It’s funny how two things collide and you start thinking about things in new ways.
Take today. I’m reading Jon Savage’s history of punk ‘England’s Dreaming.’ It talks of Sniffing Glue fanzine’s revolutionary advice on forming a band. Learn two chords. Then a third. Now form a band.
Why? Because punk was simple. Anyone could do it. You needed a lot of attitude and some talent.
Later today, I’m reading Paul Sutton talking about the music industry and how society will change in 20 years time when there are those who’ve only ever known social media.
It got me thinking.
Never mind society. Will there even be a place for today’s comms people in a world in 20 years time when there are people around who’ve always known social media?
Your music collection is shaped by someone you’ve never met
Here’s a story. Bear with me. Once, when I worked in local government comms I worked with the museums service on an exhibition to celebrate the life and career of a bloke called Steve Jenkins.
The exhibition ‘Kylie, Britney, Justin and Me’ was about Steve’s behind-the-scenes role in the music industry across 25 years. He was a hugely powerful figure who had a role in more than 140 top 40 UK hits. He was part of the talent-spotting team that signed Britney Spears as part of a two year project to find the new Madonna. He was MD of Jive Records and the marketing brains behind Stock, Aiken and Waterman. He is a fascinating bloke.
He was also a press officer’s dream. Pete Waterman? They both used to plan campaigns in the back of a car going to Walsall games. Or the time they HAD to get Kylie’s album in the Top 40 or Pete faced ruin. They did. Just. And a pop star was born. Boom.
I met Steve back in 2009 and we’d only just started to use social media. He was intrigued by it. I’d love to go back and use what I’ve learned to promote it.
Save yourself by being a geek
Steve Jenkins got good because he was a geek about music and how the charts worked. As a record industry marketeer, he discovered that by promoting your record in Woolworths on a certain day with certain strategies would be the difference between a new entry at 38 – and the boost of a mention on Top of the Pops – and one that would stall at 42 and sink without trace. So, he signed an exclusive deal with Woolworths that saw only him place promotional content in their chain of stores. If you were a record exec who wanted to break top 40 you’d have to deal with him and his marketing company.
I often think of Steve when today I hear comms geeks speak about a way they’ve maybe got the algorithm to work for them. You’ve got to know the topic, love it, be able to take it apart and put it back together again and think about nothing but it when you’re walking down the street.
And once you’ve cracked it you need to do it all over again.
Why is this relevant?
To understand ANY landscape you need to be a geek and that won’t change. How people use social media shifts rapidly. For people who’ve only known social media understanding it in 2038 would be no trouble. They’d be fascinated by it but would they be a geek about it? Some will. Some won’t.
What the landscape will look like in 20 years
Today, it’s fine to have a range of traditional and digital skills. But the dial is turning slowly towards digital and it’s not turning back. Two things not to be fooled by? That the future will be 100 per cent digital. Or that your ability to write a press release will save you. It won’t. There was a pitch at commscamp last week about Analogue Comms and what role it still plays. If I’d have gone to that session I’d have said that what we’ll need are not skills but an attitude.
Your challenge? You’ll have to float and adapt
But the big challenge for those of us around today and who want to be in 20 years is in attitude. You’ll need to be able to float and adapt. Lessons learned in the early days of the internet are already as out-of-date as 1976’s payola tricks for today’s music pluggers. Those who have made their name in working out what the social web is for need to know this.
The gap between head frying innovation and mundane expectation has never been shorter. Once, telling people election results on Facebook in real time was ground-breaking. Today? That’s bread and butter.
When Punk came, new lessons had to be learned.
History tells us that not everyone will adapt.
To survive, you may have to ditch every single thing you know.
You’ll need to learn three new chords and form a new band.
Over and over.
That’s going to be your challenge.
Excited by that yet?
Picture credit: Eddy Van 3000 / Flickr