Advertising Age Uses a Yellow Crayon

09/14/2007

Simultaneously posted on Diva Marketing and the Buzz Bin Blog

This week BBF Geoff Livingston, The Buzz Bin, clued me into a post  titled, Color Us Confused, written by Ad Age Executive Editor, Jonah Bloom. I was surprised to find that Mister Bloom’s post was written more in the style of tabloid reporting than of a respected journalist holding a senior position with a highly regarded publication.  As Geoff  put it Mister Bloom  “… called out crayon CEO Joseph Jaffe for coloring the truth in a recent blog post announcing a second round of significant changes at the company."

Geoff and I both found Jonah Bloom’s Ad Age’s coverage of crayon’s challenging situation disgraceful to Crayon_yellowthe extent that we are collaborating on this post.

So what if there was some jargon and spin?  Taken from a  PR perspective, what was Jaffe supposed to say, “We just lost half our senior team because we can’t win enough business?” Wasn’t that clear enough in the letter?

As experienced practitioners, we see right through this post as exploitative, exaggerated yellow journalism. And quite frankly, it’s disappointing to see this occur under the Advertising Age banner, the so-called industry authority hosting the Advertising Age Power 150.

Perhaps you’ve been privy to the changes at crayon, outlined in this letter by Joseph Jaffe. First the high profile departures of Neville Hobson and Shel Holtz.  And now there were these recent moves, specifically the departures of Steve Coulson, CC Chapman, and Gerry Cohen.  Certainly, changes of this nature garner attention, especially the faltering party is an agency like crayon. 

Neither of us knows Jonah Bloom; however, his bio suggests that his career has been spent working for journalist for organizations that could guarantee salary/benefits and not as an entrepreneur. The world of a small business, especially a start-up firm, is quite different. There are sleepless nights worrying that a client’s check will come in before the light bill is due. Projects you were certain would pop are put on hold. Then there are the continuous expenses for the cost of doing business. But if you believe in your dream you make adjustments and trade the Starbucks mocha latte for a coffee made in your own kitchen.

Regardless of Jonah’s responsibility for penning this disgraceful post, Advertising Age itself has a responsibility here.  And as marketer bloggers that are technically covered by the magazine, we demand better standards of journalism from the magazine.

Impact

Jonah Bloom’s post brings up a larger issue for us and many questions. Granted that Mister Bloom was writing a blog not a column.

  • Is a blog post written by a publication’s editor or reporter an opt-ed piece? Even so should the post be held to the same journalist standards set for the publication’s articles?
  • Are the lines blurring to the effect that blogging within a journalist setting e.g., Ad Age, means the blogger is sanctioned to color outside of acceptable guidelines and branding expectations of the publication?
  • Would Ad Age have published Jonah Bloom’s post as an article?
  • What obligation does the “journalist blogger” have to reflect the publication’s brand image?

Neither of us knows the current crayonistas outside of the usual Facebook and Twitter interactions. However, crayon represented so many of the ideal hopes of the blogosphere and the Cluetrain Manifesto, it’s hard not root for the agency. 

At the same time it’s hard not to see these recent events as a disappointment. Not just because of the missteps outline in Jaffe’s letter, but because crayon is more than a company.  It’s a dream that we all want to achieve. A marketing profession that is based in transparent, honest, ethical and exhilarating social media communications.

Both of us want to be 100% social media all the time.  But getting companies to buy into this new world concept is not easy.  For example, the four person firm Livingston Communications gets two thirds of its revenues from traditional public relations clients.  The rest is social media.

We understand the challenges and difficulties of getting and keeping a full portfolio of  social media clients. And we congratulate all of the crayonistas past and present for their courage in pursuing this noble dream. And to the remaining crayons – Joe, Greg and Scott -- we wish you the best of luck in your continuing efforts whatever color they may be.

-- Toby Bloomberg and Geoff Livingston

Sidebar: Diva Marketing is honored to be part of the Ad Age Power 150.

Sidebar: A bit of background .. I grew up in a small business. My dad owned a data collection company outside of Boston. Small business owners will relate when I tell you that the business took on a personae of its own and conversations that included “the business” were more the norm than not.

Although my professional experience includes assignments with Fortune 100s and not for profits I’ve had the pleasure of working with and mentoring small businesses and start-ups. And it seems as though I’ve been bitten by the entrepreneurship bug too.  One might say I know the challenges and rewards of a small business and how difficult it is to make a go of it. My highest respect goes to those who start a new venture.

