Beware Revolution Rock -- It's No Place for Your Brand, or for Ours

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Stop hiding under a rock.

If there's been a theme to this column in the last few years, that's essentially it. The marketing world is changing dramatically, relocating power to consumers and forcing the reinvention of business models. Leaders, I've argued, will confront that change and accept the challenge rather than trying to resist the inevitable. "Not-on-my-watchers" have been taken to task, visionaries celebrated.

Whether assaulting the absurdity of the upfront marketplace -- and each year there's more evidence of erosion -- or exploring the role of branded entertainment in shifting advertising from an intrusive to an invitational model, the underlying message has been the same.

As I wrote way back in 1999, "As new media empower more people, marketers must let consumers define the role of advertising. Come to think of it, they don't have a choice. They're no longer in control." In the seven years since, I've hammered at that point, not only in my columns but in the stories we highlight, such as Current TV's experiment with user-generated ads, reported last month on our cover.

But I've had a strange sensation lately, and I've felt it most strongly while exploring the social-networking phenomenon -- how it's changing the habits of young people especially, and its potential impact on communications, content creation and brand marketing. It's a sense of being overwhelmed by the immensity of change. At weak moments, I've looked anxiously at the rock and wondered whether there's any room left under it. Push over, guys, I want to yelp. I'm coming in.

But I won't, and you shouldn't either. We're all party to nothing shy of a communications revolution, with our own roles to play in redefining our brands and models to ensure their futures. And we need to resist the all-too-human temptation to flee.

You see, I'm not just the hair-club president; I'm also a client. From my perch overlooking the marketing landscape, I can report on, even judge, how companies react to the issues confronting them. But I'm in the middle of it as well, part of a small team at Ad Age tasked with figuring out the future of this brand and ensuring its long-term leadership.

Ad Age is no longer a weekly publication; it's the world's leading source of news, information and data on advertising, marketing and media. And it's delivered through whatever platforms make the most sense for our audience and advertisers. It's why we run a real-time news operation online and publish a range of e-mail newsletters dedicated to such topics as branded entertainment (Madison & Vine), media (MediaWorks) and China. It's why we run video reports on the Web and podcasts on iTunes. It's why we host events and conferences to directly connect members of our community.

We are a news operation, but we are also our own subjects. We must confront the same issues as the businesses we cover. And we're no less critical of ourselves than we are at times of others. We question whether we're moving quickly enough to change our mind-sets and supporting structures, whether we're laying the right bets. We don't fear failure, but -- as Roger Ailes pointed out -- its benefits are overrated so we try our best to avoid it.

In detailing the paths we're exploring, the products we're creating, I'm not boasting, just revealing that we're in a similar position to many media companies and brand marketers. We're going to make mistakes along the way, and I'm willing to peel back the kimono periodically to offer glimpses of what we're doing right and wrong. And we expect you to blast us when we deserve it.

But I promise this: If you don't dive under the rock, we won't, either.

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