools. We know advertising will never return to its halcyon days of yore, but we know we can get at least as much bang for our bucks in experiential marketing and digital media.

Most importantly, we've finally thrown out that moth-eaten box we've been talking about for a decade. We know now that there is no box to get in or out of, no old media or new media -- just an endlessly multiplying supply of channels. So we can concentrate on what's really important: perfecting addressability and evolving our agencies and approaches to emphasize content creation.

Sure, the scent of burnt brush still stings our nostrils. But the fire's been contained. Let's all meet on my patio and celebrate. I'll even buy an extra box of wine.

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