The Relationship Business

This past weekend I served as an officiant at a wedding for a dear friend from the media industry and his beautiful bride. It was a thrilling and moving experience.

As I performed the ceremony, I glanced out into the sea of faces and was struck by how many of the people that mean so much to me are in some way connected to the media industry. Almost every significant relationship that I’ve formed in the last 10 years is a result, in some way, of working in New York.

I came to be involved in the media industry in an unusual way. A former fine arts student, I landed at a media industry firm following the sale of my Web site development agency to the media agency network CIA (Chris Ingram and Associates), which was in turn acquired by WPP. My first years in New York at global media agency MEC were a struggle to understand the business and untangle the myriad of industry terms like GRP, RFP and CPM. Eventually, I learned enough to make myself useful and win some business for the agency.



I also learned that media people were cut from a different cloth. The media industry elders were the renegades who had broken off from the creative agencies where they toiled as second-class citizens. Once inside their own standalone media agencies, the process repeated itself a bit as the older, TV and offline media people ruled over the digital “kids” with their ad banners, search marketing and social media. This time, though, the new renegades were not allowed to run away from home.

While the New York media business lacks the outsize salaries of finance or the flash of fashion, it can be a fun way to make a living. Ultimately, media is a relationship-based industry where deals are made not just on the basis of audiences and technology, but also if you like the person you’re dealing with. People who can create a series of mutually beneficial relationships form a point of influence through which business must pass.

One great quality of the media business is that it will let almost anyone in, no matter what your background. You can have a high school diploma or a Harvard MBA and have a chance at a career in media. A global media agency CEO once told me that he was in the industry for more than two decades before anyone bothered to ask him what school he went to.

Another great quality of the media business is the different backgrounds and experience of the people that work in it. Women can now be found throughout the industry, and they are making progress in cracking the C-level jobs. We need to make more progress with diversity, of course, but compared to our creative and technology industry brethren, media is leading the way. The media business is a closer to being a true meritocracy than most.

But just as the media industry is open to people from different backgrounds, it remains highly protective of its core business. As a result, Google and many other Silicon Valley-based companies have recently learned that New York’s television ad industry will not easily be disrupted by interlopers from the West.

Ultimately, media is a relationship business based mostly New York. 70% of all media is still purchased from the island of Manhattan. Even as media adopts increasing amounts of technology to manage and streamline its processes, people and relationships are what make this industry tick.


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