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In the High Grass

So I was out running the other day on this mountain road that rolls along the foothills of the Shenandoah and I saw a lot of cows.  This is not unusual.  I often see cows.  What I don’t see often are cows moving. They chew grass. They flick tails. But mostly they stand there with a look that makes you want to check to see if the shovel’s still on the back of their heads.

This time a certain cow caught my eye, a white face atop a black body.  Between chewing and flicking she glanced my way and, for a brief instant, seemed almost ready to move.  But the moment past and she dropped her head back down. Out on the road I felt like I was sprinting.  Truth is I wasn’t running any faster, but compared to the stillness in the field, I thought my hair was going to catch fire.

Later, as I was describing my sensation of hyperspeed to a friend, it made me think of how so many big media companies are still the cows in the field, focused on the grass in front of their faces.  They are aware of things moving out there on the road, but they’ve been in the high grass so long, it’s just so hard to pull away. 

Now, however, the grass isn’t so green and they’re starting to move, only into strange new territory.  And what’s become painfully clear is what they need almost more than anything is to be nimble. 

But after you’ve gone cow, can you learn nimble?

Just as daunting is the realization that any serious move into the digital media future requires a willingness to give up control, whether its when and where people watch a program, how controversial issues are framed, or how a brand or story or show is pitched to the public. 

The key is that it doesn’t mean giving up all control.  By engaging audiences where they now spend most of their time–in social networks, on the Web or their PDAs–and by focusing more on sharing assets and building relationships rather than simply messaging to them, media companies can still manage their brands and how they evolve with new generations.

People don’t like to feel played these days.  But they still like to be led.

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October 15, 2009 at 9:20 pm Leave a comment


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