For growth, think small

By | July 3, 2019

I wish I could say my recent participation in the annual conference of the American Society of Business Publications Editors’ (ASBPE) at St. Petersburg was enlightening, but it was not. It was more like truth-confirming. 

The presenter immediately before me was a sales/publisher type, and he explained how he had moved into a very well-known magazine and started spamming its readership on a daily basis. The editors raised their voices and said that their readers did not like the daily “updates,” and that they were putting the magazine on their twit filters. The presenter’s response, he said, was that I told them to double the spam. It’s money, he said, and the advertisers never know who has blocked a URL. 

Kerry Knudsen

As advertisers, you don’t have to go far to find sales/publisher types that will assure you that they have clean lists, have been doing this for a long time, know what they are doing and can give you a deal. It’s as common as a Nigerian inheritance. 

Unfortunately for ASBPE, they don’t have a significant income stream from editor/members, so, like other associations, they go to “associate” members for funding. And, as has been true since the beginning of time, he who pays the piper gets to call the tune. Even if they are tone-deaf and ignorant of the rules and forms of music. 

As we approach the next few months, we are looking at several important trade shows. We have noted many times before that a growing industry will show energy in three areas of communication, those being trade shows, magazines and trade associations.  

As I noted in my ASBPE presentation, journalism is trudging and dying in its shows, its magazines and its associations. So, I proposed, what would an industry look like if everything we think we know is wrong? I proposed for magazines it would follow that, if everything we know is wrong, that we would see declining revenues, declining readers, declining customers, declining political influence and declining response. 

It can be argued that the wood industry is growing, but it is certainly not growing in pace with the overall economy and it is not growing in influence or communication. With respect, the associations are struggling, often with no fresher an idea than to offer prospective members a golf game and a fancy hotel stay. The condition of the magazines speaks for itself, and the shows are under increasing pressure to consolidate or yield to agglomerated competitors. 

One of the persistent drumbeats we have heard over the years has been that of automation and technology. I am fine with automation and technology, but it has become dominant-to-overbearing. 

The fact is, there is limited room at the top for high-speed production. There is plenty of draw, since the “big boys” get lots of attention and they get access to lots of money to influence trade shows, magazines and associations. But the fact remains, after the “big boys” have sent off their 80th golf photo to their handlers at the home office or showed off the 93rd “free” product notice or in-content profile, the home office is bumfuzzled at the lack of ROI and has nowhere to go for answers. 

High-speed, mass-production, high-tech gear is sexy, it brings big ad and “support” dollars and commands huge square footage at shows. It is also very competitive, relatively low-margin and, as noted, of limited value to small- to medium-sized enterprises. For those of you that remember, the 2007 timeframe saw virtually all of Canada’s “big boys” bite dirt and die or become resurrections under employee leadership. 

The vast majority of Wood Industry’s readers are owners and managers of shops employing 20 workers or fewer. In addition, they and also some of the “big boys” have relatively short runs and their markets are small and regional. As we have noted before, our industry is not Colgate Palmolive, and we need to quit thinking we are. Humility is being right-sized, and humility is a trait history has proved valuable. For that matter, using the war cry of technology and “big boys” is not new or innovative. I am not trying to evoke an emotional response, here, but half of Europe heeded that Siren’s Call in 1939, and it did not work out for them, long-term, and cause a bit of collateral damage. It’s almost as if everything they knew was wrong. And they hired an American PR idiot, Edward Bernays, to justify themselves. In 1939, Homag, like Hitler, followed the muses of tech and allies. 

Back to the market, your future likely still remains in long-term relationships with hard-working, small businesses. To reach them, I think you should still present your biggest/fastest/sexiest/best, but put your energy behind start-up programs and efficiency for regional markets. 

Self-serving or not, you should marry your show space and show ads with magazines and associations that actually serve their constituents instead of serving them up with “out” sauce for their “big-boy” idols. At the moment, that means Wood Industry. I have asked my competitors to debate me, I have asked them to endorse ANY set of recognized and published standards, as we do on our web home page, or to just quit with the commercial patronization.  

No luck, although I have been told they are “disappointed” that I point out plain facts. I hate to disappoint competitors, but better they should be disappointed than the market. 

As suppliers to the wood industry, you have a remarkable opportunity to help consolidate your customers with the supply side and the three communications divisions and take advantage of the near- and intermediate-term economic booms. Either that, or we can all continue to play the same old scratchy 78s and Great Depression Blues. 

There is a right way and a wrong way to do things. Sometimes the wrong way is not cataclysmic. It just slowly bleeds you dry. 

Let us know if we can help. WMS is just around the corner, the last e-letters before AWFS are coming fast and the July issue of Wood Industry closes on Monday. 

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