“Outside The Box” - A View From Outside the Media Industry

By Erik Cudd

I’m no expert, but I am what every Media Company in the world desires most, I am a user, a listener, a viewer, a member of the audience. Five or six years ago my personal listening and viewing habits began to evolve from the popular mainstream choices of hit songs and great hooks to discussion and information. I’m not sure what caused this change, but I suspect it was because everything I was hearing and seeing from inside the Industry just didn’t seem to be changing or causing any excitement anymore. Now, before you write off my article, hang with me and give me a chance to state my case. I am not saying that there is no Media outlet doing anything worthwhile, nor am I one of the many I see online saying Radio is dead or this dead, and so on. What I am saying is that now that I am on the outside, I have seen some things and observed some things that may be of value to you if you are still in the Industry in some way shape or form. Unsolicited advice is never wanted, so what I offer is not advice, I offer my view as your customer, your client, your user, and frankly I think you need a shot in the arm so listen up!

For this article, I would like to delve into the topic of Television morning shows. The only show I really like on TV in the morning is “CBS Sunday Morning”. Maybe it’s a sign of my age, or a disdain for the super hype warp-speed magazine cover looks of the vomit that protrudes out of the Television each morning. The Sunday Morning Show became the only reason I would ever dare turn on the TV before 11am. Fast forward to Monday January 9, 2012, probably just another Monday to you, but I was to be glued to my TV set promptly at 7am and tuned to CBS for the first time on a weekday morning. The new Morning Show called “CBS This Morning” was set to begin their first broadcast and I was intrigued. I had read numerous articles about the show and its new format and my curiosity was getting the better of me. Charlie Rose was to anchor the show and that alone got me excited since his delivery and style is very similar to what Osgood does on Sundays, aside from the fact that Charlie has reputable and credible experience from his show on PBS.

I admit I’m now hooked. The show itself seems to offer a different kind of energy from the very moment it begins. The “Eye Opener” is awesome; it opens each broadcast with 90 seconds of a video montage of what is to come on the show and what is happening in the world. Not a new concept, but a very different way to do it, and that will be vital as we move forward in this article. I liked the way they did it in the first few shows, they simply played the montage and had no voiceover narrative from Charlie, they have since added his explanations while it plays and to me have lost much of the value of the “Eye Opener”. The original way left it up to me the viewer to piece the puzzle together, and that was smart, real smart! Now they just simply narrate the thing like anyone else would as if I am too stupid to figure it out on my own. Surprisingly, critics don’t really like the show and the ratings are not stellar, which is disappointing.

Despite the lack of ratings and critical popularity though, I feel it did something powerful, something that Broadcasters and Business Owners alike should realize and adapt. CBS decided to do something different. Revolutionary, huh? In today’s landscape, we the audience are dying for and longing for a change. While the CBS show is in effect trying to build a brand -- which will take an average 5-6 years to truly establish it -- it is refreshing to see the Network daring to be different. Now what do I mean by different? As a user of Media I am constantly saying to my options of information and entertainment, “Surprise me, engage me, change things around, and shake it up once in a while.” I may not be a fan of all the concepts and players on the new CBS show, but I’m watching; I came to the party when I didn’t care for Morning Weekday TV shows. That’s cume! When was the last time your cume went up? When was the last time you saw a new customer buy from your business? When was the last time a client was shocked and surprised because you dared to be different? Or do you simply read the script, put a music bed under it, and phone it in?

Sometimes it is the simplest things that can be so powerful. Media companies are trying to follow all the fads and trends that emerge out of the fascinations of twelve year olds. I have watched Radio Stations build websites, then try keywords, then do blogs, then Facebook, then Twitter, now everything just seems to mash together and it makes no sense. Do the powers that be really think you can plan what is viral? Give me a break!

Not to sound like a Political ad here, but are you better off? Is it any better? Is your profit margin and revenue up since your “Likes”, “Tweets”, and “Followers” have increased, if they have at all? Was your brand powerful enough in the beginning to be able to transform itself into something three dimensional or different? I know Stern brought a good number of subscribers to the party, but the company still did not monetize like they had hoped and were forced to consolidate with their competition. Now the Sat Radio is almost automatic as an option depending on the model of vehicle you are buying. It got me to thinking about the countless times I tried to carve out Creative for a Client, dared to be different and was met with proverbial nay saying vanilla responses of fear. Is your creative collateral more powerful now that you have so many avenues to communicate and relate to your customer? Do you use them all or are you overwhelmed? But I digress.