My dad subscribed to lots of marketing and advertising trade publications. At the top of the To Be Read pile was what I considered to be the king-pin of the ad biz - Ad Age. Advertising Age has spent decades building the trust of its readers and of the marketing/advertising industry. I trust Ad Age to provide articles that are reported fairly and positively critical opt-ed pieces that elevate our industry.

As main stream media encourages its journalists to embrace company sanctioned blogs, what are your expectations of the blog content, not only from Ad Age, but any professional industry publication? I can't help but wonder what would Amy Gahran would think.

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Comments

Toby and Geoff:

I just read both pieces and to be honest I am having trouble understanding why you are troubled by the Bloom piece.

Joe is a great and a smart guy, I am certain, but his writing, at least in this one example, is obtuse and a piece of puff.

The blog post from Bloom is a criticism of the writing and the style, not of Joe or crayon personally. I often have criticized similar PR pieces, even those emanating from my own department when I was in the corporate world.

I have no dog in this fight, and know neither Joe nor Jonah personally, but I will support their right to publish whatever they wish on their own blogs.

As for AdAge, the style and angle of Bloom's post is not right for AdAge, but it doesn't need be. I write on different topics and in a different style for print pubs than I do on my blog, so I'm failing to understand your angst. But I do love both you guys and respect your right to say what you did on your post.

Posted by: Lewis Green on Sep 14, 2007 3:50:38 PM

LG: Cool, glad to see a counter view. Again, I understand where both you and Ike see it as a non starter.I think if Jonah ahead posted on a personal blog then no issue... I would have disagreed, but probably have left with no comment. But because it is under the Ad Age masthead, I do hold great issue with it per reasons outlined.

As someone who grew up in a newsroom, newspapers and trade pubs have a right to editorial opinion. But they need to present a balanced view somewhere associated with this, either as a cross linked companion piece or as a counter opinion. With all of the cursing and very pointed remarks, this was a long, far cry from balance.

Again, just my $.02. And I definitely see why some just see it as another rant on just another blog.

Posted by: Geoff Livingston on Sep 14, 2007 4:13:07 PM

Geoff (and Toby),

Yes, you are right on. When I was an Executive Editor overseeing several magazines and before that a writer and columnist for a daily, I would have thought we/I could and should do better. Apparently, Bloom and AdAge either can't or won't. To be honest, Bloom's piece isn't any better written than Joe's and seems a bit much like hyper-ventilating. But probably not yellow journalism. I also wonder if crayon and Joe are the best subject that an AdAge editor can find to post on any given day. Crayon's challenges are not atypical of many of our businesses.

Have a great weekend.

Posted by: Lewis Green on Sep 14, 2007 4:42:44 PM

Jaffe is consistently lambasting his imaginary enemy of "marketers who don't get it" on his own blog, and now the gun is turned on him. Its perfectly legitimate to criticize his writing (it was awful). As for the schadenfreude around town - he brought that on himself also. The ailing Crayon? Maybe the departure of failed CEO Gary Cohen will trigger a much-needed sea change over there.

Posted by: Dave on Sep 14, 2007 6:12:47 PM

Thanks for serving up a thinker ;-). Geoff and you really care and we appreciate it. You asked some great questions:

"Is a blog post written by a publication’s editor or reporter an opt-ed piece?"

Yes. Blogs can absolutely be used to deliver facts but they are first and foremost channels for opinions and interests. That's the beauty of them--and why each blog has its own personality.

"Even so should the post be held to the same journalist standards set for the publication’s articles?"

Do you mean should he (the reporter) not be allowed to lie and such? No, of course not. But I do think he should be allowed to voice his opinion. Sure, some are more harsh than others but if they have an opinion and have a reason for it, then they should voice it through their blog.

"Would Ad Age have published Jonah Bloom’s post as an article?"

Hmm. First, did you guys write to the Editor and ask? I think it would be good to hear from the Editor on this front. Second, articles are different than blog posts but, third, I think the state of social media companies...and getting them off the ground...is relevant, timely news for AdAge and the industry. AdAge reports on successes/wins/layoffs/hard times at other agencies and companies frequently (don't they?). So I would think they would include it in a relevant article.

"What obligation does the “journalist blogger” have to reflect the publication’s brand image?"

I need to think on that one more guys, great question ;-). But I'm VERY happy to see blogs on AdAge--I've been asking BtoB to, at the very least, include comment functionality on their articles. To no response ;-(.

All told, I too wish Crayon much success as I don't want to see anyone going through hard times. I'm amazed at how long it's taking "the industry" to catch up too, but, even in 2007, we're still ahead of the majority of marketers to catch on. Oh how I remember the dot-com bust and how long it took for everyone to finally agree that the Internet held a true, rich business proposition ;-). Same thing with social media.

