The Power Of Traditional Mass Media

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It’s easy to sit around and complain that "people don’t get it" and it’s equally easy to dismiss traditional media for what it really is: a huge powerhouse and place where your future customer is right now.

Here are some of the standard questions I get asked on any given day:

  • Why would you write a business column for a newspaper?
  • Why would you bother writing a book – most authors get paid very little and it is such a huge effort?
  • When do you find the time to write that magazine article for enRoute?
  • Why go to a traditional conference, when you can just watch the speakers on YouTube?
  • Isn’t traditional media dying? Why put any energy toward it?

Shel Holtz (co-host with Neville Hobson of For Immediate Release – The Hobson and Holtz Report Podcast and co-author with John C. Havens of Tactical Transparency) likes to remind me of a quote I often use: "everything is ‘with’ not ‘instead of’". Yes, it’s important to have a strong media mix driven by an overarching strategy, but the idea runs deeper than that…

What is the point is constantly speaking to the same, exact group you always speak to?

There are many businesspeople (and this includes entrepreneurs) who are not giving the new media space the attention it deserves. These are smart people who are interested, but simply have not had the time, feel like they may be lacking the ability, or have not seen the true business ROI. How are we going to convert them?

There are only two ways to do this:

  1. Speak to them in their language.
  2. Find them in the spaces they’re currently using.

The sheer volume of traditional mass media demonstrates that people still find it interesting, or – at the very least – they still tolerate it. In looking for clients or new business opportunities, it is still a very viable and powerful channel. Don’t dismiss it. Another personal anecdote: I can’t tell you how many people approach me daily to let me know how much they enjoy my business column in the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun, and how much they look forward to it every two weeks. When I let them know that they can read me everyday on this Blog or on Twitter, they look at me sideways (the way a dog looks when you speak to it – head slanted slightly to one side with one ear twitching and that curious look in their eyes).

It’s the traditional mass media audience that is going to grow the new media audience in the future.

Our jobs – as new media evangelists – is to speak to these people where they are and where they are comfortable. Our jobs is to educate them by speaking in their language and giving them the tools to make the integration of these types of channel easier. Old habits die hard. Traditional business grapples with new media because they are founded on the, "that’s the way it has always been" attitude. Our real jobs is to show them – in their words – why it’s important to expand and experiment.

How else can we build audience and interest in new media if we don’t actively go out and recruit new participants from the traditional mass media channels?


  1. You’re the right, the power of traditional media sometimes gets lost in the mix as people get excited about doing things on the Web. It’s one of the reasons that it’s important for companies to put together mar/com plans that integrate off-line and online opportunities as opposed to putting all their eggs in one (online) basket.

  2. Hey Mitch,
    All of us early adopters can get carried away thinking that the whole world understands twitter, uses facebook, and reads blogs from their RSS readers on a daily basis but that is not the reality.
    Traditional media has huge importance in our daily lives and especially to the majority of people all around the world. I was in Rome, Italy last week and was surprised at the unavailability of technology in the daily lives of many people. Wi-fi is hard to come by as Starbucks simply do not exist there and it is very hard to spot people with laptops in cafes. From my observations the culture is totally different. Same goes for statistics as Europe has been very slow to jump on social networks they simply socialize in real life and people still read print.
    Movement to technology for most people will be slow as majority of the older demographic simply are comfortable and don’t really want to flex any muscles to embrace the digital media.
    Thus, the job for digital marketers as you say is to slowly convert people through traditional media. Show them the benefits and features that digital media can bring to their daily lives. And how easy it is to use it.
    So the next time you come across a “digital foreigner”, don’t laugh or make fun of them, instead just get back to the basics and explain the way something works even if it is as simple as how to make a profile on facebook or how to use an RSS reader. You will add value to their lives and to the digital community.
    It took people more than 10 years to fully adopt e-mail in to their daily lives and make it a basic necessity and it might take just as much time for other technologies to get to that level.
    Hope that inspires the “digital natives” to be kinder to “digital foreigners”!
    Alex “Get to the basics” Ikonn

