Message, medium or audience?

I received a new-product release from an unknown supplier last week. This is not news. I get them all the time, mostly from offshore. We have a worldwide reputation, and people want to break into the Canadian market.

Kerry Knudsen

Unlike the competition, we base our product-release choices on reader interest and reader value, not as part of an ad program. However, we have to vet releases as to interest and value, so we try to identify the sender and see if they are even in the Canadian market. Usually with the new ones, we are told they don’t have any distribution but would like some, and will certainly advertise if they get enough sales, which is, of course, backward.

In any event, we need to know whether the products are even available in Canada, so I wrote back to get verification. My e-mail was immediately rejected as spam. It was not spam. It was a personal communication from me to the PR firm, with no embedded links and no cc:s or blind cc:s.

Since this happens occasionally, I sent the query again, this time from my gmail account, but got the same, immediate rejection. So I was bemused at being called a spammer by a spammer. Hasn’t life taken on a shaded hue?

Later in the day, I was messaging back and forth with a former advertiser that “decided to go all-digi years ago.”

This one still puzzles me. I study this stuff to death, and I report on findings by marketing and PR agencies, government agencies, results for other magazines – the works – and I can’t figure a rationale that stands up to scrutiny.

Let’s take a look at what I wrote back.

I think we are all aware that the Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) has been pretty well abandoned as unenforceable. However, I think it is worth wondering why it came into being in the first place. It came into being, as did similar legislation in the U.S., because unsolicited, invasive, interruptive bulk e-mails irk people right to death.

As the CASL was being debated and since, I have used our November “Readers’ Survey” to poll the market on spam, and I got two answers. First, the readers, your customers, overwhelmingly said they do not want multiple, commercial e-letters bonging their computer and phone inboxes. Secondly, I always get a few supplier-salesmen trying to sneak in and skew the results. This time, it was significantly more, and they were lobbying for more spam – a direct contradiction to the desires of the market.

For example, in 2012 I asked the readers of Wood Industry magazine whether they want publishers to “push” digital content to their mailboxes. Their response was 84.3 percent “No.”

We asked the same question of the same audience in 2019, and the response was 85 percent “No.”

In 2013, we surveyed both markets on their own uses of digital promotion. Of the Coverings (flooring) market 58 percent said they don’t use digital. Of those that do, 59 percent said they don’t know what their ROI is on digital, 21 percent said their ROI is below expectations and four percent said it is “very poor.”

In the same month and year, we pitched the same questions to the Wood Industry market. Of them, 61 percent said they don’t use digital. Of the rest, 60 percent don’t know what their ROI is on digital, 13 percent said their ROI is below expectations and 4 percent said it’s very poor.

Does this mean “digital” is worthless? Not a bit. Of the digital content we send out, 81 percent of respondents say they read the editorial “right away” or “when I get around to it.” This is because each of our e-letters is original, independent content and the readers are accustomed to expecting original, independent content.

We also surveyed the readers on frequency, and 94 percent of them really like the e-letters, and think once a month is just fine. Only 5 percent want it bumped up to twice a month, and only 2 percent want it weekly. Nobody wants it less frequently.

This establishes a fact. Your customers do NOT want to be used as a marketing target for a speed-of-light machine gun. They have told the governments, and the governments have listened. They have told me, and I have listened. In fact, the only people that have not listened are some non-focused marketers and a peso-hungry media that can’t wait to consume tomorrow what it can smell today.

These surveys are a snapshot of what the markets want and expect from “digital,” and it is not dissimilar to print, television, video or radio. People want their time and intelligence respected, and they want an “honest broker in the middle” protecting both from rapacious, driven, movin’-on salesmen.

From time to time I get the argument that spam is somehow new technology. It is not. What may foster this idea of newness is that people think the internet came about in the early ‘90s. By then, things were well advanced. What happened in 1993 was the invention of a little software bit called winsock, or windows socket. This allowed the internet’s Linux code system to integrate with Windows and provided worldwide accessibility, hence the name worldwide web, or www.*.

Back in the days of paper mail, junk mail was roundly despised, and marketers studied every trick to get people to open a sales piece, including to disguise it as something else. When the shysters got hold of the idea of an internet in the mid ‘80s, the explosion of selling e-addresses was immediate and violent, as were legal-, professional- and consumer-level attempts to stop, restrict or regulate it. As a volunteer sysop (system operator) on the old CompuServe digital platform, I was part of the effort to identify, label and restrict spam abuses both inside and outside the system.

 

Stepping back, the view from my desk begs a question. What motivates publishers to sell, abuse and misrepresent their reader lists? I get it that there is money and that we hire outside agencies to renew or enhance our lists. However, the customer base has made its wishes clear through formal and informal means, as well as in our multiple surveys. They don’t like it.

Also, if you are spamming your own list, what do you do when somebody hits Unsubscribe? If you are obeying any sense of propriety or law, you have to unsubscribe, and have lost the attention of that person, likely forever – especially if you get identified and listed on the recipient’s company’s twit filter.

As I reported before, I was at a conference of the American Society of Business Publications Editors last year, and one of the presenters was a proponent of spam. He said it really doesn’t matter whether they lose some readers, they can make it up by spamming the others twice and – you’ll love this – “the customer (you) will never know.” No wonder publishers have the same social rating as used-car dealers and lawyers.

We bring current, real news of marketing in the digital world. We may be realistic about digital, but we are totally capable in both digital production and database management. We could not send professional-level magazines through a modem – to Siberia, if we wanted to – and have each copy hand-delivered across North America and the world if we were not.

However, we are also in for the long game, and we have to report the bad with the good, and almost all the real reporting on digital is bad. Last Thursday (today, for me), for example, AdAge’s lead story was, “Twitter advertising revenue plummets despite record growth in daily users.” Or yesterday: Adaptive Algorithmic Advertising: Performance Advertising’s New Game Changer. “Advertising’s new game changer? Why, we might ask, does adverting need a new game changer, already again this month? Is there something they aren’t telling you?

I am certain all your digital-spend salesmen can explain how that doesn’t really apply in their cases, but a 19-percent drop in Twitter sales is a 19-percent drop in Twitter sales and a game changer is a game changer. Or not. These are also the same headlines, more-or-less, that preceded the demise of the dot-com market, MySpace, CompuServe, AOL, GEnie and hundreds more “money-for-nuthin’” ventures by the movin’-on set.

We have discussed all this before, but at our roots, humans will pay for and kill for food, sex and information. On the information side, digital has never been able to achieve the status of “credible,” since we allowed people to hide their identities and scan your credit cards.

All this raises the question of why, if the readers don’t like it, do most contemporary publishers push digital when they have no original, independent content to be pushed?

Could it be that they having nothing else to sell, have no audience to protect and can’t generate an audience response? Have they become an unpaid secretary pool for their top-three favourite advertisers, can repurpose new product releases and awards shots or can copy click-bait stories from Google Search and save the costs of reporting?

Let’s be honest. If you are not getting the best ROI on your marketing spend, there can only be three reasons: message, medium or audience.

Digital is not “nothing.” We use it, and we can use it at the highest professional levels. It is unparalleled in speed, but lacking in accuracy and trust from the market. The problem is, magazines were never meant to be fast. They were meant to be informative. Still waters run deep.

 

Sands of time

Stephen King, our long-time associate publisher and colleague has decided to follow new life-challenges and has left the employ of W.I. Media, Inc. and Wood Industry magazine. Please join with us in wishing Steve God-speed and every success in all his endeavours.

Kerry Knudsen

As you know, we are a small and independent publisher, with two national print magazines and a palette of events, surveys, e-letters, websites and so on. Because our industries are so closely focused on the “occupied space” sector, and because we subscribe to a highly independent, original, content-dense and intensive publication model, we need to consider next steps carefully. It will be a challenge to find a new sales contact that can fit the bill. 

In the interim, I will be the main and only sales contact. My contact details are below. 

