Order up! Picking the medium that's right for your message
I’ve been reading One Summer: America 1927, the new book by Bill Bryson with a wonderful message. A lot of big things happened that year, from Charles Lindbergh’s trans-Atlantic flight to Babe Ruth’s 60 home runs to the first dynamite blasts carving Mount Rushmore. People went crazy for these feats. Lindbergh could barely go out in public for the adoring crowds.
Then, as now, media was also one of the big things. But figuring out a trend such as media was not as easy as grasping a new world record. On the relationship between radio content and advertising, Herbert Hoover is said to have declared: “If a speech by the President is to be used as the meat in a sandwich of two patent medicine advertisements, there will be no radio left.”
Of course, advertising did not kill radio—it enabled radio to flourish. And then the question shifted. By the early 1930s, newspaper advertising was down by a third and magazine ads by half. Ten years after network radio began, nearly 250 daily newspapers were out of business.
All of which sounds like the media realignment we’ve been experiencing for the past several years. Just substitute Internet and digital for radio, throw in a healthy portion of hand wringing and confusion, and there you have it.
I, however, believe that each individual message, each batch of content, and each communications medium has its place—and that careful mixing and matching can produce stunning results.
When I imagined Mr. Hoover’s sandwich, what I saw was pretty boring. Meat and bread. But that’s not the way communications function at all. We don’t just pluck out the meat (well, sometimes we do). We bite all the way through the bread and the tomatoes and the lettuce. Then tomorrow we have a hot dog. And the next day, soup.
Sometimes our message demands the depth of a white paper. Sometimes the speed of a tweet. The vibrancy of video. The always-on access of a web page. Or… who knows what’s next? Remember: only a decade or so after 1927, the first televisions appeared. And communications changed again.
by Ernie Wood