CBS didn’t simply change the set, hire new staff, and film things from a different camera angle; they took different to an intelligent and well thought out level. Mark L. Fox has an amazing book called “Da Vinci and the 40 Answers”. This book is a necessity for any Media Company or business owner, because CBS is following several key points from this book. They have dared to look at the flow of momentum, the wave of mainstream if you will, and turn specifically against the tide in a planned direction. Now I might start to sound contradictory here because I first said different is good. Then I said some change isn’t effective, but here is the key. In the case of the CBS Morning Show, while they may be struggling to win the ratings war, they enacted change in a precise manner, and not just opposite of the flow. They thought out and considered the nuances of the brand they are trying to build, the building blocks and reasons for value. They have examined the strengths and weaknesses and adapted the unexpected as a constant. Does that make sense? They dared to do something different, and it got everyone talking, watching, and listening, even if some of that attention was negative. Remember, no press is bad press. But what they did was thought out, planned, and constructed smartly in the details. They looked at the concept, and crafted the changes in such a way to reinforce the new brand. Sounds simple, but if it were, everyone would be doing it. Now let’s be clear here; it’s not about just a new show. The core concept of the show and its purpose has evolved a bit, but it does not wander to a different reason for being. There are some things they did which aren’t different at all, and I still think there are things they could do to make the show better. But what I want to focus on is the effort to simply change in a smart way. The show is still about News, Entertainment, and Information, but I have yet to see a fake kitchen or familiar accoutrements expected on a morning program. In other words, they steered clear of the fads, impulses of being a follower, and decided to lead in a whole new way. They didn’t simply change the packaging, but they are trying to create a better present. It’s still the same type of present, but they want to redefine the present itself that you unwrap in the box.

The demeanor and pace of the anchors to the viewer and between each other, the posture, the flow, and the dynamics have all been modified ever so slightly and smartly. The hosts are at a desk, yes, but the desk is round and has the network logo in the middle. The camera work is in the round and you can see the camera operators, and the green room is transparent to the viewer. These are just a few of the factors that I think has helped turn the corner and create a new brand. But everywhere you look on the set there is the reminder of the heritage of CBS. From the extensive memorabilia to the plates signed by “chefs” who come on to cook. It’s change, but it’s smart and precise change.

If you have read Fox’s book your light bulb should be on now. The point I am trying to make here is this. Do yourself a favor when it comes to doing business and dare to look from the outside in. Ask your customer, your listener, your viewer what they like and don’t like. Then examine those likes against what is different to your viewpoint. See how what you think works compares to what your customer thinks works. That will give you the starting point, then peel back the layers as you go and examine what could be done to not simply bring those two opinions together, but create a new opinion that both sides can agree on. Do something and make changes that you have not done before and may even be afraid to do. This is important because the view from inside is often diluted by heritage. The view from outside sometimes is diluted by fads and impulses. Your goal to innovation is to try and bridge the two, but in an intelligent and new way. Only when you travel outside the box and take another perspective, remove emotion, and go towards what seems dangerous or risky, will you then begin to tread into new and revolutionary territory.

I’m not sure if my point is clear, but I do hope you understand the concept I am trying to communicate using a TV show as an example. This, I think, is what makes innovation and creativity so effective, and how it can be harnessed. You don’t trust your gut feeling unless you only listen to those things which seem risky. That is where success lies, that which is counterintuitive to the view from inside the box. Merge that with what the customer seems to desire, and craft a new viewpoint that is universal for both you and your audience. Take those risks, examine them, and even God forbid try some! Take the road never traveled, but plan accordingly. I’m not sure if the CBS show will ever be #1, but they certainly have created a new brand, they became different in a smart and powerful way.

Regardless of the ratings, when is the last time you created an innovative and new way to do business? When was the last time you took your creative collateral and surprised everyone? In time, CBS should become what everyone else will try to emulate. The new brand will take hold and will be successful, but it takes time and consistency to do that. Sticking with the concept is what will be risky, and I hope they are smart enough to believe in the path they are forming. Change is good, smart change is powerful!

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Since the writing of this article, the ratings for the CBS This Morning show have been far below the expectations of CBS Corporate, which has caused dilution of the things that made them unique as well as unnecessary staff changes. The show itself should be a lesson that even when you write stellar copy and know something is bound to work, the disconnect between business owners and those who are creative and understand marketing is insurmountable. Brands need four to five years to become a brand, just ask Apple, Coke, Facebook, and Twitter. They also need consistency, which is what builds the loyalty. It’s about quality, not price or smoke and mirrors. Business minds always assume brands are made overnight, yet it is a long and arduous process to build a brand.

This also brings to my mind something recent as a tangent, it is also impossible to go from Transactional customers (we buy from you because you have the lowest price) to Brand customers (we buy from you because you have what we want regardless of price). Have you noticed Wal-Mart is trying this? They realized they just needed to offer more items, (i.e. Supercenters), and still keep the prices low. Did they create a brand? Not a brand per se, but just a bigger store with more cheap stuff. The logo changed and the aisles got bigger, but customer service still stinks and their public impression remains the same. Now consider the case of JC Penney for another example. Their brand which spanned more years than I have been alive was to be the cost conscious retail outlet, the Transactional destination as were their competitors. All of them held sale after countless sale. They weren’t the Wal-Mart of the Department store, but they had been in the game long enough that when they had a sale, they made a profit, especially the White sale. Now they intend to be a Brand, and think it can happen overnight. Is it any coincidence their CEO was lured from Apple? Again, business minds trying to think creative. They unfortunately will learn a very hard lesson that the CBS Executives should learn. Brands aren’t built in a day, but JC Penney will also learn that trying to reverse yourself when you have been transactional focused to a brand name, is impossible. Just wait, CBS will soon lose their luster and make even more changes that will blend them in with the rest of the morning shows; you will know when this happens when Charlie Rose leaves the show by choice or force. After all, Charlie is keeping his PBS job. And yes, JC Penney will close. You heard it here first. If you look at their sales figures as of November 2012, since their change, they dropped 25% when they went to JCP, and the numbers are still falling. The CEO would have been the band leader on the Titanic.

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