Digital or Die

One of the most crammed, standing-room-only sessions at MIXX this week featured the media directors of top agencies, including Digitas, Mediaedge:cia, Neo@Ogilvy, and MindShare. As they talked targeting and how they were spending millions of media dollars for their respective rosters of blue-chip clients, online media trainer extraordinaire Leslie Laredo leaned over to whisper in my ear, “Not a single person on this panel is over 30.”

Whether her observation is literally true is moot. The point is these senior agency executives are young, much younger than their typical counterparts on the traditional media side of the table.

Why? Are old dogs so adverse to learning new tricks? Because certainly at MIXX, as well as at OMMA last week, bemoaning the digital talent gap was a cry that emerged early and often.

It’s not just old-timers on the traditional agency side of the equation who are stubbornly resisting the shift to digital. It’s an issue across the media landscape. Their reluctance was perhaps somewhat understandable in the go-go ’90s and in the sober, austere, bleak era around 2002.

But now?

Still, I’m seeing traditional publishers cut back on digital endeavors (and digital staff) in a desperate and futile effort to sustain their flagging, dead-tree legacy brands. I’m seeing digital executives going to senior management with requests for back-end tools, such as content management systems and social media software, only to learn their corporate overlords have no idea what all that stuff is, much less what it’s actually used for or how it can benefit the business.

And I’m seeing some of those print publications flatline. Friends who have been print journalists for decades are panicking in the face of cutbacks, early retirement, consolidation, and plain old extinction.

But they’re not learning digital skills. A critic friend stays up nights over the fact his paper is due to shutter at month’s end. When I inquired about his online skills, he replied that even the most fundamental elements of a story, such as hyperlinks, were determined and executed by the online editor. He doesn’t know how to do any of that stuff.

An entrepreneur behind an online publishing startup, meanwhile, recently posed a hypothetical question: “If you could hire a top journalist with 20 years’ traditional experience or someone fresh out of J-school who knew the Web cold, which person would you hire?”

No contest. Hands down, I’d make the kid an offer.

New media is becoming old hat. It’s a fact of life. OMMA and MIXX were packed, refreshingly, with new faces. I’m speaking next week at MIMA in Minneapolis, another sold-out interactive marketing event. Newfound interest in and support for digital advertising is heartening, yet there’s still an astonishing degree of pushback across the media industries.

Across all industries and sectors, in fact. Veteran Web consultant and publisher Larry Chase related a story this week about rescuing a neighbor’s virus-infected hard drive (they’d let their virus protection software subscription expire). The relieved and chastised owner piped up that while they didn’t know much about virus protection, they had just learned how to create an e-mail attachment.

Clinging to Luddism and deliberate blindness in the face of the digital revolution (no understatement there!) may have been cute 10 years ago. Today, it’s inexcusable.

Those glib and somewhat arrogant aphorisms, such as “everything that can be digital will be,” have come to pass. In a climate buffeted by a tumultuous economy and tenuous job security, the advertising and media industries really have reached the point of go-digital-or-die.

The question, of course, is how do you change attitudes? How can media professionals be made to understand and convinced to embrace digital media and Web literacy, e-mail accounts, and the occasional Amazon order? It’s disheartening to watch friends and colleagues lose jobs — as well as their future prospects — before they wake up to this no-longer-new reality.

So what’s the answer? Some sort of digital Peace Corps? Community college courses? Should companies undertake in-house training initiatives?

What are you doing? Because friends can no longer allow friends to remain digitally illiterate. Or is the media and advertising landscape going to have to undergo a Wall Street meltdown before people start to change?

Join us for a new Webcast, High-Touch Personalization, The Successful Marketer’s Secret Ingredient, September 29 at 2 p.m. EDT.

Related reading

nurcin-erdogan-loeffler_wikipedia-definition-the-future_featured-image
pwc_experience-centre_hong-kong_featured-image
12919894_10154847711668475_3893080213398294388_n
kenneth_ning_emarsys_featured-image
<