 

We are closing the July/August issue of Wood Industry on Tuesday. This will be a double challenge for many of our advertisers. As you know, the IWF in Atlanta this August has been cancelled. This cuts two ways. One, companies will not want to advertise in advance of a show that will not happen. On the other hand, the cancellation of the show limits available promotional opportunities to very few. I get it. We not only have a big dog in the fight, we ARE the big dog. Nonetheless, your options are being reduced to promoting or not promoting your company, your goods and your services. 

W.I. Media remains the only unique media option in the market. How is that? Our readers look forward to our objective, no-hidden-messages reader profiles. For over 20 years, we have been visiting shops across Canada and finding out what makes business owners click. Our readers benefit from our business-to-business features. While other publications may try to teach your customers why they need to buy your competitors’ equipment, we humbly proclaim that we don’t know how to manufacture wood products. We may have a better idea than most, but we stick with what we know, have been trained for and have a long record of success reporting: costs of production, environmental rules, costs of compliance, import/export, labour, economics, etc. We are specialists in original business content, not repurposing copy. 

Our readers respond overwhelmingly to our no-holds-barred editorial commentary. It still surprises us that in this strange, new world, some people think other people should be restrained from thinking, visiting and discussing. Our readers don’t think so, and the positive responses to our commentaries is, frankly, stunning. We have posted lists of hundreds of comments before, and can again if you like. Drop me a line. The point iswhether people agree or disagree with a  popular publication does not matter. What matters is that they read. When they actually open and read a trade magazine, your ad gets seen. This is the difference between a professional trade magazine and a hackers catalog. 

 

We work hard to provide new product releases that actually mean something, not “value-added” for the biggest advertisers. Your customers know when they are being played, and they don’t like it. This has been surveyed to death, and the results are always the same. Your customers do not like being abused, even when other publishers see their names as a change purse to tap up to three times a day. 

The July/August issue will deal with marketing and current developments in the digital attacks on free marketing, free expression and the right to do business. It will be read. We will also present the ever-popular Bullets and By the Numbers departments, as well as the photo bit in the back, this time featuring a shot along the Ottawa River in Quebec. 

We will continue to support and advance all the shows that have an interest in the Canadian market. However, in the interim, we will redouble our editorial efforts to capture and hold the attention of your customers, to energize the industry as a whole and to support the free flow of real information through all our products on a monthly or oftener basis. 

I can’t call everybody in the wake of Steve’s departure, and there is little time. Shoot me a line or call. It’s not difficult. Our rates are our rates. No hidden discounts for your competitors. We have frequency programs, a distributor’s option for people that rep several brands and discounts for programs prepared by an agency. We also offer no-cost ad creation and production, as well as professional advice on markets and impact. 

It’s a changing world. Some will advance; some will fail. We will do everything in our power to make certain you are in the driver’s seat with your market profile.  

dios, Steve, we had some adventures. You made a difference. 

 

Kerry Knudsen, 647-274-0733

Best business plan

You may have missed it, but Sonya Duhé, who was announced on March by Arizona State University as its incoming dean of the School of Journalism, was abruptly canceled following allegations by a few former students that said she has a history of making racist and insensitive comments.

Kerry Knudsen

This is just one in a long line of people that have been accused and cancelled across a spectrum of companies, agencies and disciplines over the past few years – a trend that is clearly accelerating. Note that people are being punished by accusation. No trial. This is also known as an extra-judicial proceeding (outside the law), or vigilantism. You know… the lynching guys. 

We have spoken many times about the value of independent speech. In North America, back in the day when it mattered, all people were seen to have the right to say what they wished without fear of reprisal. Now, most of us that deal with print media are asked to fear reprisal on a daily basis. 

But what’s really going on? The fact is, back in the ‘80s the Supreme Courts of both Canada and the U.S. found a “limited right” of free expression for commercial speech. This, of course, simply opened the floodgates, and the freedom of speech went to whomever paid the most. And that move to whomever threatened the most. 

Commercial speech is not always advertisers. It can also be associations or gangs, real or imagined. For example, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, founded in 1985 by PETA activist Neil Barnard, reportedly has less than five percent physicians among its members, and uses its claims of the medical superiority of a vegan diet to form public opinion among young people. Many other so-called committees, associations, organizations and groups are similarly misrepresented in terms of number, influence, qualifications and backing. 

The idea of the cancel culture co-evolved politically as it grew in advertising, leading to the by-now cliched model of demanding editorial control over a publication or pulling advertising and riding it to death. 

 

Let me be clear. I know this stuff. I came to Canada from the U.S. in November 1994 to save a magazine, Canadian Sportfishing, a consumer magazine, from death. That was my job. I saved magazines from death in the U.S., and got commissioned to come to Canada. 

Canadian Sportfishing had followed the Pied Piper of commercial speech. It had overstated its circulation and freely plugged its favoured advertisers. And it had lost multiple-times five figures in 1994. 

I took over, and the next year the magazine showed a six-figure profit. Easy Peasy? Not really. My wife says my biggest mistake in business is that I make it look too easy. Whether that is true or not, the owners decided after three years that the advertisers wanted it back the way it was, a trained chimp could do what I do and they refused to pay a promised bonus, which is a no-return conversation for me. I left and the magazine was dead in two years. 

Credibility matters. This is not just a moral statement; it is a business plan. If you can’t believe a thing you are told about a product or service, you will soon quit paying for it. This is what happened to virtually all North American trade magazines in 2008/2009. Commercial interests had taken over editorial, credibility vanished and titles shrank to skeletons and died. 

Let’s try an analogy. Biden is going to win in November, right? All the polls say so. Of course, all those same polls said Hillary would win in 2016, right up until 10:00 on election day. But the polls were wrong. 

Are all polls, then, wrong? No. Good polls can poll what they poll. It depends on the skill of the pollsters, the sample size, the randomness of the sample, sampling bias, etc.  

But here’s the trick. Television news outlets need a horse race to get viewers. No disaster; no viewers. No viewers; no ads. No ads; no channel. But you can put bias in polls by polling only certain cities, polling more heavily in certain age groups, polling Cosmopolitan instead of Sports Illustrated, etc. And you can create a race where there is none, so it’s arguable that polls and bias have caused the decline in viewership of such channels as CNN. 

Those are facts. Now, virtually all trade magazines failed in 2008/2009. Your agencies and consultants will tell you it was the internet. It wasn’t. Magazines lost value because they lost value – people stopped paying attention. The Supreme Courts passed the hammer to special interests. The credibility of journalists went from the top to the bottom (clergy to lawyer). That’s an interesting one, since lawyers get paid to represent sides, not truth, and I think society is losing. So did Shakespeare and Mark Twain, just to insert myself into good, if dead, company.  

Another interesting fact is that one of the oldest texts in existence admonishes all people to not bear false witness against neighbours. I’m not saying the former students were lying about the racism of Duhé, but it would be worth checking, wouldn’t it? That would be called trying a case in court, or justice. Justice is based on old concepts of law and just-ness. Guilt by accusation is based on mob rule and lynching. 

I have tried to get my competitors in print to endorse any old set of standards, just so we can have a public discussion, and they refuse. There is a good reason for this. They would lose. I know what I am doing, and I can walk the talk.  

For example, I can say “content created to serve the private interests of those paying for its publication is not journalism,” because that is from the Canadian Association of Journalists Code of Ethics. Or I can say, “Advertising”and“advertisement(s)”are defined as any message (other than those excluded from the application of thisCode), the content of which message is controlled directly or indirectly by the advertiser expressed in any language and communicated in any medium (except those listed under Exclusions) to Canadians with the intent to influence their choice, opinion or behaviour,” because that is from the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards. 

I can say other publications are not magazines because Canada Post and Heritage Canada agree that “To qualify as a publication your item must have a minimum of 30 percent news and editorial, because it’s in their regulations.” 

Since all material under the influence of advertisers is an ad, no matter of how it’s concealed, and since anybody can count column inches that chooses to, I can say our competitors are not magazines and not eligible for Publications Mail or Heritage Canada subsidies. 

And I can say that the Society of Professional Journalists says, “Journalists should: Expose unethical conduct in journalism, including within their organizations,” because if I don’t say it, I am in violation. 

