One of my favorite questions that I often get is “why don’t I know about you?” I love it--a declaration of supremacy, ignorance, and guilt all at the same time. Re-phrased, complete with backhanded undertones it actually sounds more like, “How could I--a ‘high-powered tastemaker’ who has been in this business longer than you have been alive--have no clue that I’ve been competing with [and losing to] you this entire time!?” What I love even more about this question are not my quick, witty responses, but taking note of the people who ask. Can you guess who typically asks these questions? Yep you nailed it, The Old Rep[1].

I will hold off on divulging some of my more…“choice” responses, but suffice to say with the AICP event here in Chicago last week, opportunities to audition and perfect my response were far from lacking. Joking aside, what we have here is a real problem and the current solution is well, you know...

Let me explain where I came from; I came up under you. Not in the way that you’d like to think--where I, as a young, junior-rep watched longingly at the way you carried yourself, and spoke to clients waiting for the opportunity to emulate your behavior. No. What I mean is that I grew and solidified my roots underground [yes, like a weed]. Face it, cool shit happens underground - we don’t particularly care for rules, sustainability is secondary [for the moment], and arguably the only rule or perhaps as Captain Jack Sparrow would put it, guideline is; “best idea wins”. Sounds cool, right? It is; but, like the best punk bands, artists, and fight clubs eventually the underground moves above ground - those roots grow stronger and dig deeper; eventually breaking through to the surface. Interestingly it’s here at this moment when brands, agencies, clients, etc. want to latch on to “the underground” vibe…when it’s above ground [read: safe]. This isn’t an op/ed on the state of branding [though maybe that will be a future topic] so I will leave you with this point--when you talk about “knowing who I am” [or in this case not knowing] understand this: in the underground you learn to see in the dark. You couldn’t see me, but I’ve been watching you this entire time.

Oddly enough, this segues quite nicely to the second defining characteristic in our New Rep series; unlike our friend The Old Rep, The New Rep will take a decidedly different approach when it comes to attracting, signing, growing, and of course representing the next generation of talent - we’ll call it: “The Obsidian Guide to Getting Things Right the First Time”. On second thought how about, the “Long Approach” instead? In my last post I wrote primarily about identifying new talent - cutting through the ‘noise’ to locate the source or ‘signal’, but let’s say you’ve found [what you believe to be] the signal, what now?

The Dark Knight © 2008

Those in the biz love to tout the fact that it’s so “dynamic”;  waxing poetic about an environment that’s always-changing, typically followed up by some bullshit comment roughly equating to “adapt or die”, but have they really adapted? Think about the last major adaptation you made in your practice, e.g., the way in which you communicate with clients, a new media or distribution platform/channel, or perhaps [God forbid] another social media service. Hell, even a new Gmail layout. We think we make these giant advances when all that’s really being done is talk and quite literally anyone can do that, but advertising may do it the best. SXSW or AICP panels, PowerPoint presentations, press releases, podcasts, the avenues are seemingly endless for those that wish to talk, but answer me this: what good is one’s ability to talk about ‘in-house’ this, ‘streamlined’ that, resulting in increased these if one can’t put that talk into practice with [read: sell to] one’s client? We find ourselves in the midst of a capabilities arms race - media shops producing content, PR shops vying for advertising AOR, advertising agencies taking production & post in-house, advertisers attempting to take their digital departments in house, and the list goes on, but like a dog chasing a car - would they know what to do if they ever were to catch it [except talk about it some more]? Ladies and gentlemen I present to you a glimpse of The [unfortunate] New Normal: where ideas are chased and no longer created. That’s not dynamic that’s insanity.

Click for the full experience

Click for the full experience

“But Matt, it sounds like you’re the one who’s waxing poetic and talking just like everyone else”, some astute reader will inevitably fire back. Well, much like Adam Sandler’s wedding singer “I have a microphone and you don’t so you’re going to listen to every damn word I have to say” and [more importantly] like I mentioned earlier, we’ve been watching you. Not only did we see and recognize this New Normal as a system we are going to have to work with for a while[2], but we we’ve been counting on it. Now here’s some good news: all hope is not lost and for as much of the burden to change rests upon everyone in this business, we can’t forget the subject of this post; our X-Factor, The New Rep. The ones who spent their time underground identifying signal from noise, the fad from the legitimate, and filmmaker from film-taker. Can you feel it? That’s right, I’m bringing this bad boy full circle.

