For those of us over a certain age, it can be challenging to remember what marketing was like before the internet. I get a kick out of rereading this chapter from a book I wrote many years ago. I think you will, too.
The book’s title was “Media Hypnosis” and I included a chapter called, The New Media. It was a behind-the-scenes look into what our agency was going through at the dawn of the Internet. Keep in mind that the book was published in 2002.
Ultimately, Media Relations Agency became one of the first marketing agencies to build websites for our clients, and to integrate traditional publicity with digital marketing. Over the years, our digital team’s work has earned numerous industry honors and awards.
But back in the 1990s, the conversation was much different.
THE NEW MEDIA
The Internet is fast becoming an integrated communication tool with the ability to link business and consumers like never before. It is also the beginning of a new form of media content. Six years ago I wrote 20,000 of our prospects a letter urging them to reserve their domain name. Of the 20,000 letters I sent out, a dismal seven people replied. Five reserved their names and two chewed me out because they thought I was crying wolf. This was during the magic six months when you could secure any name you wanted. The following is a copy of the letter I sent out urging people to reserve their names. When I reread it, it’s hard for me to believe it has only been six years.
There is something happening that we feel you should know right away. Companies by the score are flooding the World Wide Web (Internet). It’s important that you reserve your company name now. Once a name is taken, no other company can have that name. We have reserved our name, MediaRelations.com, and are in the process of helping many other companies reserve theirs. I’m sure some of you have already reserved your name. If you haven’t, you need to do this right now. It’s actually a very simple process. We simply reserve your name so you can create what’s called a “home page” on the World Wide Web. An easy way to understand this is to think of it as an electronic brochure for your company. The way that customers find your electronic brochure is to type your name into the World Wide Web to search for your brochure.
Imagine how you’d feel if a few months from now your clients typed your company name into the World Wide Web system, and someone else’s literature appeared on the screen. That’s what will happen if someone reserves your name first. That’s why everyone is scrambling to reserve their spot. Once again, I urge you not to delay on this and to call us today. The cost to reserve your name is only a couple hundred dollars. For the tiny bit of money we’re talking about, I’m sure it will be worth your while. Our number is (612) 789-7200.
P.S. I hope I’ve made this clear. This isn’t time to mince words. If you don’t reserve your name, someone else will have it. In my opinion, any company that doesn’t reserve their name within the next few weeks is making a very serious mistake that could plague you for years to come.
Missing the Boat
Now I’d like to tell you a little story about something that happened within my company shortly after this letter went out. I should warn you, it contains some foul language. My wife wouldn’t approve of me writing this but, hey, it’s not a children’s book and as a business owner, you quickly learn that life’s not a popularity contest. So here it goes.
As I write this, I’m on the plane traveling back from a wonderful vacation in the South of France. We came here with John and Lynn Champine who have been our traveling companions for years. John is fifty-five and has worked with computers for a long time. He has firsthand stories of room-size supercomputers filled with vacuum tubes and washing machine size computers immersed in liquid to keep them cool. John is a smart guy who always dabbles on the leading edge of technology. About six years ago, we were on a Caribbean cruise when he offered to introduce me to the head of corporate communications for the original Cray Research, Inc. This company made “supercomputers” a household word. About two weeks after we arrived home, I was at his office visiting the head of the communications group trying to drum up some business. Just as an aside, John mentioned a new application for some evolving technology that would give business people access to information from a newly-emerging facet of technology called the World Wide Web. He thought I might have some interest in something called html. We went to a conference room, and I was given my first exposure to what was to become the dot com or commercial application of the “World Wide Web.” As with most everyone’s first exposure to the Internet, the light bulbs started clicking on immediately. By the time I got out of the meeting and to the parking lot, my mind was swirling with ideas.
For the next six months I was consumed by my experience. I wrote a stream of letters, like the one you just read, pleading with businesses to take action. I had meeting after meeting with my staff, cheerleading the fact that we could make a killing reserving names and developing websites. I told everyone who would listen how it would forever change the face of business. I was convinced it was going to be a huge payday for my company. (As I look back on this I must have been experiencing the same profound excitement as the first people to witness the telephone or motion pictures.)