So I request that trade magazines must comply with known and published standards, not to be haughty or a citation-citer, but because failure to defend our credibility is a bad business plan, and it shows. 

 

What W.I. Media can promise its advertisers is that we don’t need to inflate our circulation and are proud of our relationship with the market – your customers. They know and trust our products and say so in surveys that we conduct according to the most stringent objective standards. 

Our competitors, of course, say we don’t know what we are talking about. Fair enough. Simple standards of proof can apply. I have cited sources and can cite more. We have a long history of success, even under direct and unfair attack from a few remarkably unbrilliant advertisers that want to rule the worldI have said we know what we are doing. One of our financial sources, on a call-anytime basis, is president of five banks in the U.S. One of our IT sources, on a call-anytime basis, is team leader of cybersecurity for a fleet of power-generation stations. One of our sources on science is chairman of the physics department at the University of Calgary. He’s my brother. He may not pick up when I call, but I’ll catch him sooner or later. 

We know information resources have to include more than whoever pays the piper. Information is life. Accurate information is wealth. Faux information is taking previously published, copied new-product releases and spamming your customers’ mailboxes.  

The rise of cancel culture and the injuries to business are now both inextricable and visible everywhere you look. The latest fatalities are Eskimo Pies and Aunt Jemima, if you are watching the news. We have a bunch of snot-nosed nerdlings trying to discern the etymologies of brands while expressing their rights to legalized dope. It would be hilarious if it weren’t so damaging. 

Anyway, you have a right to be right; we are here to help. If anybody can find anything wrong with anything above, let’s hear it. Fact matters. I’m supposed to be nice, but that requires a minimum of two. 

Business minding 

I guess I have to admit I am becoming less optimistic about this Covid deal. I was all in when it began. The government was projecting millions of deaths if we didn’t do “something.” However, now we have done “something,” but if you look at the backtrack, it weaves like a midnight highway on Canada Day. Shelter in place, social distance, quarantine, shut down churches, open up pot dispensaries, masks, no masks, wear gloves “properly….” Everybody is an expert. 

Kerry Knudsen

Now, some are advocating for no return to work unless a vaccine comes out. The problem is, there is little likelihood of an effective vaccine. By “effective,” I mean a vaccine that provides immunity. Measles vaccines give immunity. So do rabies vaccines, polio vaccines and smallpox vaccines. But flu? At the best of times, a flu shot provides limited immunity, and there are no vaccines for other such coronaviruses as MERS and SARS.  

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a medical doctor or a wanna-be. I just try to research and understand. For example, one thing I have not heard discussed is the “challenge dose.” In brief, a challenge dose in the amount of pathogen necessary to ensure infection in a lab animal. You can give an animal a little virus or a little bacteria, and it it’s not enough to kill it, it may provide immunity. That shows a distinction between a dangerous dose and a non-dangerous dose. The way it’s being reported, it sounds as if one particulate in 10 billion can kill you if you don’t follow enough rules. 

I just wish they would tell us they don’t know if they don’t know. I imagine the big secret has to do with blame, since all sides are locked and loaded to use germ warfare in the next election here, or south of the border. Everybody’s fault but ours. 

 

There are, however, reasons to be worried. A favourite restaurant down in Burlington, Ont., on the lake shore is gone. Dead. Out of business after 30 years of supporting a family. 

I always wonder what happens to families that lose their businesses. I know there is no hard-and-fast rule. Some start new ones. Some go to work in the same business they once owned. Some commit suicide. 

One acquaintance has a couple of gyms. On one, the TMIs (taxes, maintenance and interest) are $6,000 per month, not counting the lease, and the landlord has to apply for assistance, which had not happened last time we spoke. We don’t know how this one ends out, but the business is on the ropes. 

Canada’s largest banks yesterday reported prospective losses of $8.9 billion in bad loans that will “wipe out more than half their profits.” Hard to tear up. Banks get paid while they sleep. 

Of course, the bank employees also get paid, the government workers get paid, the out-of-work teachers get paid, the pensioners get paid…. Maybe you get paid. 

The government says small businesses can open up with restrictions. Restaurants may soon open at 25 percent capacity. This is what the government thinks of small business. Open up, pay your overheads and make a profit at 25 percent turnover. Politicians know nothing of business, and thinking they can help is remarkably unbrilliant. 

Your customers, our readers, may not make it. Some will; some won’t. But the government is encouraging us to suck it up and be ready for an extension of the lockdown — for some. Please be quiet, they say. Bigger businesses need more help sooner. Anybody that has lived on a farm knows you don’t make scary noises on the way to the abattoir.  

Some of your customers won’t make it. A $40k government loan with a $10k treat if you pay back within 18 months is sort of disheartening. We each have our own budgets and burdens, but $10k will barely cover one mail bill from Canada Post on a slow month for us. And there is a kickback on wages, but for us that has been on and off. Mostly off. It depends. Some months the spreadsheets recommend suspending publication just to pick up the subsidy. One of the weirdest things I have seen. 

 

What are we doing about it at W.I. Media Inc.? We will give you the best access to your market in the country, bar none. Now, more than ever, this is critical. An industry must have a way to communicate. Self-isolating in business is remarkably unbrilliant. Folks need to know you’re alive. 

Of all the magazines in our sector, we provide the most deliberate, reader-focused, original material. Period. I will likely never understand why information resources got bullied so badly by special interests. Weakness and greed, I guess. But our readers tell us time after time that we are the best. We don’t spam them on a daily basis as our competitors do, even though we have the addresses and we could. And we don’t rely on heavy-handed suppliers to take their turns at being propaganda columnists. 

How many times have we pointed to our countries’ professional standards to try and teach those that never learned? According to the Canadian Code of Advertising StandardsAdvertising’andadvertisement(s)are defined as any message (other than those excluded from the application of thisCode), the content of which message is controlled directly or indirectly by the advertiser expressed in any language and communicated in any medium (except those listed under Exclusions) to Canadians with the intent to influence their choice, opinion or behaviour. 

Does everybody get that? Any column, new product release, news item, profile or feature that is supplied by an advertiser is an ad, NOT original content. 

This is not some silly rule thought up by a committee of out-of-work writers. It is the result of decades of studies and trials. Germany tried its version of propaganda based on what it believed to be the American (Bernays) model back in the mid-last century. It works up to a point, then people get irked. People that actually know publishing know this. People that know bean-counting both don’t know it, and can’t get it. Believe me. People that know neither just kneel for the meanest bidder. 

Of course, it is common in trade magazines to sell out the market. Monkey see/monkey do. I see Quebecor yesterday announced it is launching a new “native ad” format on 15 of its sites. I wonder if any of those geniuses ever went to school. I’m betting not. 

To them, the market is replaceable. Business abhors a void, they will say, and if they suck the blood from their sites and magazines, as for which there is such a long history, they figure another site or magazine will pop up and they can suck on that one, too. 

But that leaves the market swinging in the wind. Nobody to trust. Nowhere to turn. Politicians know nothing of business, and hoping for them to help is also remarkably unbrilliant. 

Take a look at our content, our photos, our standards and our credibility with the readers.  

If you have an idea how to help your customers survive this barrage and come out standing, we’re here to help. It’s the way a proper campaign wins ground. If our readers liked abattoirs, they would have owned delis. 

  

Listening harder than ever

Would it be a conflict of interests if an agent for an advertiser was sleeping with the publisher of a magazine in which that advertiser placed ads? Is that what is meant by the term “media relations?”

Gasp! We don’t talk about personal relationships!

Kerry Knudsen

Well, normally we don’t. But what if that advertiser then pulled all its support of a competing magazine? That would look odd, eh?

But that’s not the question. The question is whether it’s a conflict of interests. It is, and there is a reason such principles as conflict-of-interests rules exist, and it has nothing to do with personal relationships. It has to do with business. Big time. Best practices (standards) are why business works. Failure of best practices is why business fails.

