Before joining this new-media world in 1999, I worked for Newsweek, one of the most iconic old-media brands of all time.
When I joined the publication in 1994, Maynard Parker was the editor in chief. He walked on editorial waters. He and his editors pored over content produced by professional journalists to determine what made it into the publication. It was a fascinating exercise to see how professionals harvested pesticide-free organic content to produce the best possible crop each week for readers to consume.
Parker was famous for ripping the magazine apart at the eleventh hour if a big news story broke before his press deadline. When that happened, the sales staff ran out the door in suits and ties to meet with clients and show them how our editorial Superman had out-scooped everyone else to best serve our readers.
Newsweek at that time was located at 444 Madison Avenue. The structure of this New York City landmark building and the iconic old media brand that lived there shared a common trait: integrity.
Never was that more apparent than when I saw what happened when this integrity was assaulted. One of the best salespeople at the magazine sold a big schedule to a car company. The ads had a business reply card readers could fill out and send in to receive more information about the car featured in the ad.
In almost a joking fashion, this sales rep called a few other people on the sales team and suggested they send in the BRC card to help improve the results. When word innocently got out to senior executives, this former “salesperson of the year” was fired.
Many in the new media will read this and think, that’s crazy — he should have been rewarded for “optimizing” the campaign.
That’s where new media and old media disconnect. New media thinks in terms of dollars no matter what it smells like, and old media wore integrity proudly, like cologne.
Last week the Interactive Advertising Bureau put out another press release using revenue numbers like a rug, to cover up our issues with integrity. “These landmark figures confirm marketers’ confidence in using digital to reach consumers,” said Randall Rothenberg, the IAB’s president and CEO.
These “landmark figures,” I am sure, are inflated by search dollars the IAB loves to take credit for, even though 98% of the companies in the new-media business don’t sell search. These figures include impressions sold and served to non-human traffic, ads served that have no chance to be seen, and impressions served onto Web pages with more ads than content. These landmark figures include ads that auto-play to guarantee payment with no regard to the user experience, ads disguised as “sponsored content” and ad impressions generated by bullshit clickbait tactics that would make Maynard Parker sick to his stomach.
As we slide into 2016, we desperately need our leadership to publicly announce policies that increase the integrity of new media, rather than shouting about how much money we make.
To put this into context: What if one publishing executive walked into a client meeting and talked about all the ad revenue her company made last year, while a second publisher met with that same client and shared specific examples of how her company protects the integrity of its product so consumers and advertisers benefit equally. If you were the client, which one would you buy?
When I told people I worked at Newsweek, they literally looked at me differently. The integrity of the brand seeped into how I was perceived. When you tell people you work in Internet advertising, integrity is the last thing people see. If that doesn’t start to change in 2016, we need a change in leadership.