But I didn't find the post to be yellow journalism. Folks, certainly we can all agree that marketers can frequently use some mighty tangled language to explain things (confusing copy was Bloom's point, IMO). Hey, I've been guilty of using confusing language before...I'm surely not without sin here. Sorry that was long.

Posted by: CK on Sep 15, 2007 12:16:03 AM

If there is one constant in life it's that bloggers are not shy about voicing differing opinions. That's what puts the spice in social media.

@Lewis - Of course, Jonah has every right to voice his opinion as well. However, my 2 cents .. the content just didn't fit as part of Ad Age. I though it was a bit too mud slingy. Keep in mind the blog was part of a publication that has a mandate (I would assume) to further the marketing profession. My opinion would be totally different if the post had been written on a personal blog.

@David - thanks for your comment. No matter what position Jaffe has taken in the past I still hold Ad Age to a standard where its editors are positively critical without resorting to name calling. So school yard stuff.

@CK - appreciate your very thoughtful comment. It would be a good idea to understand Ad Age's take on the post. Yes, I too am glad to see that Ad Age and other msm outlets are including social media and blogs.

Posted by: Toby on Sep 15, 2007 2:00:57 AM

After thinking about the comments left on Geoff's post, on Diva and some off blog conversations. I've been thinking more about why Jonah's words hit a nerve for me.

The post was so off target of what I expected from a leading professional publication. In retrospect our posts might have been a bit heavy-handed. Of course Jonah has every right to his opinion.

But for me this was like a school yard bully - because of the reach and influence of Ad Age - throwing mud at a mate. My expectations of Ad Age's content, developed over many years, was thrown off balance. And was dis-concerning .. thus my reactions.

What I hope this post does do is bring dialogue to what is happening in respected MSM
when the doors of social media are opened to staff and published within the context of the magazine. Could be that Jonah's post is the way it will run. So I get to know .. really know what the reporters and editors believe. How does that color my view of their next 'journalist article?" Is that good or not .. I don't know. But it sure does open doors for new questions and I guess "new media."

Thanks all for encouraging me to think some more .. as you always do!

Posted by: Toby on Sep 16, 2007 10:02:05 AM

Toby and Geoff(...and everybody, actually): I hear you on the reach and influence of AdAge. But look at how emphatic we are on our blogs about our opinions. Read through Jaffe's, Greg's and my blog and you'll find some mighty (!) strong opinions (not saying right or wrong, I'm saying "strong"--and that's what I value about blogs/bloggers).

So the question is, shouldn't Jonah, on his blog--which I see as his opinion--have free range to be strong, too? If it's his opinion and he has what he holds to be his fair reasons, then should we limit him because he's professional press?

Isn't he , in essence, doing what we're asking the industry to do...and join the convo?

That said, it is nicer to be more nice, or in this case less harsh. I get it. But perhaps that's not authentic to his manner. Look at the way Tangerine Toad gives his strong opinion, look at how strong Jaffe is in slamming marketers who don't get it, look at Greg's witty quips--look at how I get on a tear when I think a company has been unethical or manipulative (um, I've given it to DOW, Nikon, Microsoft, etc., etc.). But we all do so in order to better the profession. Maybe Jonah is doing that, too. And doing so in his authentic voice.

I just want to 1) encourage media to blog/join the convo and 2) keep it authentic (since, truth be told and fair game, many of us can be very strong in our opinions, too).

Posted by: CK on Sep 16, 2007 7:45:27 PM

Well as long as CK is injecting me into the conversation ;)

Toby: I think you are completely misreading this whole thing.

I just did a post about all this http://tangerinetoad.blogspot.com/2007/09/sometimes-it-really-doesnt-matter-what.html

Bottom line, before this post, Crayon (and Jaffe) were non-entities in the world of most of Ad Age's readers.

Bloom just gave him legitimacy and visibility. He's worthy of Ad Age's attention. You can't buy that kind of love.

Posted by: Tangerine Toad on Sep 16, 2007 11:21:59 PM

PS: If you read Ad Age, then you know that Jonah Bloom's whole shtick is based on being the cheeky young Brit who's not afraid to call people out on their BS. Jaffe isn't the first person he's gone to town on. So it's not at all inconsistent.

Posted by: Tangerine Toad on Sep 16, 2007 11:24:24 PM

I think I'd have to respectfully disagree with you CK. I understand where you are coming from -- and this is most disagreeing bloggers view of it -- but this did not occur on Jonah's blog. It occurred on an official Advertising Age blog from its executive editor.