Way back in the misty past, people learned how to save information. It started with cuneiform on clay, then moved to papyrus…. It’s a long story. Along the way, Gutenberg invented the printing press (actually, movable type, but whatever), and mass production and dissemination of information became possible. Books abounded and literacy jumped.

It was not long before pamphlets became a preferred way of circulating information, including rules and objections to rules, and what we call periodicals were born – newspapers and magazines. They were hugely successful as a genre, and people paid a subscription price to receive them.

Soon, commercial interests got interested in the attention their customers were paying to such periodicals, they offered to pay the publisher to insert a commercial message and advertising was off to the races.

The critical point is that advertisers came to publishers because the publishers had access to the market, and they could provide it.

Later on, a few advertisers mused that they could publish, too, and that was tried with failing results. It was clear that anything advertisers did autonomously would have a different reception in the market than would more normalized editorial fare, and a small segment spun off as catalogs, but best practices recognized the failure and started taking notes.

Other commercial interests decided to buy periodicals, hide the fact they were commercial products and trick the readers. This is analogous to one of those 1:00 a.m. nights you may have seen an otherwise normal adult see a karaoke machine and transmogrify into Mick Jagger – a quality of vision shared by one. That didn’t work, either. Just look at what has happened to all the supplier-dominated trade magazines that followed that Pied Piper until 2008. Dead or bequeathed.

 

I was invited to join the wood industry in Canada in 1997. I did not apply for a job. I was asked to help bring Woodworking magazine out of the Stone Age. It existed, but it was only a “bingo book:” a catalog of new product and news releases. The only columnist it had was Doug Reid of BC Saw and Tool.

Doug is one of the greatest, most upstanding, customer-oriented writers I have ever worked with. I took over, and Doug stayed with me until he retired. Along with Doug, I hired some other columnists and anchored them to the best practices of magazine content with Doug as the example, added feature material on business issues related to the industry and kept some of the new product and news releases as warranted based on interest for the industry. Those who recall know it was both a stellar magazine, and in a different universe than the Woodworking of today.

How did Woodworking begin? Again, back into the mists, a group of potential advertisers needed access to a focused, industry-specific audience for their wares. They were stuck advertising wood industry machinery in metalworking magazines. That group included Richard Bluteau at SCM, Horst Petermann at Homag, Claude Roy at Biesse Canada and Federico Broccoli at Biesse U.S., Peter Feindel at Taurus Craco and others. They approached Action Communications in Markham, Ont., and Woodworking was born. Go ask. They were begging. In 2005, I was invited to start Wood Industry. I did not ask for or suggest I needed a job. I was begged. In fact, I was also asked to take over as publisher of Woodworking, as the then-publisher was being shown the door. I chose to create Wood Industry instead, leaving Woodworking’s “publisher” job to the want ads.

In turn, I invited all my columnists to join the new publication, and they did. Things went smashingly for a few years, until my partner at the time decided to execute a shotgun buy/sell clause in the contract, failed to take over the company and left. A story for another day. Let’s say there was a political effort to realign resources once Woodworking was abandoned by its new owners and the suppliers (remember what I said?) saw a vacant karaoke machine.

 

What happened is fairly obvious. The advertiser mentioned in the lead is Ligna – the big German show. Once its agent and Woodworking’s new publisher became an item, all Ligna’s promotional resources got directed exclusively to Woodworking. To hell with solo, this karaoke set was going to be a choir.

Ligna’s biggest exhibitors are, surprise!, Homag, SCM and Biesse. So all their promotional resources went exclusively to Woodworking, as did all the resources of Blum and a few other European manipulators.

I am not complaining – just explaining. This is what happened, and I am happy to meet any or all of them in court. If I’m not telling the truth, I am in big trouble, and reporters can’t sit on the facts.

So, the Wood Manufacturing Council, and its attached, so-called associations, fell in withWoodworking, as did whatever hangers-on and wanna-bes from around the industry added their weight to the clot, minus my requirement to abide by best practices. Do you think your customers deserve to know what resources the government is making available every year to the WMC, where they go and who benefits? The WMC says not, and refuses to comply with the Access to Information Act. This irks the living daylights out of your customers, as we revealed by surveying them.

That leaves the rest of you, our loyal advertisers and associates, sometimes wondering how this will end out.

 

Here’s the thing. Your customers, my readers, are not having a good time. Not at all. Covid-19 is eating them alive. They are being told by the government that they can’t produce what they normally sell, but they can get a 75-percent subsidy to keep their employees working. And they are being told they can borrow $40,000 at no interest, which loan has to be paid back by the end of 2022 or there is interest. How much of what you sell can your customers buy for $40 grand?

And paid back with what? At the moment, it appears the supply chains will be disrupted, which means there will be some opportunity and maybe some loss. Their customer base will be very short-term oriented, and the playing field will look like a WWI battle. Mines and craters everywhere. There will be no playbook. Employees will be flush with no break in pay, while owners will be broke, with collapsed supply lines, overdue rent and vacated orders.

Would you care to guess who will stand up, claiming they are the playbook? I won’t say, but I have some good money to bet if anybody cares to wager real cash instead of platitudes.

Oh, hell. I’ll say it. It will be Homag, Blum, SCM, Biesse and those guys.

Horst has been gone from the industry for years, having been replaced by Christian Vollmers. Christian repeatedly corrects me when I refer to his gang as a cartel. He says they are not a cartel.

This is not hard to puzzle out. If Christian is not part of a cartel, why has Homag been exclusive with Woodworking for the past 12 years, along with Biesse and SCM? Is it coincidence? Is it because of market response? Is it because they are broke? Or is it because Woodworking does what it’s told, lets Christian be an at-will “columnist” and dutifully prints Homag’s news releases five or six times over to make certain the remaining audience can “get it?” More importantly, what has it benefitted Homag, the cartel or the industry now that it’s had 12 years to perform? Cartels are what they are and they do what they do. They abuse power and sap strength.

It is hard to imagine how adults in business can be so far off the target in understanding the value of media relations.

I really hate it when people have to state the obvious, but having the history I do in publishing in both the U.S. and Canada in consumer, trade and association magazines, I am not about to listen to Christian about the proper use of English. Or marketing. Or publishing. Or what’s good for our industry. I will, however, defer when it comes to how a European engineering company can survive multiple holding companies by offshoring its production to the lowest bidder. Unlike Christian, I am certified to teach PR, magazines, journalism, advertising or English at any university in North America. Why am I not doing that? Because I have lasted in this shark pond as an example of choosing to use strength over power for the benefit of the market. Think about that. Wood Industry exists because we believe in the industry, not the cartel that wants to devour it.

 

Over the next few months, we will all need to find our way through the broken field of what once was before the pandemic. The readers will be looking for help – for valid information they can trust.

Our other magazine, Coverings, does not have the pack of jackals trying to hamstring its industry. Its readers are half the number of Wood Industry, yet the magazine is outperforming Wood Industry in sales and in advertiser confidence going forward. Some of the world’s actual “big guys,” Laticrete, for example, or Mohawk or Mapei, love our magazine and love the response they get from our readers. You should think about that. They are getting return on investment.

I have asked all the magazines in our sector to endorse even one set of best practices so we can see where they stand. We publish the standards we endorse on our web front page, and we expect to be held to account if we don’t practice what we preach. No takers.

We don’t allow conflicts of interest. We don’t copy and paste new product releases from issue to issue. We don’t hide sponsorships inside our editorial.

Do we have to make hard decisions? Yes. This is one. It is no secret to me that this column will make a few advertisers uncomfortable. But it has to be done, or nobody knows. That is the strength of being right versus the power of threat. That is the job of a “publication of record.” At this point, there are only two ways to go, and you want a professional at the communication controls. The cartel is not your friend.

I regret that this can be accused of sounding angry. I don’t lose my temper. Ask around. However, I am looking at the readers I have been serving for over two decades of my life abandoned by the government, forced to go out of production and pay idle staff, take loans that are otherwise not needed and left to their own devices to figure a way toward recovery. And they will be invited to consume digital spam and recycled-product scrapbooks or die.

