Publishing to Paupers

In these tough economic times, it seems that any and every news story (no matter what it’s about) begins with the phrase in these tough economic times. It started with vacation and travel pieces. “Paying more at the pump” became a prerequisite for any story about family road trips. Carpooling and mass transportation coverage followed suit as gas prices soared. Now, since the credit crisis, just about anything is fair game.

Botox for instance. Know what a rise in Botox procedures can be attributed to? In these tough economic times, penny pinchers are turning to injectibles in lieu of going under the knife. A newscaster actually managed to say this with a straight face. The last straw, though, was Halloween. It’s family fun, not irresponsible investing that we need to beware. “Paying more at the patch,” was, yes, a story about the rising costs of pumpkin-picking.

Then the floodgates opened. Images of brokers with their hands on their faces became iconic (there’s even a blog). Weird Al parodied T.I. with a slow grind about coupon clipping. Addiction counseling is up as the economy goes down, according to the cover of a free NYC daily. Even foodies got the blues: The Gourmet Institute sent out a message to members of the press saying they were unable to offer press passes “due to budget constraints.” NPR aired nonstop interviews with Joe Six-packs (as soon as Joe the Plumber got back to work) who said they were scaling back and were afraid they wouldn’t have heat this winter. NPR even put a local mail carrier on air who testified to how many financial statements she’s seen coming in the mail. Ready the Hoovervilles, NPR!

Then, of course, came the (somewhat ironic) fatal blow: Gray’s Papaya raised the price of its recession special nearly a $1, to $4.45.

And as lightning follows thunder, the ad budget cuts followed the hysteria. The rain that followed all that clattering was the axe falling over and over — staff cuts everywhere from SMG to Yahoo to Nielsen to Niche. And if you took the bloodbath headlines literally, the downpour washed rivers of red down the streets.

Across the board, the devil had his due, some were saying.

John Gerzema, chief insight officer at Young & Rubicam and author of the just-published The Brand Bubble (Wiley), compares the credit collapse to the inflated valuation of brands. Says Gerzema, “What we see time and time again is irrational exuberance,” to use a phrase coined by Alan Greenspan. “This is a period in a cycle.”

Some who’ve been through it all before will wait patiently for it to cycle out. When he announced his company’s 6 percent bump in revenue for Q3, Omnicom CEO John Wren said of the upheaval, “It will create opportunity for us to acquire talent in the industry.” Saying there’s “way too much noise out there,” though, he’s concerned about the effects of so much blood in the water. “We expect the fourth quarter to be a challenge, as many normal year-end marketing projects may not be authorized if financial marketing continues to be volatile.”

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