I am anaylzing this as a PR pro, not a blogger. That means it may as well have been its editorial opinion page. Believe me when I say that crayon's prospective clients who read that post with its Advertising Age masthead will see it that way. Jonah's blast will live forever in the ether as official editorial coverage, not a blog rant. Thus it demonstrated extreme abuse of Jonah's power and position.

But as Tangerine so eloquently points out it does legitimize crayon as a major force in the biz (maybe past force). Though I must say Tangerine that I don't think any of my clients would ever see such cover as a positive moment.

Posted by: Geoff Livingston on Sep 17, 2007 12:22:39 AM

BTW: This does bring the question of what separates a journalist from a blogger ethically. Given the FEC's recent ruling -- judging blogs as a form of media -- we can see there is much gray here.

Regardless of what we feel, I'd really like to see someone from Annenberg or Northwestern break down Jonah's post. I'm sure it wouldn't be positive.

Posted by: Geoff Livingston on Sep 17, 2007 12:34:31 AM

Interesting point Geoff.

Bloom is a columnist for Ad Age and so at some level the blog is just another column-- I mean I could just as easily see that post in the print edition, both stylistically and contextually.

But you're correct that it's billed as a "blog" and that tends to put it in a different category. And is a columnist's blog different than a reporter's?

Posted by: Tangerine Toad on Sep 17, 2007 11:15:33 AM

@Geoff: I appreciate your point of seeing this from the readers' standpoint; I agree that, yes, they could view this post as an article (or column) being it's on AdAge's site and written by their Editor.

I also took Jonah's post to be railing against mangled prose--which I think is a good lesson for many professionals as it happens all too much. And I do think that is worthy of coverage for the industry.

What I need to better understand is this: what would have been ethical in your opinion? If Jonah hadn't been so strong...or if Jonah had used several examples, not just one? Or if Jonah hadn't blogged on it at all? I'm asking so as to better understand what you view as not misusing his power and the AdAge brand.

Note: I do not read a lot of prof'l media blogs, so I've not seen the style of other reporters on their blogs (be it on AdAge, USAToday, etc.)

Posted by: CK on Sep 17, 2007 1:30:34 PM

I must be a glutton for punishment because I wrote a new post based on all of the conversation and feed back from both streams. CK, I tried to answer your Qs there. Yellow crayon Redux: Journalism vs. Blogging can be found at: http://nowisgone.com/2007/09/17/yellow-crayon-redux-journalism-vs-blogging/

Posted by: Geoff Livingston on Sep 17, 2007 2:37:41 PM

@Geoff: Thanks so much for sticking with this convo. Being blogging is such new terrain and, I'd argue, blogging by journalists even newer ground, it's a very interesting area for me. Both from being a blogger who can freely express my strong opinions and from a consultant guiding my clients through social media.

I'll now respond over at the new post...rock on!

Posted by: CK on Sep 17, 2007 4:43:22 PM

@Geoff: Thanks so much for sticking with this convo. Being blogging is such new terrain and, I'd argue, blogging by journalists even newer ground, it's a very interesting area for me. Both from being a blogger who can freely express my strong opinions and from a consultant guiding my clients through social media.

I'll now respond over at the new post...rock on!

Posted by: CK on Sep 17, 2007 4:43:34 PM

First, I'm a fan of Jaffe's. He's gone out of his way to help myself and many other blogs when the 'return' on that help really favored us far more than him, at least in the short-term. I don't always agree with him, but in my blogging book he's one of the good guys.

Second, I think Dave above got it. Bloom's slamming Joe isn't much different from how Joe slams 'big companies that don't get it'. It's Joe's MO, and it obviously works well for him. Bloom was writing as if he was trying to 'get back' at Joe. Or maybe he's got a style that's similar to Joe's, I haven't read him enough to know.

But as others have said, if anything, this raises Crayon's visibility greatly. I don't think Joe, Scott and Greg will be too upset with that.

I think we bloggers feel a bit vested in seeing Crayon succeed, because these guys are taking a pretty big risk, and their success is a bit of a validation of the power of 'new marketing'.

Now on a completely different note, what the hell has Ad Age done with the Power 150? Anything?

Posted by: Mack Collier on Sep 17, 2007 7:55:52 PM

Did anyone see where CC and Steve started up? Sounds cool, probably what Crayon "should have been."

Posted by: Allen on Oct 27, 2007 9:33:02 PM

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