March 3, 2005

I Repeat, "No More Letters to the Editor!"

[TODAY'S FUROR OVER THE AWFUL LA TIMES LOVE TYRST WITH NORTH KOREA -- N. Korea, Without the Rancor -- is neither surprising nor unexpected. What is somewhat upsetting is that the blogosphere seems to be stuck in an outmoded model of complaint. Even the sage Hugh Hewitt falls back on an exhaustive list of Korean-American organizations to contact while canceling the subscription to the Times you gave up long ago.

Well, let me tell you that venting spleen into a phone or canceling a sub JUST DOESN'T CUT IT when it comes to getting the editorial attention of the LA Times. They DON'T CARE. They have NEVER CARED. They won't CARE IN THE FUTURE. They will all still receive their checks and benefits no matter how many times you write, call or cancel. Why? Because your opinion and your subscription DOESN'T REALLY MAKE A DIFFERENCE.

What makes a difference to these papers is one thing, and one thing only, THEIR ADVERTISING REVENUE. To get their attention you've got to cost them ad dollars, you've got to get advertisers to cancel their ad orders. I know full well that circulation at the LA Times is sliding down, but that's a slow attrition. A hundred or thousand subscribers bowing out over a single bad story doesn't make an impression. One advertiser yanking $50,000 worth of ads makes a meeting and an unpleasant one at that in which the Publisher asks why the idiots in the editorial chambers are pushing him into bankruptcy again.

If you want to be effective this time, it would be a good thing to put a BlogSquad on the case of going over the last month's worth of LA Times and pulling out every ad that speaks to or is owned by Korean-Americans. I would, but I cancelled my subscription years ago.

Here's an item from my back pages of May 2004 that spells it out in more detail.]

Quit Being a Chump and Start Being Effective: Here's How to Make Your Views Matter to the Mass Media

EDITORS LOVE IT when you write outraged letters to them, but not for the reasons you might think.

Editors love your outraged letters because it tells they you're reading them. They love your letters, even when you scold them, because it shows you care.

Editors love printing your letter that takes them to task because it shows they are pleased to balance a large chunk of airtime or copy with a few seconds or inches of dissent.

But the dirty little secret beneath the editors' love for your outraged letter is that means, almost all of the time, that you didn't send that letter to one of the editors' advertisers.

Editors hate it when people write to the advertisers. If enough people write, editors have to have a conversation with their advertising director. Not that anything will come of it, but they hate the casual watercooler conversation that begins, "We're getting some heat from Nike about that dingbat Robert Scheer, can't you get him to..."

"Now, now, you know there's a wall between news and advertising."

"Sure, but I just want you to know that Nike is..."

If you don't think conversations like that happen, you just don't know the "media business."

If enough letters get written not to editors but to advertisers, the editor then gets to have a conversation he really hates -- a conversation with the publisher.

"When the advertisers get nervous, the publisher gets nervous."

The publisher of a newspaper, or director of a radio or television network, looks at the business of the operation. He is responsible to the owners or the stockholders. The owners or stockholders care first and foremost about the health of the business. When the advertisers get nervous, the publisher gets nervous.

That's why if you want to make your feelings felt about the way the news is handled by an element of the mass media you are wasting energy, cycles and stamps writing to the editor or producers. They just enjoy it and use it to further their agendas.

If you want to have an effect larger than a letter of complaint, put your energy on the akido point of today's media, advertising.

There is no newspaper in the land that can survive without advertising. Their entire business model is built on the revenue from advertisers. Whether or not you buy a copy or cancel a subscription means less than nothing to them -- even when it happens in the thousands -- unless it annoys or chills their advertisers.

Today, the mass media is still struggling back from the severe ad slump generated by the dotcom implosion, 9/11, and the resulting recession. For the first time in a number of years, the forecast is looking good for advertising across the board. But it is still shaky and advertisers -- through the advertising agencies -- still make critical decisions on where billions of dollars in paid advertising will flow.

