Bryan Joiner

Why then I

Content vs. Promotion

Minor League Baseball teams are masters of promotion. Last night, I was watching an episode of Man vs. Food where Adam Richman traveled to three separate minor league stadiums to sample their gimmicky food items. I saw him eat a bacon cheeseburger with a fried Krispy Kreme donut bun in Sauget, Illinois and a five-pound, five-cheeseburger Super Burger in Grand Rapids, Michigan, before I changed the channel. You’d never see these food items at a major league ballpark, not leastwise because healthy-eating groups would have a field day (One can only imagine Mayor Bloomberg’s reaction if the Yankees started selling a five-pound burger. He’d outlaw all stadium food, and spend $20 million to do it.) You see it in minor league stadiums because minor league baseball needs to give fans every reason possible to come to the park to watch something that is an inferior product.

Those who argue that promotion is more important than content on the Internet could learn something here. Superior products sell themselves. Major League Baseball has an advertising budget, to be sure, and has blistered the airwaves with their “Beyond Baseball” commercials this fall. But they do it because they’re competing against other forms of entertainment for dollars—not other forms of baseball. Geographic factors aside, Major League Baseball does not need to worry about Minor League Baseball stealing its market share. It’s just not happening.

But wait, promotion junkies might say: what if Minor League Baseball had Major League Baseball’s advertising budget? Then the playing field would be even, except it wouldn’t: MLB would still have the product.  MLB has long been accused of not selling the game well enough in the “hip-hop era” (I can’t believe I just used that term), yet attendance is up and while food at the ballgames is a draw, it’s not the draw. There are easier ways to get Shake Shack than to go to Citi Field. There aren’t really easier ways to get five-pound burgers than to go to a West Michigan Whitecaps game.

It’s the same on the Internet. As my friend Dustin, a comic strip artist, wrote in response to my previous post, here’s the phenomenon of Digg, in a nutshell:

Let’s say you get on the front page of Digg. I’ve done it a few times. You get 3,000 Diggs, it translates into 100,000 hits in one day. You’re like WOW, fuck yeah, this is awesome! The next day you get maybe 15,000 hits. The next day 3,000. Then it gets smaller and smaller and next week you are back where you started. That’s the thing with social media. It doesn’t build your fanbase unless youre constantly generating content that does well. It just gives you spikes in traffic.

Those Diggs are like the Krispy Kreme burger. They’ll get people to come to your MiLB game despite its obvious inferiority, but eventually the popularity will wane. (A result of a Lipitor scarcity, perhaps). That’s why MiLB are constantly running ridiculous promotions, like one in Pennsyvlania where 800 kids stood on the field as a helicopter dropped 100 pounds of marshmallows and 100 pounds of candy toward them. Or the one from 2008 where the Quad Cities River Bandits of Davenport, IA (hey, I’ve been there!) offered free season tickets to anyone who got a team tattoo. For Minor League Baseball, promotion is a full-time job because the product is inferior. The promotion is the product. If you’re starting a blog and have an inferior product, yes, you should focus on promotion. But the better solution would be to spend most of that time creating better posts.

UPDATE: The minor league hijinks are not, it seems limited to baseball.

Birth of a Salesman

Slow day today, so I’m going to follow up on some ideas I read on my friend Jeremy’s blog about writers-as-brand-creators. This will be a break from PHILLIES WIN!-type baseball talk, but I promise to get back at it soon. I fell asleep last night at 9:45 and didn’t get a chance to write any of this down.

Jeremy uses the story of an appellate lawyer who committed suicide as a jumping off point to discuss “how most jobs are really sales jobs, even the ones that don’t seem like they ought to be.  And if anything I feel like the new economy only intensifies that.” I was already nodding along with him, and then he hit this:

I think what doesn’t get acknowledged as much is that it’s hard and sometimes tiring.  Maybe you don’t want to be updating three blogs, two Twitter feeds, and a Facebook page seven times a day, forever.  Maybe you don’t want to have to come up with value you can add to the world every day.  Maybe you don’t want to have to think about networking and new leads and selling yourself.

But more and more, I think the world is moving to a place where to be successful, we have to.

These are really interesting observations to me, especially in terms of how I thought a/my writer career would play out and how it has. The fundamental shifts in the industry have occurred right as I was trying to enter it, making it as difficult to navigate as the God-fractured ground at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. There were rats, dad.

Growing up I read stories of how people 50 years prior had walked into newspaper offices and asked for jobs and were dispatched to Queens with a pencil and paper and—ta da!—30 years later they were Jimmy Breslin, or something. I knew that had changed by the time I had a professional job, but I definitely underestimated how much it had changed. Being a reporter didn’t involve working really hard to get to the point where you could find your place in the firmament, so to speak—it’s now about figuring out your place in the firmament, then working hard, and then establishing yourself. You’ll notice that I haven’t done it as of yet, but I only recently realized that generalism is no excuse for a lack of posts.

In a way, this is reassuring. In the new media landscape, writers will have been so singularly focused for such a long time that we’ll have experts on everything. The bad side is not so much that this practice discourages inquitisiveness among reporters and “reporters”—writers are, by nature, curious people—but that people might automatically discount writing that, say, a “sports guy” does about crime. (That is not an altogether random example.) On the flip side, building yourself as a brand allows you a lot of cross-platform opportunities, so I’m not sure that’s a good example. Like, if I wrote a really good sports blog, someone might let me write about movies. But I think I would always be known as the sports guy. Or “a” sports guy, I should say. The other title is taken.

Selling yourself isn’t new, of course, but I think Jeremy’s right that it’s taken more percentage of work time than ever before. That’s something that my friend Dustin echoed in his recent comic. Building a brand has become equally about the work you put in inside the medium and the work you do to promote yourself. Self-promotion has always had its advantages, but today, it’s about survival.

I mostly just feel what Jeremy was saying, is all.

UPDATE: As I watched Twitter this morning, MediaBistro tweeted about an article called “25 things I wish I’d known when I started blogging.” Number one is “Content doesn’t matter. Promotion matters.” MediaBistro immediately followed up to say most people would say that promotion is nothing without good content.

UPDATE 2: It would appear Tommy Friedman’s column from yesterday is also somewhat about this.