I know this will sound odd considering the way the Internet caught on, but I’ll be damned if I could convince my staff to sell it. After thinking about it constantly for six months, it seemed so clear. The Internet was like a big filter that all businesses would have to pass through. How you came out on the other side of this filter was anyone’s guess. Maybe you were unaffected, and then again, maybe your business would be changed completely. Every company in the world would have to take some sort of action. You’d really have to be a dimwit to miss this opportunity. Yet, you can’t imagine the lack of interest I received from most of my sales staff and the frustration this caused me. Then I did something I have regretted to this day…
Most people who run a business know not every day is a happy one. Well, this was a bad day and I was on a tear. At the time, I had about a dozen salespeople and I gathered them all in the conference room. I had planned another rah-rah Internet speech, and normally that would brighten my day. It was hard to get myself jazzed but I dug deep and got pumped for the speech. As I delivered my speech, I remember the look on my Account Executives’ faces. It’s that look between boredom and sleep just before your head lurches forward and you nod off. Eyes glazed over, no real focus on anything, mouth hanging open – you know the look. (No, they weren’t hypnotized.) I remember stressing that we had 20,000 solid prospects and none of them had reserved their domain names or created websites yet.
I got so angry at their complacency that I took my notebook, threw it as hard as I could at the wall and yelled, “you can all go f— yourselves. Every business in the country will have a website and you bunch of simple bastards are going to miss the boat. From now on this company doesn’t sell Internet services.” I stormed back into my office and made a vow that I would never think about having my company sell Internet services again.
In hindsight, this seems crazy. If the Internet was the new media, the way companies would deliver their sales messages in the future, we had to be a part of it. But a quirk of many entrepreneurs is the questionable practice of being so stubborn you will cut off your nose to spite your face. I did just that. When I got home from work I was still ranting. I could see the golden opportunity of a lifetime slipping by, and I couldn’t believe my sales staff wasn’t clamoring to be a part of it. I stayed mad for days. My wife is very patient and gave me some advice that, in hindsight, was accurate, but in the thick of things I wasn’t willing to hear. She told me, “You are too early, not too late.”
Four years ago she came on board our PR firm full time and championed the Internet. Her financial background and experience working for Cargill and Ecolab balances my entrepreneurial tendencies. In addition to shoring up the framework of our company, she has patiently created an Internet division and built it into a profit center. In hindsight, I guess sidestepping the Internet craze was a blessing. I could have gotten caught up in the hype and become a flash in the pan like so many other failed Internet companies.
As the owner of a small company of about 50 employees, I can’t afford to pay big salaries to people who don’t create big revenue. What’s happened is the IPO darlings have sucked up all the young techies and paid them unreasonably high salaries. A company like mine that has to make a profit can’t afford their freight ‒ until recently that is. The last few months we have been interviewing a lot of out-of-work Internet applicants. They’re still overpriced, but as older people know, life and the free market are powerful levelers.
As Internet companies take a well-deserved beating, people will be quick to grab their pitchforks and torches and join the hunt. Although it will be fun to see their arrogance dashed, as usual, the pendulum will swing too far. Fundamentally, the Internet is about long-form communication and that’s not going away.
Silly Jingles and Clever Jokes
We’ve become a society so permeated by clever ads that we forget it’s a dumb way to communicate. Imagine boiling your company’s message down to a few sentences, getting all your prospective customers together for a huge gathering, and then putting on a sock puppet and delivering the lines. Although you may get a laugh, you won’t make many sales.
The beauty of the Internet, like the media, is that it gives you time and space to “explain”. Many products solve complex needs. The Internet lets you deal with issues in a complete way. Used correctly, it can be a powerful tool for persuasion. Mark my words: The new millennium will see the sun set on advertisements. Companies will turn more and more to long-form communication because that’s the way humans prefer to communicate. The most unsophisticated salesperson would tell you they will sell more products by fully explaining the features and benefits of what they have to offer, rather than singing a silly 30-second jingle.
As more tools for long-form communication become available, more companies will wake up to their selling power and funnel budgets earmarked for capsulized ads into long-form sales messages.
When you hire us to work on your digital marketing, rest assured you’re hiring a company with experience and vision. Whether you’re looking to build a site, manage your digital presence; or use our expertise to increase your leads and sales conversions, our team is a good choice.