Being underground comes with it’s advantages and disadvantages, some of the advantages being: we were never caught up in the politics, gossip, approved vendor lists, and endless agency/client drama. We spent our time pinpointing where, based on what we knew and what we believed the business was headed and we’ve arrived; right on schedule. Before I go on, here’s a real-life example of pinpointing an industry, separating a signal from the noise: remember the MiniDisc?

It's like holding the future in your hand!

It's like holding the future in your hand!

In the timeline of personal audio devices the MiniDisc [and it’s corresponding player] fell somewhere between the portable CD player and the mp3 player. I can’t commit to consumer adoption metrics, but it wasn’t the most “adopted” piece of portable audio technology. While reasons for this vary from consumers not wanting to re-purchase their CD [or cassette] library as MiniDiscs to not understanding the point [carrying a separate piece of physical media to be played ala cassette tapes or CD...always seemed redundant], see where I’m headed? When looking at where this media & it’s corresponding device fell in the zeitgeist of portable audio equipment, it became abundantly clear that the underlying technology [digitized, file-based music] was far more interesting than the medium on which it came “packaged”. In other words, the .mp3 file format predated the physical MiniDisc so wouldn’t it stand to reason that a device - essentially a hard drive could hold these files without the need for individualized MiniDisc albums?[3] Yes, there still needed to be some developments made with operating system and file/folder management, but I think you’re getting the point. The application of existing technology - the digital audio format [.mp3] found its way onto, wait for it…the MP3 player all, but cementing the MiniDisc as the last new, physical audio format in the music industry[4].

'90's Sony Mini Disc Commercial / R.I.P. Circuit City

Awesomess Quotient [AQ] over Time [T]

*this is in no way a scientific representation of ANYTHING*

You see, our Long Approach isn’t a sales tool or a special intellectual property that is available to only a select few. It’s not a reinvention of the wheel either. It is an application of what we already know about the wheel compared and contrasted against what we believe the wheel could become[5]. We at Obsidian do not claim to be rocket scientists, quantum physicists, or anything else that requires more than 4 years of schooling, but there are some commonalities between us. Just like ‘real’ scientists, The New Rep looks at the current landscape, notices a new trend, technology, distribution channel, etc. and asks themselves a simple 2-part question: what do I know and what do I believe? The goal being to find an intersection between what you believe about [a] aforementioned trend and [b] consumer behavior/adoption [and by extension advertising & media adoption] while comparing and contrasting against what you know[6]. 

Truthfully this is a dynamic business, but by the time the pundits who pontificate about ‘dynamacy’ get around to pointing it out to the masses [or worse, their clients], the current strategy is often a case of too little too late. I know you’re thinking, “this doesn’t apply to our strategy” or “that’s not really what our client is looking for” so let me tell you right now: it does and they are. Show me a company actively trying not to be successful[7] or profitable[8]; ridiculous, right? Then why allow your clients, these companies or individuals trying desperately to stay above water in a media-ocean that they are literally drowning in to become another statistic of The New Normal just to show off offer some capability that you may or may not actually have let alone be able to execute at the level required?

Wrapping up, it is not too late to pull the e-brake and stop chasing. It is time for everyone, not just reps, not just advertising or PR agencies; all of us to stand up and be the experts in our respective fields once again. If you are reading this and don’t know where to start, call your rep. If they don’t know the answer then a good one will find the answer and deliver it along with contingency options. If that is not your experience then find a New Rep.

So why don’t you “know about me”? I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.

[1] Read Part 1 here.

[2] Regimes, Systems, Paradigms are all fluid and never built to last

[3] I had nothing to do with any aspect of the ideation or invention of the mp3 player

[4] Audiophiles will quickly point out that the HDCD came well after the Mini Disc and to them all I have to say is, “Really?!?”

[5] Given current market trends in the ‘wheel-business’’s a bumpy road ahead [#unsubscribe]

[6] We are assuming that knowledge is fluid and that what we knew may no longer be what we know

[7] Twitter doesn’t count, you just don’t get it.

[8] Registered 501c3 companies excluded.