“You are not a skateboard brand. You are a media company that makes and sells skateboards to subsidize your media outreach.”
– Alex Downes, 1991
I remember my good friend Alex telling me this years ago, just as I was starting my own skateboard company. I’m not sure if it’s the exact, verbatim version of his observation… but boy, it’s pretty damn close to what he actually said. It’s how I remember it at least. And given that I don’t really remember what in the world I did yesterday morning, the fact that I remember his words at all, twenty-five years later, is a bit of an accomplishment.
At the time, of course, I thought it was pure horseshit. In my narrow little mind, skateboard companies existed to make skateboards- not to make media. I thought that Alex was, at the very least, all wrong… and at the very worst, completely off his damned rocker.
Twenty five years later, however, I’m realizing just how right he was. It completely flew in the face of the common wisdom of the era, of course, as real wisdom tends to do. But it doesn’t mean that he wasn’t right the whole time. He was. It just took twenty years for my brain to catch up to his brain because… well, he’s way smarter than I am. That’s why.
Let’s define “media” really quick, just to make sure we’re all on the same page. In my world, “media” is “any conduit designed for mass communication with your intended audience”. That audience, for a skateboard brand, is typically skate retailers, as well as the skateboarding community at large. And the basic point of that communication is to let the market know, first and foremost, that you exist.
The second… and maybe, the more important goal… is to remind the market that you exist from time to time.
The third goal, if all goes well and all goes right, is to motivate the market to buy your products, and/or support your aims and goals of global profitability.
This is really simple stuff. Hopefully, we all understand this already.
For most (smart) skateboard brands, the media blitz actually starts long before they make their very first skateboard. In a perfect world, every skateboard company would start life with some sort of a statement saying who they are, what their company is going to be called, and what they intend to do for skateboarding that’s a little bit different from what everybody else is doing. It’s a basic case for why your company needs to exist, and why your market needs to support it. If all goes brilliantly, then they will succeed in spreading that message as far and as wide as they possibly can, employing every mass media available to spread the message. That’s “networking” at work.
And that process continues unabated, into perpetuity, until that company ceases to exist. Which might just happen, if they screw the media pooch badly enough.
With that last paragraph, we can start to see where, and how, large parts of our industry have fallen a bit flat on their faces. When times get tough, and sales go down… which is basically where we are, right now, all across the industry… the first thing that skateboard brands tend to do is to cut costs by cutting back on their media outreach. That’s a death sentence. And, as such, it is extremely ill-advised.
What you are really doing when you cut back your media outreach, is cutting off your communication with your market. When that happens, they forget you exist. When you are forgotten, your brand ceases to exist in the hearts and minds of the market.
And when that happens, it leaves the door wide open for your brand to cease to exist in a far more literal way.
Most of the “big brands”… and even a lot of smaller ones… think that they are far too cool to ever be forgotten. That’s not only extremely arrogant, it’s also hopelessly incorrect. You certainly can be forgotten… and if you cut off your media outreach, you will be forgotten. That, my frenemies, is absolutely guaranteed.
Hell: until last week, I had managed to totally forget that Zero exists. And that’s fuckin’ Zero, for pete’s sakes. You would think that they’d be pretty hard to forget, wouldn’t ya…?! But, I had. Until last week, when I picked up one of their neat new ‘zines (that you’ll read a lot more about in this issue) over at Sidewalk Surfer in Scottsdale. Now, I remember them all over again. For the moment, at least. Until the other 55,000,000 brands on my radar start yelling at me for my attention, at which point the whole sordid story will probably start all over again. Jamie: don’t be a stranger, alright? I love ya, but I’m forgetfully human over here. I know, I know: I suck. But we love ya nonetheless.
“Your company is not a skateboard company. Your company is a media company that subsidizes it’s outreach effort by selling skateboards.” It’s still true. Alex is more right than he’s ever been.
Media, traditionally speaking, has been expensive to curate and propagate. The internet has stood that paradigm on its head, and social media has nailed the point straight home. Media these days is extremely cost-effective, bordering on ridiculously cheap.
However, I might point out that there is a world of difference between “cost-effective”, and “real effectiveness”. Just because it’s cheap and easy to do, does not mean that it’s actually doing its job, effectively spreading your message, and bringing net sales to your doorstep.
If that were true, then the companies that are engaging the best with social media would be our current industry powerhouses. Those brands would be rich beyond imagination.
So, is that the case…? Look around. You tell me how that’s workin’ out for everybody.
Apparently, it didn’t work for jack shit in Jamie’s case. I haven’t seen anything on my social media about Zero in a month of fuckin’ Sundays. But I picked up the ‘zine, and read it from cover to cover… five times. And now I’m talking about it in this essay, and you’re reading it. The world works in mysterious ways, doesn’t it…?