That won’t help. They need to hear fear will solve nothing – there are just decisions to be made.

I have invited all the members of the cartel to visit, to discuss best practices and to turn our energy toward the future of the industry. Crickets.

Pity; the microphone is available.

Enough of that. One question remains. Do you have anything to say to your customers? They are listening now, harder than ever.

All in this together

This will be a big week, and we have a lot to cover.

Kerry Knudsen

First, a big change. As most of you know, Wood Industry has a sister magazine, Coverings, for people that sell, install and design floorcovering products in Canada. When we started the Supply Side newsletter some time back, we addressed only the wood side, since there were issues needing addressing that affected only the wood industry. However, there is much to recommend combining the suppliers’ news for both, to include both serving family businesses in Canada and both dealing with the “occupied space” sector in Canada. Also, there is a fair amount of crossover between such topics as installation, adhesives, coatings, safety, costs of compliance, etc.

In any event, I would like to welcome the suppliers to the Coverings magazine audience to this monthly industry chat. As usual, you will find it different from the run-of-the-mill e-blasts. It comes once a month, has commentary and opinion and provides a different perspective on marketing, business and government. Folks that want to advertise will find the extra audience comes with no charge.

Next, by now you may have heard, but you should give consideration to any on-line meetings you are conducting with Zoom. Here is a little inside baseball from my daily workflow from the Columbia Journalism Review. Many organizations have taken to on-line meeting for their confidential strategy meetings, and Zoom has proven questionable. My personal attitude toward such things has typically been, “Who cares? There’s too much stuff flying around for them to pay attention to it all.” However, another take might be to wonder why they created a program that could harvest that much data and then not use it.

Be cautious about the way you view statistics. Even if you always filter them, it’s a new day. For example, the new jobless numbers came out last week. Following the same-old formats, news organizations are reporting these as jobs “lost.” I think a new category has imposed itself on the landscape, that being “jobs paused.”

This matters. Your customers, my readers, are looking at a heaving horizon. Is their business going this way or that way? And nobody knows.

I don’t have any criticism of either Trump or Trudeau at this point. Leaders are elected, they do what they can in a crisis with the resources available, and they are subject to recall if their personal interests run amok.

However, my take is that we will not, as Trump indicates, return to business as usual. Try looking out the window of one of your customers’ factories and stores. Those business owners and managers have to sell into a market.

My uncle was a radio operator in the U.S. Marines on Iwo Jima during WWII. He told the story of the Japanese knowing that radio operators were a critical link in the organization of the attack, so they got his position in the daytime, and at night would roll out the artillery. After one night’s bombardment, he said, he could stand up in his foxhole and place each hand in different shell holes. He thanked his drill instructor for being a punishing teacher on how to dig a proper foxhole, and he said that night turned his life forever to the service of God. He did, too. He believed that prayers are answered. He died a few years back, following many returns to Iwo Jima, meeting with survivors on both sides and a life of contemplation on those events.

 

I think North America has dug a proper foxhole, but there will be losses. Your customers will look out when this is over and see many local retailers and restaurants out of business, never to return. I will be interested to see who is the first act when we’re told it’s over – who is first to throw a yard party, go to a concert or open a showroom. My sense is that even when the government gives the all-clear, business owners will be shell-shocked to inaction. Nobody will want to go first.

This will affect housing. It is hard to imagine any of us coming out of this with the same net worth as going in. For one, nobody will want to buy a house at last January’s values. Not right away. The same is true of commercial property. You cannot kill 20 percent of a country’s net production (for lack of a better number) with no effect. I think. On the other hand, many countries in Europe and elsewhere have a long tradition of shutting down for weeks or months every summer and argue that it works like pruning a coleus. Further, North Americans are known for taking the bull by the horns, so we’ll see.

Come to think of it, in 2018 the U.S. House worked 174 days, and the Senate 191. This cloud may actually reveal a silver lining.

Another issue will be inflation. A government cannot replace its own economy any more than a tick can create a deer. Governments don’t produce anything. They tax and administer, and they can print money. Inflation can be expected. This will also affect people’s net worth as they try to replace durable goods, but we will also likely see an offset as petroleum products will, in my view, recover a bit but remain low. What will happen if durable goods inflate while housing values fall? The old paradigm is broken and will not be restored.

Locally for me, the government has now closed all parks, forests and trails. This is a puzzle to me, as the government has mandated a two-meter social distance, and these areas are among the last refuges from solitary confinement – recognized in the Geneva Conventions as inhumane punishment. Anybody that blocks off forests, parks and trails to enforce a six-foot social-distance mandate either has information we don’t, or they are taking advantage of their secret, Double-0-Zero number – the licence to be idiots. May I call them Wussie Galore?

I know. I said I would not criticize either leader, and I won’t. However, I would advise them both to avoid giving unrestricted power to ensconced bureaucrats for their advantage in a crisis. Bureaucrats have an unbroken history of greed and overreach with their authority and unbroken history of being slow-to-nonresponsive in giving it back. A relevant question would be to ask every bureaucrat in the audience that has lost even one day’s pay as the result of this national crisis to please raise his or her hand.

I hate to keep beating the same drum, but does anybody else think it’s eerie that there is such profound silence from the unions?

 

b53eea71-abc3-43f1-906e-c9eb7e10929e.pngLooking out the windows of the White House or Gorffwysfa (24 Sussex), the perspective is different from that of a business owner. My guess is that the top priority, next to defence, is food supply and agriculture. Agriculture is seasonal, and we simply cannot afford a pause in the spring planting season. Following on, agriculture needs fuel, fertilizer, seed, feed, parts, veterinary supplies, labour, etc. We already see some of the exceptions made for agriculture in the admittance back into Canada of its seasonal workers.

There is something else the leaders are considering. The U.S., I hear, has the most comprehensive testing system now in the world. According to the newly available data, New York is far in the lead with a .007 infection rate. California has one per thousand. Some states have less than one-half per thousand. Some states have less than .05 percent. So pick your number. I’ll say for the sake of argument that the measured rate of infection now, right before the predicted peak, is running at two percent.

Of that two percent, 98 percent will recover. Of the two percent that will be fatalities, over 60 percent are over 60, and of those fatalities over 60 years of age, 80 percent have three or more risk factors. The top is high blood pressure. Next is diabetes. Next is cardio-vascular disease. Et cetera.

My guess is that the White House and Gorffwysfa will need to make a hard leadership decision, if those figures hold up.

Following agriculture, construction will have to be energized. Maintenance and repair cannot wait long, and construction on new housing, institutions, businesses and industries must occur to accommodate those people coming here from abroad, leaving school or home to start new lives and people changing from one living situation to another.

Construction cannot move, however, without manufacturing and flooring, which is where your customers come in. Houses cannot be sold without windows, stairs and cabinets. Institutions cannot function without work stations, and the beginning of every design is the floor.

 

I guess I should note, once more, that the opinions herein are just me talkin’. I can be as wrong as the next guy. However, we have never felt that editing a professional journal somehow wraps us with the golden cloak of expertise. In fact, when others in the media do it, we find it too irksome to bear. And the irk factor goes up exponentially when their “expertise” extends no further than repurposing their Google searches (coming soon to Zoom).

At the moment, whether anybody wants to argue or not, Wood Industry and Coverings have the fastest, broadest most-trusted communications media in their respective industry. We are standing by to help you, with ads or with PSAs or marketing help, with creative or with help on any initiative that makes sense.

As that famous old philosopher and sage, Red Green always said, “We’re all in this together. Keep your stick on the ice.”

Casey Jones

I guess the big news for the supply side this month is the cancellation of SIBO. Even bigger than it looks. This is going to one of those delicate things where folks are going to say I am attacking and being self-serving, but if you look at it, you will see there are facts and they are relevant. In this case, it’s a relevant fact that CCI, the owner of SIBO, chose to put 100 percent of its outside marketing push into our competitor, Woodworking, and ignore our readers entirely. Correlation does not prove causation, so make of that what you will. We had to stick that on the table in plain sight to avoid being accused of hiding an agenda.

