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PRSA 2009: Digital Revolution – The Chaos Scenario

By November 19, 2009April 5th, 2019No Comments

bobgarfieldAre traditional media falling apart before our eyes?  And, more important, are we prepared to pick up the pieces?  Bob Garfield, host of National Public Radio’s “On the Media,” Advertising Age columnist and author, explored this topic during his keynote address at the 2009 PRSA International Conference.  Garfield argued that the yin and yang of mass media and mass marketing – mutually sustaining for more than 400 years – have decoupled. Garfield’s latest book, “The Chaos Scenario,” documents the demise of traditional media as a consequence of the digital revolution.  He supports his thesis with these sobering facts:

Newspapers: In spite of 23 percent U.S. population growth in the last 20 years, newspapers have lost 20 percent of their circulation.  Two years ago Robert Murdoch paid $5.5 billion for the Wall Street Journal, a publication that is now worth $2 billion.

Magazines: Newsstand sales were down 12 percent in 2008, and 2009 is looking even worse.  In North America, 525 magazines folded in 2008, and another 200 have disappeared so far this year.

Broadcast: Television advertising revenue dropped 20 to 30 percent in 2009.  The primetime audience for CBS is down 2.9 percent, 14.3 percent for NBC, and 17.5 percent for FOX.

Overall, 75 percent of national advertisers have slashed their 2009 advertising budgets.  As Garfield put it, advertising simply can’t support all the media that are out there.

What about the Internet?  Thanks to the digital revolution, the richest repository of information ever assembled is available to all through the Internet.  Can’t content providers and advertisers simply change venue from traditional media to the online world?  Unfortunately, no, according to Garfield.  Millions of Web pages provide a nearly infinite advertising inventory, which drives advertising prices down.  The symbiosis of mass media and mass marketing simply doesn’t work in a microworld.


If advertising through mass media isn’t a viable option, how can companies reach their customers during this digital revolution?  Garfield pointed to “listenomics.”  Instead of shouting at customers, he suggested that marketers treat them as genuine stakeholders and listen to what they are saying.  Customers will share opinions and ideas useful for product development as well.  Plus, if a company is able to solve a customer’s problem by listening and engaging them, the customer will often share his or her experience with others as an evangelist for the brand.

Another way companies can reach their audience is through public relations.  Garfield declared that public relations professionals are uniquely positioned during this digital revolution.  The tools of the trade may be different, but public relations always has been about connecting companies with different audiences, and this hasn’t changed.  Although fewer mass media are available, there are millions of new “micro-outlets,” and companies can deploy public relations campaigns to secure coverage and boost company visibility through their use.

How are you responding to the digital revolution?