Now, I’m pretty sure that Jamie (and Zero) are all over social media. They have to be; I can’t imagine that they wouldn’t be engaging social media in some way or another. But for me to connect with them, I would have to:
– “Like” them (the social-media version),
– “Friend” them,
– “Follow” them, and
– “Share” their stories. Or,
– My “friends” would have to be doing any (or all) of the above, on the platforms that I am engaged with.
I haven’t heard hide or hair out of Zero in months. Clearly, my “friends” are failing me in a major way.
Expect that to keep happening. Studies are showing that these trends are all well under way, and will only get worse in the near future.
When I look at the companies that are succeeding today, my takeaway is that it’s not the medium that counts- it’s the message. The companies that are succeeding today aren’t the ones that are spreading themselves thick everywhere all over social media. The companies that are succeeding today are the ones that are telling the most interesting, inspiring, insightful, engaging, and and compelling stories, regardless of which media they choose to communicate with.
Put another way: the companies that are succeeding aren’t the ones that are just babbling bullshit everywhere. The companies and brands that are succeeding are the ones that are saying something. Something that the market might actually want to hear.
Advertising, in a traditional sense, is dead. Nobody likes advertising, unless it’s good. And when it is “good”? When we feel actively engaged with it. Screaming “Buy my skateboards!” over and over again at the top of your lungs is not only really fucking irritating for the listener, it’s also tediously expensive for the advertiser. But, saying something like, “try my skateboard”… and then, handing it to them to try out… is kinda fun for everybody. Or, “listen to my story”. That one works wonders, too.
Fact: Consumers will only listen to advertising that somehow engages… and, maybe even better, benefits… them. Again: the Zero ‘zine is a great case in point. Yes, it is “advertising”, technically speaking. But it’s also a form of engagement that I really enjoyed reading. It was engrossing, entertaining, and informative. It sucked me in. So much so that it’s still sitting right here, on my desk, three weeks after the fact.
Jamie may be a lot of things, but he sure as hell ain’t no dummy.
Everything Skateboarding is not the future of media, per se. I would never be arrogant enough to make such a lofty claim. It is, however, a signpost (or a gateway) toward what I think will naturally transpire out of the media transition that we’re currently working within.
The nature of that “media transition” is pretty significant. While brands and companies cut their teeth as content curators on social media, they will inevitably realize at some point, sooner or later, that they should… and, more importantly, could… be cultivating a far more engaging media presence then they are employing, today.
After all, what is the value of a brand that can tell a funny, sincere, and engrossing story…? A story that the consumer might want to take the time to sit down with, read, engage, and absorb…? Is there value in that? And if so, how much value is in there, exactly…?
I don’t want to pretend that I know all the answers. All I know is what I like to see and experience as an everyday skater. Media that only grabs my attention for a fleeting millisecond, only grabs my attention for a fleeting millisecond. But media that I sit down and consume for a few minutes (or hours) at a time? That leaves a far bigger (and a far longer-lasting) impression.
It is not a giant leap of logic to go from posting random Instagram photos from a recent road trip, to writing a feature article about that very same road trip, including those photos. While the photos certainly do tell a large part of the story in their own right, and the Instagram experience gives everyone a little bit of immediate satisfaction… the feature article is a big step toward putting it into a broader context, and making it truly engaging and absorbing for the media consumer, ie, the end reader (and your customer). It tells a more complete and compelling story. One that a lot of media consumers would probably love to sit down and read.
“Providing advertising value for the brand, the audience, and the community” in one fell swoop might still be considered a very foreign concept for a lot of heads out there. But given the example above, I would say that it is a concept that’s well worth exploring, if nothing else.
Who knows? It might just work, and work well for everybody involved.
So far, it seems to be workin’ out okay for us.
Everything Skateboarding is a platform template that I openly encourage every brand to engage with. Whether they are “advertisers” or not is actually quite beyond the point. In the sphere of this paradigm, every potential media contributor to the site is a de-facto advertiser, whether they pay cold, hard cash for advertising or not.
Indeed, we actually offer “content credits” to any would-be advertiser that would like to leverage them. Those credits basically reward brands and companies that send in feature articles, with free advertising slots. It’s a mechanism that effectively doubles your footprint on our site, that costs you nothing at all in terms of dollars spent. All it costs your company, is the time and energy to write the piece, and e-mail over the accompanying photos and captions.
It’s basically a win-win-win for everybody, really. We get more quality content for our site (for free); the company gets lots of positive exposure on the site (for free); the readers get to enjoy the experience of reading it (for free); and there you go. Three wins for everybody, duly accounted for.
