Commentary

Entertainment Failures Rarely Discussed--So No Lessons Learned

Everyone loves a good success business story--but even better are those that flop on the ground like a fish without water. Not only can we get a good laugh, but perhaps some perspective.

Steven Heyer, CEO of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, said last week in Madison & Vine that there was a lot of poor branded entertainment going on. But we got no details.

Today, in The Hollywood Reporter, that trend continued. In one story, IAG Research said cheerfully that the Pontiac Solstice deal in last year's "Apprentice" where would-be apprentices were teamed together to make the best product booklet was the best branded entertainment deal last year. The end of the story read: "IAG declined to provide data on the least effective integrations of 2005."

The reality is that good deals rarely teach us much. They can be too case-specific. Everyone talks about "case studies" and "best practices," but the true and complete stories are about failures, and what people did to correct them.

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Few executives tell the complete picture, or want to hear about grim flops. But that's not true for everyone--even for the biggest of corporate executives. There is a story told about Bill Gates. Yes, that Bill Gates.

Supposedly when he interviews people for jobs, the process isn't what they expect. It goes something like this: He says, "Okay tell me about your latest failure." A stunned applicant isn't ready and usually stumbles a bit. Gates' logic is: "You wouldn't be here, seeing me, unless you've shown success. Tell me about failure--and what you did about it."

I'm not always a Gates fan, but I applaud his MO here. Showing only success is only half the story. Failure is more motivating; it fills in the background.

In the late 90s The Hollywood Reporter was contemplating a 100 worst films list, as a response to those 100 best films lists that were coming out. It seemed like pretty edgy stuff. Early in the process, reporters could be found scurrying around, snickering to each other about all those true clinkers. After a week went by, it all came to a sudden end. Bob Dowling, publisher of The Reporter, emerged one day from a meeting, screaming: "That settles it. We are not doing it!"

Of course we know why. How many producers/directors would be pissed off at Dowling--or at the paper? How many artists would be secure in the knowledge of their failures? How many fragile egos could laugh it off, and agree, that, yes, they really messed up?

Maybe about 10 percent. But from stories told by that minority--those brave and honest executives--we would get some real entertainment business insight.

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