Two years out of college, as a young reporter for a business weekly in Upstate New York, I met the crusty old publisher of the Pacific Business News – a business journal in Honolulu. I didn’t like him much. I was idealistic and ready to change the world. I was living in the snow belt and learning how businesses work. I was reporting on Michael Milken (a Master of the Universe, the junk-bond king, deal-maker supreme) and leveraged buyouts. I was writing about how empires were made, how old cities were rebuilt, how capitalism made the world turn.
This old guy, meanwhile, was living in paradise and frustratingly pragmatic. Standing before a room full of wide-eyed people like me, he was asked to dispense some advice to us young guns. After something like 50 years in business, you know what he came up with?
“Names make news,” he said. That was it.
To look at his newspaper was to understand how this pedestrian philosophy played out in the real world. While it has been updated over the past 25 years to get ahead of changing times, the product I saw that day was gray and cheap. Articles were short, reading as if written by flacks and hacks. Every person’s name that was mentioned – there were a lot of them – was bold-faced. Some articles seemed concocted for the specific purpose of highlighting a large roster of names.
I was unimpressed. I promptly forgot that old publisher’s name and promised myself I’d forget his tired old advice too.
What I discounted was his experience. He’d been running the same publication for something like 50 years. It’s possible, I now realize, he had learned and discarded many other truths along the way – distilling his success into one rule of thumb that fostered success for his product in his market at his time.
Names make news.
I never did manage to forget that advice. While it’s not the only rule I’ve lived by over the years, I’ve had many occasions to apply it, and it has never failed me.
It came back in a rush this morning when Seth Godin’s most recent blog post came through my e-mail. Seth is a marketing guru; he dispenses more good advice in a week than many of us dispense in a lifetime.
Seth’s advice on the subject
doesn’t come across like that of a crusty old publisher marking time in Hawaii. It’s contemporary, directed at social media marketers, online journalists, bloggers – would-be masters of the new digital universe.
But it’s equally concise and to the point. When people look at photo albums, he says, they go directly to pictures of themselves.
Knowing that, the question is: how often are you featuring the photo, name, needs or wants of your customers where everyone (or at least the person you’re catering to) can see them?
So listen up Internet 2.0ers. Your self-indulgent rants, your complex business models, your highly-designed user experiences are all well and good. But as media change, some things don’t. Names make news. They always have and they always will.
Image courtesy of graur razvan ionut; FreeDigitalPhotos.net