Kerry Knudsen

The thing is, the death of SIBO could not have happened at a worse time. Trade shows, associations and media, the three critical communications elements for any industry, are on hard times, and now the coronavirus, whether it affects the health of the general population or not, is hammering commerce. 

Already, two of the biggest shows for our magazines’ industries in China each March have been postponed – Interzum Guangzhou and Domotex Asia/Chinafloor. But we have to be careful not to ascribe all the fault to coronavirus. January’s edition of Domotex US – the Hanover Fairs version of its popular flooring show – suffered badly in this, its second year, to the point Steve Kleber, with Kleber and Associates voiced some concerns: “While the inaugural event in 2019 welcomed some 280 exhibitors from 25 countries,” he said, “this year’s show floor was surprisingly sparse. Only around 90 exhibitors displayed their products and solutions, and booth traffic was tepid during the opening day of exhibits. Domotex US, also, did not approach the Canadian market through our flooring magazine, Coverings. 

The fact is, there are two business models in play across the manufacturing sectors in North America. One, the one sustained by popular opinionhas a visible history of wreckage for over a decade, and the engineers at the switch can’t see a way out. For the most part, they are trapped running on the same track, hoping to retire or find a new line of work before they join the pileup. 

In a nutshell, the two models that associations, trade shows and media have to choose from are, simplistically, audience-focused or supplier-focused. SIBO’s demise brings this into relief. According to Harry Urban, SIBO and WMS show manager for U.S.-based CCI Canada“After a substantial investment in this important market segment, we were not able to generate sufficient participation from key potential exhibitors to ensure a successful event.” Darn you exhibitors. 

 

To be clear, the advertiser-focused versus audience-focused models are diametric and mutually exclusive. I can explain all day how original content got suppressed when commercial speech got elevated under amalgamation during the ՚80s and ՚90s, and why it has taken this long for the cancer to win out, but you can see a synopsis in my speech last May to the American Society of Business Publication Editorshere. 

There is another option than paying up or walking away. Suppose I told you that there would be 14,000 owners and managers selling into a growth market, looking for equipment and supplies to expand? I assume you’d be all over it. SIBO could make no such claim. 

The same is true for associations. Suppliers would jump to be associate or supporting members if there was energy, loyalty and response from enough members. Shelling out another $10 grand for another golf tournament is tired. 

Media are right in there. Jumping all over themselves to “add value” for potential advertise, you can scarcely find a news release that is not supplied by a paying advertiser, a new product that does not echo an ad or a “profile” story that does not feature an advertiser’s or potential advertiser’s product. In one case, all you have to do is take three recent issues of a magazine and start counting how many “new” product release are cut-and-pasted from one issue right into the next. If nothing else, it sure saves on editorial costs. It also declares out loud that the readers don’t matter because they don’t exist and nobody is likely to catch it. Lazy. 

“Tired” is the right word. The attendees, the readers and the members are tired. Tired of being ignored. Tired of being sold. Tired of being abused while the shows, the media and the associations doze at the wheel and pull action plans out of rusty file cabinets and retired emails. Magazines were never designed to be catalogsyet that is what they have become, by definition. There is scarcely a credible publication left, and those are the ones that retain a readership. 

 

The crying shame is that the Quebec market does not deserve this. Neither does the U.S. or Canadian market, for that matter. Your customers – my readers – deserve better. 

Do I think advertisers are at fault for not “supporting” SIBO? Not a bit of it. It is the JOB of the provider to provide a working product. If you sell routers, you can’t sell them if they don’t spin. That’s what routers do. Shows show, associations provide strength in numbers and media provide quality, original, credible information. 

When I become honest like this, the providers on the other side start a whisper campaign, including telling potential advertisers I don’t know what I’m talking about. That, of course, is one option. It’s a bit hard to maintain if you look at respective resumes on LinkedIn, experience in the U.S. and Canada, performance over time and that all-important metric called who gives a damn? We supplied a partial list of comments we have received a few months back and are happy to provide a more comprehensive one on request. However it should be sufficient to say that our readers speak for us, and we challenge others in media and events to do the same. What it boils down to is this: I say you are wasting your money with the old-style beseechers; they say you are not. You get to choose. 

 

So … what is it that we say? We say that industry supporters need to speak to the end user, not each other. Your customers know it, they see it when we do it and they like it when we do.  

Everybody’s a publisher these days, eh? Therefore, our other “magazines’” managers have decided they can’t tell the difference between a magazine and a newspaper, and they decide that since they can bomb their lists daily with repurposed (stolen) copy from the web that they should, and suddenly being fast and shallow is the way to go. It is not. You have all heard the drill. They can give you clicks, unique page views, impressions and 32 other buzz-words-for-hire that do nothing. 

I’m sure everybody knows by now that we have been on the receiving end of outright attacks from organized groups of suppliers intent on putting us out of business so they can control what’s left  SIBO, for example. My offense, put in simple terms, is that I will not do as I’m told. I only do what I think it best for the industry, even when it costs me. And they lost. 

Do I sound angry? Likely. But I’m not angry over competition or over CCI’s decision to put all its eggs in Woodworking’s hands. Our business does not live or die by a few trade-show ads. If I sound angry, it’s because this industry deserves better and I keep getting counseled to lay still and be quiet while untrained and ineffective pilots watch warning lights as though they are Christmas trees, over and over again, expecting different results. Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia may have said precious little worth repeating in his short, addled life, but he did make one worthwhile admonishment: “Casey Jones, you better watch your speed.” 

The industry deserves better. Quebec deserves better. Our readers, your customers, are largely family owned businesses across the continent, and they deserve better. They want to hear about costs of compliance, labor issues, economic challenges, marketing ideas and other business topics W.I. Media is uniquely qualified to provide and does provide. Real original contentThey deserve associations that identify national challenges and address them, and they deserve trade shows that provide value, energy, opportunities and unity as an industry. It simply will not work to go to you, the suppliers, and promise we will try if only you will pay. 

One good example is Xylexpo. You have noticed that Xylexpo and the Italian Trade Commission (ITC) have worked with Wood Industry every cycle to get energy, loyalty and response from the Canadian market, and every cycle it has worked. Xylexpo and the ITC are not trying to “kill” anybody, to “control” the market or to claim “king-of-the-mountain” status. They want Canadian energy at their show, and they get it. 

We talked IWF into letting us once again present our signature Canada Night event. We will handle the promotion, and we will handle the night. We are looking for sponsors, and we will add their names to the story as it comes out over the next few months in our e-letters, web and print publications. I initiated Canada Night to show you, the suppliers, that Canadians are a functioning market within the IWF milieu, and it worked. It worked so well my compatriots in the supporting industry tried to steal it. As with their other initiatives, it didn’t work. 

We also expect to introduce some new ideas to drive energy, loyalty and response in the industry. I mentioned in a letter in January that we can increase the value of the industry in Canada by 30 percent over the next five years if we can only get past the obstructionistsThose of you that have benefitted from our energized, loyal and responsive audience already know we can move the market, but we need a cease-fire. This idea of shutting out Wood Industry to try and keep an ancient train from derailing until tomorrow has to stop. 

We have lost SIBO, and I don’t think it can be revived. Not by CCI, for sure. In 2008/2009 and following, we lost all the media in the States, but one. Was that the one with the most innovation, the best reader engagement or the strongest business content? Nope. It was the one that held its breath the longest. 

Tough talk? Sure. But not as tough as killing Wood Industry to nap at the wheel. The response should be easy. Tell us where we are wrong. Or vote. 

kk 

 

As usual, if you want to sponsor Canada Night or talk about promotions, call Stephen King at +1(416)802-1225 or [email protected]. Steve is once again sojourning in Florida for a month, so I don’t mind if you call him several times. 

If you supply supplies for suppliers, and if you have read this far, you’re caught. As the old bill-board adage holds: if you are reading this, you know advertising works. Ads in Supply Side are only $250 and I don’t see yours here. 