  3. Mitch,
    How write you are? People will be people. Preferences matter and preferences take time to change once they become a part of a person’s routine.
    The way people choose to engage and dialogue is and will continue to be their choice. Consumers rely on choice and more importantly they rely on referrals from their trusted networks. Traditional media has always been read because it is reliable and trusted. While the advertising revenue model is being challenged, the quality and talent of journalists (esp. investigative…thanks Bethany McLean for exposing the Enron fiasco) not to mention the brand of newspapers has never been stronger. Of course the New York Times and the Globe & Mail will and are changing. Their value to society is high on so many levels.
    Business models will change and many readers will add to their media menu. In all likelihood, your comment about media mix of “everything is ‘with’ not ‘instead of'” is correct. It’s only natural that people’s preferences to choose from their media mix align with organizations that are willing and able to adapt their business model.

  4. The news this week that less than 1% of Canadians are active on Twitter and only 1/4 of Canadians even know what the site is serves as a SPOTLIGHT that the early adopters need to stop spending so much time speeding forward and turn around to lend a hand.
    After Oprah brought Hollywood into Twitter, many complained it was “over.” Yet a full 99% of the population has yet to discover it.
    Stop looking for the new shiny, people. Build a bridge.

  5. Very a propos to use the term “evangelist” when discussing this type of thing. Many of us work with traditional offline brands, and we are in the business of porting companies over to the new media world. If we’re working with online brands, we very much try to amplify their existing strategies online.
    One thing often missing from the discussion however is the arc of time. Many of us have been online since the mid-90s, some even earlier, so it’s been our mission of sorts to legitimize the internet. At this point in time, it’s simply stupid to ignore it. It’s so obvious.
    The larger point I’m trying to make is that WE’VE WON.
    But given the rapid rise of the internet there are very serious issues that we must discuss, debate, and perhaps tackle as a community. The major elephant in the room of course being the erosion of print media (newspapers/magazines) that are required for a functioning democracy. It’s great to say that blogs are ruling the day, but there hasn’t been much improvement in the quality of journalism overall.
    That being said, I still actively call for the demise of print–but that may be because I’m working within the disfunctional walls of the music industry, where the internet just might be its only hope.
    This brings us back to everything is ‘with’ not ‘instead of'”, which I couldn’t agree more on. I enjoy reading the Six Pixels blog online, but I find myself re-reading the same piece in the Montreal Gazette just because it feels different on newsprint. Also, your writing may very well sound like a blog, but in fact it’s become a living thought… a part of Montreal’s growing history. One hundred years from now those newspaper archives will be there. Hell, maybe SuperGoogle3000 might even have an algorithm for printed matter that bumps you up on the search results.
    As for writing the Six Pixels Of Separation book, I feel very much the same as your work appearing in the papers. It’s a living piece of history–a collection of ideas that represents this very moment in time and it’s meant to be digested as a whole.
    People these days have lost such context. A conversation yesterday is old news today. That very well may be the case, but we must also admit that we’re all consuming way too much content in bits and pieces, while lacking depth and context that enriches our thoughts and lives. And that’s where blogging has already started to fail; by staying stagnant. Writing in the papers and releasing a book and speaking to thousands at conferences is where the real story is. And that’s really how we can build bridges as as a society.
    It will be networking and sharing that brings us together. The fight against old media has been won, but the vote is still out on whether the internet will help create a better world.

  6. At BookCampTO, Mitch said that we should not include ourselves in the statistics. That thought has stuck with me. It’s so easy to think that we’re in the majority.
    I encourage entrepreneurs to get on LinkedIn as a minimum step towards a web presence. They ask basic-to-us questions like the website address and how to setup a profile.
    We have to help people on their level and where they are. And be patient.

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