In the main, this money follows demographics and circulation/ratings, but not always. Since many publications and shows have similar demographics and equivalent circulations, many shows compete for the same advertising dollar. And any little thing can cause those dollars to move.

While editors and producers tend to live within a carefully circumscribed bubble of like-minded folk within their newsrooms, publishers and media advertising salespeople have to confront the business edge daily. If the corporate client of one of the advertising agencies that is currently buying space or time from the media outlet in question is unhappy, the business end of that media operation feels it very quickly.

"In the great mass media food chain, the advertiser is the big supermarket at the top and he reserves the right to refuse service to anybody for any reason."

That's because the advertising agency that creates the corporate client's advertising and places it in a program of media buys is subject, at any moment, to be fired by that corporation if the corporation doesn't think the advertising is "effective." Read the advertising trade publications and you'll find that the biggest news beat is always who has fired what agency over what issue and who is going to what agency as a result.

In the great mass media food chain, the advertiser is the big supermarket at the top and he reserves the right to refuse service to anybody for any reason. He is very sensitive and very touchy and very cranky. Nobody below him on the chain likes to make him the least bit upset.

That's why, if you don't like the agenda of a media organization, you need to upset the advertiser. If that happens enough, you'll see some changes made.

"How can you write to an advertiser if you see something you don't like in a major media outlet? It is simplicity itself especially for national media."

So if you see a story or a trend that you don't like as an individual, it is your right and your duty to complain to the people who make it possible, the advertisers. You'll recall a number of times in the past couple of decades when the media have run stories on this or that consumer boycott or letter writing campaign aimed at this or that bit of corporate behavior or advertising campaign. You'll find some follow up stories on how effective this tactic proved to be, but few. You'll not find still fewer stories praising this tactic unless it advanced "victims' rights." That's understandable since this tactic threatens to break the rice bowl of the media reporting the story. It's not that they consciously slant it, but that they don't see the need to emphasize stories about a tactic that, carried far enough, could threaten the mortgage payments of the editors and reporters in the newsroom.

And make no mistake, carried far enough that's just what complaining to advertisers can do.

How can you write to an advertiser if you see something you don't like in a major media outlet? It is simplicity itself especially for national media.

First you note which advertiser is closest to the offending newspaper, magazine, radio, or television story. Position is something that is a factor in an advertising buy and it often indicates that a specific advertiser has chosen that slot because something has convinced him that his ad will be most effective there. This isn't always the case, but it will narrow down the target.

The next step is to determine the corporation behind the ad. In the case of national brand names, this is not all that difficult, but in the case of conglomerates it might take a little more digging. In either case, it is merely a matter of following your Goggle.

"All companies have an internal metric by which they measure customer displeasure."

All public corporations are listed on the major stock exchanges. All listings have links to the corporation's home page. Each corporate home page has the name and address of the CEO of that corporation. Sometimes there's even an email address for the CEO. This person is the one to whom you will address your complaint. You can send an email or a real letter as you prefer, but know that a real letter is given more weight in the company simply because it took you more trouble. In either case, all companies have an internal metric by which they measure customer displeasure. One letter may factor to 10 or 100 or 1000 displeased customers. It all depends, but in any case one letter has a lot more weight to a company than it does to a newsroom. In a newsroom, you letter is just another bit of entertainment. In a company, it is cause for alarm.

I hasten to add that the chances your letter will actually be seen or read by the CEO of Disney, Nike, General Motors, etc. is slim to none, but that's not the point. If enough letters on a subject are received by a corporation what the CEO will see is a number on a report. If that number is large enough, the CEO will ask what is going on with the advertising buys at this or that media outlet. He will expect an answer. If it is an answer that threatens enough of the company's revenue stream, the advertising will be pulled and the advertising agency either fired or put on notice. This will have a chilling effect felt all the way down the media food chain. If the chill becomes deep enough, it will cause frostbite and the loss of toes in the newsroom.

"You could write hundreds of letters about [Robert Scheers] quisling screeds to the editor and they would just join the tens of thousands of others in the circular file."