The March/April issue of Wood Industry closes for sales on Monday. Steve’s number is still +1(416)802-1225 or [email protected]. 

BTW, we have, in round numbers, 14,000 loyal, energized and responsive recipients for our print magazine, plus whatever pass-along there is. 

Sales intelligence

My brother-in-law, Mark, has a plaque on his wall that says, “In order for artificial intelligence (AI) to evolve from zero to Einstein, it first has to go through Larry, Moe and Curly,” for those of you that recall the iconic Three Stooges. It is difficult to assess, in real time, where we are on the evolutionary path, but it appears to be approximately the point at which salamanders grew hair.

Kerry Knudsen

The utterer of that ageless quip, which cannot be ageless when AI remains only a fantasy, was, immodestly, me. Mark and I were chatting on vacation; he a safety software expert for light rail systems in Eastern North America, me a reporter of passingly interesting stuff.

My grandson, Adan, a consumer of passingly interesting stuff, seized upon my recent purchase of a software suite for photo enhancement called Topaz AI, the AI being for artificial intelligence. To Adan, the mocking of AI and the purchasing of AI marks an incongruity that demands explanation.

 

It’s not that hard. Calling something AI does not make it so, and neither does grabbing a fad name to market a product make the product inferior.

In the case of Topaz, the product is not inferior. I shoot a lot of pictures. Those of you that got our Christmas card saw an image of the Credit River from my back yard shot with a 14 mm lens at dawn.

Since I shoot quite a bit in low light, I sometimes use a high ISO setting so I can keep my shutter speed fast enough to stop blur and my f-stop high enough for the lens to work. The problem is, shooting at high ISO causes digital “noise” — little flecky things that soften the image and muddy the colour.

Topaz AI Denoise uses machine learning, aka artificial intelligence, to figure out how to replace the flecky things with colour information. The other products in the suite, Sharpen, RAW to JPEG, etc., also use machine learning.

Except it’s not a machine. I get it. It runs on a machine. And it’s not amazing that digital products need to learn. In the old days of MS-DOS, you could let your programs run along on their tracks until there was a crash. That’s what they called it — a crash. And then you had to start over, reboot, take out a conflicting command string and run it again. There was nothing artificial or intelligent about it. Back then, it was called “logic,” but, as with all things digital, it was not logic or real. It was what it was in its digital world of high science and Pac-Man.

Machine learning started off as software plagiarizers not wishing to create their own, brand-new game or science, so they stole somebody else’s, called it “open code” and built on the existing foundation with no thought of sharing credit or revenues. Not, that is, until somebody stole their code, built on it and left them in the dust. There is a whole global community out there of frustrated, erstwhile software moguls watching better thieves eat their lunch. You live by plagiarism; you die by plagiarism.

 

It’s a bloodbath out there. I see in last weekend’s news that Canadian luxury-coat manufacturer Canada Goose is bending to the will of the woke culture and apologizing for the fact that feathers and fur made them rich. Now, the only “cool” Canada Goose apparel is either used or fake. Using real fur or real down is not good. This is especially true for woke machine learners that need heavy arctic gear for a subway ride to Manhattan. For people that need to stay warm in the Arctic, you need real fur and real down — 800 fill power, minimum, and when I was winter camping in Canada my source was typically Seattle-based Feathered Friends. Even then Canada Goose was too urban for what I needed. You have to match the technology to the application.

Another old adage we all know from our infancy in business is that there is nobody easier to sell than a salesman. AI is all the rage today, just as LinkedIn was to be the end-all in “networking.” Or MySpace was to be the social media pinnacle. Or whatever.

But we learned that, while the best way to debug a software was to let it crash, we needed to step beyond the machine before we ran a test on public rail systems. Instead of fake intelligence, we needed the real thing.

A few years back I reported on a fraud I covered back in the ՚90s. A guy was claiming to infuse “DNA” into a “chip” to help people find bombs in Afghanistan. The gimcrack was called a Quadro-Tracker. You can find it with Google, or you can search with real English and real intelligence on our website for the story. DNA, like artificial intelligence, was a sham built on a reality. A hoax. A sales tool for the weak and infirm.

People ask me from time to time what this or that has to do with the wood industry, after all. Especially, how will this information help me sell?

For most of my friends reading this and working to help the wood industry, it is, has been and will be obvious. For the other few, riding on artificial intelligence and DNA …. Well, they would be more entertaining if they weren’t a runaway train in a populated industry.

_____________________

For some real, production-focused networking, I hope all of you will see Steve tomorrow and the rest of this week in Salt Lake City for this year’s WMIA/WMMA Wood Industry Networking and Snowsports Event. Real skis, real snow, real people and real friends. 

Got your back

I had a fascinating meeting a few months back with a director/president-/c-level of a major company that used to advertise with us every issue, and has not advertised for over 10 years. However, he reads everything we print or blast, so asked why, and we had lunch. This company still has not advertised, so we’ll leave who it is at that. 

Kerry Knudsen

He said it is time to come back into the magazine. He said they had misjudged the market and had been, he admitted ruefully, arrogant. Since leaving, they had been spending well over seven figures annually on events, self-publishing, direct sales and digital, and nothing was moving. In fact, it was slowly declining. 

He said they had audited their practices, and had discovered that, while they had been spending lots of money, they were also just lavishing their marketing budget on their already-set customers. The annual conferences were attended by their best associates, the publications were co-sponsored by the suppliers and they had all the appearances of being a successful, self-promotion company. Until the P&Ls showed up at the end of each year. 

Fearing the costs were exceeding the benefits, they cut out events, cut back printings and mailings and cut hours on production employees. Still nothing. 

His conclusion, he said, is that in order to remain a major player in the market, he needed to look where the market looks for its industry information, and it’s here with W.I. Media. 

As I said, he still isn’t advertising, but I’ll take him at his word. Things take time in big companies, especially when they are not solely owned. Budgets have to be set. Goals have to be adjusted. You have to watch out for middle-management toes. However, from my chair, it is good to hear a former detractor giving a tip-o’-the-hat. We work hard, have worked hard and will work hard to keep the market – your customers – loyal, energized and responsive. The only thing that matters, as my lunch partner said, is response. 

 

Speaking of response, most of you know that we created our original Canada Night event to provide evidence of customer/reader response. I had been hearing for years from advertisers that they didn’t trust the shows, and they couldn’t tell if there was really any Canadian participation. Canadians maybe don’t all look alike, but it’s close enough for government work. 

At first, we tried giving away table saws and router tables. I would go to a spot on the floor and count Canadians. My readers had been forewarned that I would be looking, so they were to wear a maple leaf, a label pin, a Roots hat or something that would let me identify them as Canadian. Then I would pick the Nth Canuck coming down the escalator on Thursday, haul him or her to the sponsor’s booth, take photos, award the machine and put the story in the magazine. 

It worked OK, but then I had the idea of inviting all the Canadians at each show to join us for free beer and appetizers immediately after the show and before dinner. We would feature Canadian beer, Canadian music and Canadian videos. It was promised not to be a forum for sales, but a place to chat, talk to the staff of Wood Industry and show the colours outside the national boundaries of Canada. It worked so well we have presented Canada Night every January in Las Vegas as part of The International Surfaces Event for our flooring magazine. 

The idea worked so well, several people on the wood side tried to steal it, and it flopped. There were lawyers involved by then, so the usurpers couldn’t use the name Canada Night, but they tried and it flopped, pretty much in accordance with their other such efforts. 

 

Anyway, Canada Night is back at IWF this summer!! We will be sponsoring the event, as in the past. Because of the irksome history, we will begin early and promote hard to let the readers know it is real, it is fun and it is Wood Industry. 

Because of its nature as a W.I. Media event, we will be paying special editorial attention to promoting the show and making it fun. That’s where you come in. At past events, we have given away belt buckles, and other stuff, in addition to libations, to kick up the carnival atmosphere, and the sponsors at the time all raved and wanted to be included for the next round. 

Well, it’s here. Sponsors will be mentioned as part of the ongoing promotions in print and in digital, and your sponsorship will make the event bigger and more exciting. We do not run this as a profit centre, and we put revenues over costs against memorabilia for the attendees. 