The whole point of this strange, unusual exercise is to help your brand connect with our readers… your own consumer market… in a more substantive and endearing manner. Because, once again: you are not a skateboard brand. You are a media company that makes and sells skateboards to subsidize your media outreach. We just make that easier, and far more cost effective, than any of our media cohorts can.
If you think that independently curated mass media is dead… well, you might just want to think again, buddy. I’ve already seen more ‘zines popping up this year than I have in the previous decade. Surely, there are more on the way.
I can easily envision a time (not too far into the future) where every major metropolis has something like an Everything Skateboarding working within their regional scene. But because of the expansive reach of the internet, those regional e-‘zines will have a truly global audience, by default. They will get spread, and read, by a far wider demographic and audience than any paper ‘zine could ever hope to achieve.
In the future, “content exchanges” (such as the Content Sharing Agreements that Everything Skateboarding has with our media partners) will be commonplace. What we are basically building over here, is a new (and far more productive) form of echo chamber.
If you don’t engage with that effectively, and early on, then you’ll find yourself being left behind by The New Mass Media uncomfortably quickly.
Every month, I send a newsletter out to all of our advertisers. Considering that “advertisers” could be both paying advertisers… or, any brand that might like to take us up on our offer, and send in an article for consideration in exchange for content credit… the definition of “advertisers” does tend to get a little bit blurry around here. So, we simply send it to everybody that we know in the industry, and call it a day. After all, we don’t want anybody to feel left out. Quite the opposite, actually: our stated mission is to be as absolutely inclusive as possible.
This week, I got a response back from a self-described “social-media expert” at one of these brands. He did something that, in the world of mass media, is just plumb stupid: he asked to be taken off of our mailing list.
Now, this is pretty funny. You would think that the job of a “media expert” might be to engage with media whenever and wherever the opportunity might arise, and use that positive engagement to spread their brand’s message as far and as wide as possible. Am I wrong in that assessment, folks…? Not to actively disengage with the media. That would seem to me to be the exact opposite of what his job description should be.
In this case, we were actively soliciting the brand to work with us, and allow us to help spread that brand’s message far and wide. We’re actually fans of he brand! So, naturally, we’d love to help them out- just as we would for almost anybody. Again: we don’t give a toss if they’re paying advertisers. We’re quite happy to use our regular columns (such as the monthly Newsworthy feature) to spread the word for free.
Isn’t that the best-case-scenario for a brand to enjoy? Having the media be willing and enthusiastic partners in spreading your message, and to not have it cost you a damn thing?
Apparently, not so much in the world of this “media expert”. Maybe we’re just not cool enough for this bloke… I don’t know. The fact that this bloke also gave me a rash of shit when I was trying to help him along when I was working at Concrete Wave only goes to show that some media experts just aren’t as brilliant as they’d like to believe they are.
Brands: pushing media aside that are actually legitimate fans of your cause, and are willing to help promote your shit to their audience, is not a smart media strategy. Make a mental note of that, okay…?
The best part about starting a new paradigm, is that we are free to take some really big risks early on. That’s the best part about the right here, and right now, of Everything Skateboarding. When the readership is only 1500, maybe 2000 readers a month… that’s the best time to throw stuff at a wall, and see what sticks and what flops. As long as you don’t completely fuck something up, and have that fuck-up go totally viral and spin out of control all over the internet… then you’re probably doing alright. Small goofs will more than likely be quickly overlooked and completely forgotten, if they’re ever seen at all.
But, small victories? The unexpected dividends that the efforts produce along the way? Ahhh…! Those, you can use and apply to your existing media outreach, and make those even more effective. You might find that telling a long-form story (or essay) on social media (as opposed to a 140-word sound blip) actually works. That the “common wisdom” that says that “people can’t be bothered with reading anymore” is a little bit misguided.
What we’re finding, through our experimentation, is that people do still read long-form articles and essays, and they do still engage and absorb quality content. And when they do, they tend to spread the ideas and insights around via word of mouth, the old-fashioned way, as well as through social media.
Those handful of engaged and enthusiastic readers that will take the time to read a 5000 word story still engage with, and influence, all those non-readers out in the world, in very, very tangible and long-lasting ways.
As a brand, that might be important for you to acknowledge. Before you throw away that 5000 word article as “a waste of time and energy for everybody”, maybe you should try sending it to us first. We’ll run that fucker, and we’ll be happy and proud to do so. As will our media partners through our Content Sharing Agreement, which exists to share articles and ideas, and put more eyeballs on the subjects at hand. It’s “media networking” taken to a whole new level.
And again: it costs you, the brand, next to nothing to leverage the potential for your own benefit.
Best regards, as always, and see you next month-