Communication, Knowledge, Power

By | June 3, 2019

My May 9 speech to the American Society of Business Publication Editors was well received. If you’re interested, you can see the whole presentation here. A few weeks later I was rewarded to see the speech mentioned on ASBPE pages at Facebook and LinkedIn.  

The story started out, “Kerry Knudsen did not mince words….” For those of you that know me well, it must seem as if that should go without saying. I mean, what are the chances a lead would say Kerry Knudsen minced words. That would be my worst nightmare – the thought of me, walking down the aisle at some trade show or other, mincing away…. 

Kerry Knudsen

The topic of the ASBPE speech was what we speak of here, often: that media, shows and associations have lost sight of their job. In this case I mentioned one of my personal heroes, U.S. Revolutionary War pamphleteer Tom Paine. In his seminal work Common Sense, Paine points out there are, “the two grand principles of business, KNOWLEDGE and POWER.” (Emphasis Tom Paine) Note, he did not say two of the main principles…. He said there are two main principles, and those are knowledge and power. If you have knowledge and power, money is the return. 

An abundance of money has flipped Paine’s maxim, resulting in people with enough money, irrespective of how remarkably unbrilliant, having power over information. 

In the realm of business publications, this has led to the demise of titles, the loss of jobs, the redirection of resources and the commoditization of news. The reader (market) has become secondary to the pomposity of the few biggest advertisers, and content has become basically what they used to supply on door hangers. 

It is rare to find an original thought in contemporary business magazines. This is because fools with money are aversive to original thought. For example, this week’s issue of Ad Age leads off with the story “How to be a cultural leader instead of a cultural follower.” Excuse me? If you need a 30-something web writer to tell you how to be a leader, you aren’t one. You are mincing. 

This is the reason the ASBPE asked me to speak to the trade-magazine industry. Mincing sycophants and a few dishonorable-but-loaded suppliers have taken trade magazines from leadership to stenographership in one, weak generation. 

To be clear, they have done the same with trade shows and trade associations. Coincidentally, one of the audience members that came up to me after the presentation was a former editorial staffer for the now-demised Wood Digest. Her first question to me was whether I remember the debacle of the AWFS show in Las Vegas in 2009. 

I do. That was the show where a few of the top, bloated louts decided to try and kill the show or control it by pulling out their “support.” Interesting word, support. It comes from dependence – the chronic state of children and slaves. We were so disturbed by that course of events and what it led to that we published Our Own Worst Enemy as a monograph insert in the September (post AWFS) issue in 2013. You can read it here.

W.I. Media stood up to an all-out effort on the parts of those few advertisers to kill our magazine and our company, and it worked. They haven’t advertised to our readers since, and we are still free. Importantly, it worked to show that Wood Industry does not need that cartel, and neither did AWFS, but the industry needs Wood Industry. You can see that in the responses of the market.  

I am happy to start naming names, again, but I am cautious that I don’t want to leave anybody out. The important thing is that, while Wood Industry and AWFS both survived the vicious ministrations of the cartel, it is not debatable that the industry lost. It lost money, for sure, but it lost energy, and it lost its ability to communicate. It lost knowledge and power. 

This lesson is critical to the minds of the ASBPE, since fear has become a main driver in the continued downslide of the trade-magazine sector at large, and ASBPE saw it desirable for me to address the issue directly, without mincing words. 

Paine said the two GRAND PRINCIPLES of business (my emphasis) are knowledge and power. Power requires knowledge for its application. Lacking knowledge, you get what you see – underperforming, undersized tyrants using somebody else’s money to push around markets and see if they can find a vulnerability.  

The proper application of power requires not only knowledge, but the strength that comes from knowledge in knowing what is needed, in what measure and at what point. That is the proper position of an independent media. And don’t even get me started on the special-interest bullied consumer press. 

We have two major trade shows coming up in North America this year – AWFS in Las Vegas next month, and WMS in Ontario in October. 

As friends and associates of W.I. Media and Wood Industry, each of you knows that we are not attacking advertisers, but defending them from the ministries of some very unsophisticated agents of some very minor corporations, viewed on the world stage. The only place they have stature is in the mirror and in their control of industry media, shows and associations. 

The message that American business publications is taking is that you either stand together or die – a message that hearkens all the way back to Tom Paine. The agents that are threatening you are mincing tigers. W.I. Media stood up to them and stands up to them, your customers know it and they approve. So does the international business press. 

As always, I invite any of the unnamed characters that feel slighted in our reports to come out here in the light and have a chat. I will provide that Golden Fleece of the gilded fleecers: free editorial space. Right here, or in Wood Industry magazine, or in any or all of our national and international e-letters. Or all of the above. It’s yours. Just drop me a line. They say clear writing is a sign of clear thinking, so here is your big chance. Say something inspiring. Or at least have your pet publication do it for you. 

For those legitimate suppliers that are paying too much for your ads and booth space so that the much-vaunted “big boys” can pay less, take a look at that stain running down the inside of their pants and give some consideration to a new way of business. Your customers are waiting. 

An industry’s KNOWLEDGE and POWER are in its COMMUNICATION – its media, its shows and its associations – not in which international HQ has the biggest PURSE. 

The wood industry in North America is not dead or dying. We can move forward and do it well. But we need to communicate, we need to exchange knowledge, and we need to be free of the exhausting foolishness that is dragging the whole sector down. It is true in manufacturing, and it is true in magazines.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *