In February a little over a decade ago, I had an early morning appointment at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City with Larry Hoffner, who at the time was in charge of NBC TV network's sales. We talked about the strengths and weaknesses of the then No. 1 television network's schedule, about some mid-season replacement shows, about the continued emergence of cable TV as a strategic media plan component and about the advertising economy.
To be more exact, the outlook on the media advertising economy immediately after the elder George Bush's Gulf War. Considering he led what was, and still may be, the most powerful TV sales organization in the world, Hoffner was as plainspoken and candid a person as there was in the media business.
â€œI'll leave the predicting to people like [then McCann-Erickson's, now Universal McCann's] Bob Coen and you guys in the ad trades,â€? Hoffner said when asked his opinion on what was in the pipeline for the media economy in the months following the conflict in the Gulf, as all the usual media prognosticators took turns trying to call the end of the early 1990s ad downturn. â€œI read the newspapers every morning, and look at what's happening at companies and the markets, and pray like everybody else that it's better today than it was yesterday.â€?
This was from a guy who'd soon go on to lead his sales force into the following spring upfront selling season and come away with $700 or $800 million in orders from advertisers and their agencies for NBC television time. Broadcast TV networks were then taking broadsides from cable TV's feisty crew of buccaneers, and media consultants and forecasters seemed to have nothing but dour prognoses that network TV's star was fading.
Added to all those stresses was the intensifying pressure of NBC's corporate parent General Electric squeezing quarter-by-quarter profit performance. But Hoffner knew that consumer confidence, consumer spending, corporate productivity and corporate profitability were the drivers he most needed to pay attention to as he prepared for TV's upfront market. Even as world events, technology and audiences' media consumption behavior were reshaping TV economics, Hoffner's famed mantra those days was, â€œAfter all the years I've been doing this, I certainly don't need to be doing it anymore, but it's a little too interesting and exciting a time to call it quits now, don't you think?â€?
Wisdom for today to be found in Hoffner's words of 13 years ago: being attuned to really what's going on among people and in markets â€” i.e. reading the papers â€” can be as smart a strategy to deal with business demands as predicting where the media economy is headed. And what is really going on today is that people â€” starting with young adult men â€” are saying with their time and dollars that they want media and entertainment power, control and interactivity, because time and money are that precious to them.