To see what this form of letter-writing can do, imagine for a moment the situation of Los Angeles Times columnist Robert Scheer. While Scheer's talents may be meager, his bias large and transparent, and his anti-Americanism a career path of long standing, his position as a pet of the left at the Los Angeles Times seems unassailable. They would have to be graphic video tapes of his long-ago commune nights available to even begin to cause him trouble. You could write hundreds of letters about his quisling screeds to the editor and they would just join the tens of thousands of others in the circular file. They are all just "good for a laugh" over an expense account lunch. You could cancel your subscription as tens of thousands of others have done. The Times would just, as it has done, mount a campaign to give you home delivery of the paper for a dollar a week in order to replace them. Letters to the Editor and subscription cancellations will have no effect. Scheer will be back peddling his bile the very next week with no end in sight.

But imagine if a concerted campaign were mounted asking the companies advertising in the Los Angeles Times why they continue to spend good money supporting this quisling. Imagine if those letters contained choice quotations from Scheer and asked if the company agreed with him since it would seem, by where they were spending their money, they might. Imagine if the letters were to arrive at these companies in such numbers that they would prompt a "review" of advertising priorities. This can and does happen.

"A withdrawal of one major advertiser from a major newspaper means the loss of many millions of dollars to that paper. Worse still, it makes other major advertisers consider the same action."

Imagine that in the wake of these reviews, one or two major companies decided to pull their advertising from the Los Angeles Times and place it elsewhere in community papers or on local television channels. A withdrawal of one major advertiser from a major newspaper means the loss of many millions of dollars to that paper. Worse still, it makes other major advertisers consider the same action.

The result is that the position of Robert Scheer at the Los Angeles Times ceases to be just a concern of the newsroom and a subject for idle conversation over lunch. It becomes an item in a cost/benefit analysis.

The CEO of the company that owns the Los Angeles Times will call the Publisher of the Los Angeles Times. He will ask what the Publisher is doing about their multi-million dollar liability. There will be a pro-forma exchange of views about the "wall" between advertising and editorial, and then they will both return to "working the numbers." Following that call, and the Publisher will have a meeting with the Vice-President of Advertising which the Editor will be required to attend. The VP of Advertising will be in a very bad mood since his bonus and the commissions of his salespeople will have been chopped. The Editor will blather a bit about the "wall" between advertising and editorial. The Publisher will make comforting and understanding noises, but will then return to "working the numbers." The meeting will then focus on "what we are going to do about Robert Scheer and what's the best way to do it."

And all because you finally got fed up with writing a letter to the editor and decided to write a letter to the advertiser instead. Of course, you don't have to give this up completely. "Letters to the Editor" are why God made the "cc:" field.

Posted by Vanderleun at March 3, 2005 2:21 PM
Bookmark and Share



"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Most of the advertisement that appears next to this particular story is for companies that are also owned by the same parent or are for special features of the LA Times itself. If you keep hitting refresh often enough, you do get the occasional outside advertiser pop up. I wrote my own boycott note here about what happened next.

Posted by: TM Lutas at March 4, 2005 10:32 AM

Gee wlilikers, that's such a great post!

Posted by: Priest at January 6, 2012 12:24 AM

hey there and thank you for your information – I've definitely picked up anything new from right here. I did however expertise a few technical points using this website, as I experienced to reload the site a lot of times previous to I could get it to load properly. I had been wondering if your web hosting is OK? Not that I'm complaining,
but slow loading instances times will sometimes affect
your placement in google and can damage your high quality
score if ads and marketing with Adwords. Anyway I am adding this RSS to my e-mail and
can look out for a lot more of your respective intriguing content.
Ensure that you update this again soon.

Posted by: null at April 15, 2013 5:45 PM

are used by the majority of players in moderation and in
a responsible manner. Extracting gold from a gold mine will not be a big
problem. MMO-oriented mice, however, usually have a
vast arsenal of buttons.

Posted by: moviestarplanet hack at March 26, 2014 11:56 AM