Stephen King can answer your questions at his normal contact info. 

A word about Steve – Steve will working from Florida most of this month. His condo was damaged in the recent hurricane, renovations are not proceeding according to schedule and he needs to be around to help suppliers understand logic. I offered to take the lead on this one, but got rejected. Life is like that. With direct deposit, he doesn’t even have to come in to pick up his cheque. 

 

Our January issue, along with our first editorial on Canada Night, is going to bed this week. As in the past, sponsorship will be limited to people that have actually valued our readers by addressing them in the magazine. I hope you can see this is only fair. 

Speaking of fairness, we continue to see pressure from marketers and agencies that go against the hard lessons learned by my lunch partner, above. The current wisdom of the manufacturing industry, lagging that of the cutting-edge consumer marketing by a few years, is that print is dead and everything is going digital. That is not true, as we have described from our vantage point on the front lines, and as Procter and Gamble, and Chase learned and have reported in Ad Age and other professional journals. 

Two points: First, digital cannot achieve “archival standards.” No digital publication can be the “publication of record,” because the record changes. A good example is Obama’s birth certificate. No matter where you stand on the controversy, the fact is that people believe the digital version has been changed. The same is true of the current controversy over the application the FBI made to the FISA court in the States. They inserted the word “not” into an e-mail, negating the original meaning. Digital is not credible.  

Second, how fast do you read? The average presenter on YouTube,’s information videos speaks at about 150 words per minute. Most people read at double or four times that rate. Plus, you can underline or photocopy print for – yup – archiving. 

The fact is, Wood Industry has attracted the attention of the industry, and we have hard verifications of our print and digital responses. However, we know and our readers know that the monthly e-letters, as popular as they are, are predicated on the profiles, business information, news and statistics we supply each print issue. Still, some marketers want to piggyback on the efforts of their competitors and pay only a few dollars to get to the “digital” audience at the expense of the print. We along with Procter and Gamble and Chase may be wrong and contemporary industry support staff could be right, but we are not seeing the evidence. 

For that reason, Wood Industry needs to increase our digital e-letter ads each month to $1,200, except for suppliers that are buying a print program (minimum three issues in a year). For print advertisers, the price of the e-letter will remain the cost of a business lunch out – $500. 

This seems mercenary and is not our style, but our readers look to W.I. Media as their only unbiased, reliable and credible resource, and trying to reach the audience for which others are carrying the burden is a bit mercenary, too.  

 

When Steve is not browbeating contractors in Florida, he will be skiing with the Wood Industry Networking Ski+Snow Sports Event (WINS) in Utah, put on by WMMA and WMIASteve and Patti are flying the flag February 6  9 in Salt Lake City, and would be happy to see you there. Contact the WMMA or WMIA for details. 

That’s it for now. Wood Industry is once again partnering with Xylexpo and the Italian Trade Commission and has chosen the recipients of this year’s free trip for two lucky winners in the WMS draw last November, IWF is barreling down the pike and 2020 is coming into view. It looks like another good one. 

Double the spam

I saw in the news last week that Elton John peed his pants during a performance in Las Vegas in 2017. The story, itself, is horrid. The writer, Joseph Wilkinson, with the New York Daily News would never have passed Freshman Comp II with Kerry Knudsen. Of course, that was in the late ‘70s, and much has changed in what is acceptable and what is not.

Kerry Knudsen

For one thing, the story is like watching a pan of popcorn with no lid. Random, disjointed thoughts just pop out of nowhere. The real story is that John had prostate surgery two weeks prior and the surgery had an impact on his bladder. Actually, Wilkinson said the surgery impacted his bladder, which is not only an ignorant use of the word impact, and wrong, but is also one of my pet peeves. By now, of course, I have a herd of such pets, but impact is a forerunner. Another is service. Service, as a verb, is what bulls do to cows. If you are in business, you either provide a service or do a service, in which case service is a noun. As a verb, we are all aware that some vendors actually do service their customers, but they are usually only in it for the short term. For crying out loud, words mean things. In sales, at minimum, we should be aware of that, if for no other reason than to not look like fools. It’s no excuse that such journalists as Wilkinson do it; they can’t help it.

Does anybody bother any longer to evaluate what passes as news? For example, Elton John may be news in the entertainment section from time to time, but two years ago, and 2,232 miles away?

As near as I know, this is the first time I have seen a “story” about anybody peeing his or her pants on stage, irrespective of the reason. (Irregardless is another leader in the herd. It’s not a word.) I have, however, noted that pop-culture mini-divas get very irked as they age and the pop culture leaves them behind. Their solution has perennially been to start doing things for attention, with an emphasis on taking off their clothes. Don’t tell John.

Pop culture is a huge driver of advertising jingo. They say the 18 – 34 year-olds have the most net spendable income. That’s not really true. They have the worst judgement.

This is significant for people that sell machinery and supplies to the wood-products manufacturing market. Your customers are typically not in the 18 – 34 demographic. As such, they are not as likely to be swayed by your message if you follow the rather arcane, pedestrian antics of East- or West-Coast admen (and women). You may not know it, but most journalism schools teach advertising and sales, and most business schools plagiarize the texts of the j-schools to have the hottest inside dope. Eighteen-to-34 is not your market.

Speaking of j-schools, I was at the American Society of Business Publication Editors in St. Petersburg, Fla., last May, and heard one presenter brag that he had taken over a magazine, taken the list and started bombing the names with advertising messages every day. When challenged by the editors, who said the readers would not like it, he doubled the spam. It did not matter, he said, if all the readers put his messages on the spam (twit) filter, he said, the list was still a list and the advertisers were paying for the list.

It is critical to understand that your company’s advertising dollars are NOT to “support” an industry, a media outlet or a person, and certainly not to alienate your customers. They are to generate a positive response from the market – ideally, a sale.

This is why Wood Industry spends so much time, money and energy studying market response. We can prove beyond any debate that our lists are actually composed of people instead of data, and that those people actually read the magazine. Further, those people tell us overwhelmingly that they do NOT want daily newsletters, but DO want original, edited content about their businesses. In our case, they say monthly is fine.

This fact illustrates yet another reason why media, digital or print, is failing worldwide. People don’t like being played. That, with credibility, is the top reason, but most publishers today cannot tell the differences in function and design between a magazine and a newspaper, digital or print and simply shoot blindly in the dark. They have lost their way and are too proud to ask direction.

This behaviour, too, comes back around to what the market deems to be of value. If all your customers want is a door-hanger and a pizza discount, then bombing a list, digital or print, is sufficient. In that case, it’s just a numbers game.

If, on the other hand, your customers want information about business, then they will recognize and react to a favoured information source and look for its arrival.

Back to the point. If you had proof that your customers did not want you to call for one month while they took care of some bookkeeping, would you start calling them daily? Of course not. Yet, people have had it with businesses ignoring their boundaries “just because…,” and folks in my business recommend it because they can’t create an audience with content. They can’t prove they even have an idea to share.

Elton John’s “story” is simply an example of an inept writer trying to remain relevant. By doing so, he breaks down one more barrier between civilized society and chaos. Journalists have long patted themselves on the back for breaking down barriers, without respect for what those barriers held back. In another five years people’s urinary schedules will be no more interesting than were starlets’ lack of panties five years ago, and newspapers and failing pop artists, alike will be searching for another barrier to destroy. To them, this is “original,” yet the only barriers they see are those between children’s literature and a 1940s carnival freak show.

At that time, people in business will still be searching for credible information, and they will have a good idea where they can get it.

As we say in the media, that’s a wrap – 2019 is in the books (print and digital). Next year looks positive, but we remain weakened by lack of focus. As an industry, we need to understand that we are competing against international forces, yet we can’t seem to organize to work toward critical mass to protect what we have. This is a theme we will doubtless return to over the coming months and years.

But for now, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year from the staff at Wood Industry. Let’s all work toward peace on earth and the will to work for the good of all mankind. It’s worth it.