The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is ... Actually, Here's a Pretty Big List

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Smell that? No, not that. That's just the sidewalks of New York during an August heat wave. You get used to it after a bit.

The other scent-ah, there it is: the smell of fear, of night sweats. It's all over the business, and it's a healthy-or at least an appropriate-reaction to the disruption of the media and marketing worlds.

The best thing about my job, by far, is the bird's-eye view it offers of the diverse range of businesses we cover; by necessity, most people are forced to focus only on their immediate surroundings. As I talk to people from various industries I'm often as amazed by the overlap, the common threads that run through those conversations as I am by the disconnects, the blindly conflicting agendas.

As an experiment (and also because it's hard coming up with good column ideas during the dog days), I e-mailed a hundred or so of my favorite people representing a ridiculously broad mix of industries and roles. I asked them all the same question: "What keeps you up at night?" (Hey, this is a family publication; get your mind out of the gutter.)

Dozens of replies came back, from boldface to behind-the-scenes names-CEOs of ad agencies, holding companies and media giants; sales chiefs at TV networks and publishing houses; Internet entrepreneurs; branded-entertainment types; TV producers and talent; magazine editors.

Rather than analyze their answers, I decided to just string them, randomly, without names or titles. Maybe some will hit a nerve, forcing your own eyes open in the wee, small hours.

Ready? Here goes:

"Will consumers under 30 feel they should ever pay ANYTHING for content?" "Clients who get way too involved in execution." "Delivering on the demand for accountability." "The trend toward conservatism and censorship in America."

"Where is my next deal coming from?" "Getting deceived." "Growth." "Does it satiate my soul to help the rich old men get richer?" "Trust, or lack thereof." "Whether TV is radio to the Net's TV."

"Scale! Can we scale fast enough to meet the opportunity?" "Re-imagining." "U.S. market creative approvals by HQ board members across the Atlantic." "Trying to identify the best ways to significantly grow an already mature and successful business."

"We started WPP 20 years ago with two people in one room. I worry about going back there." (OK, that was Martin Sorrell.)

"My four-year-old kicking me in the head." "The evolving marketing model-it's changing so rapidly that there's no common template for what works and what doesn't." "Consumer relevancy and perspective."

"I'm up at night worrying that my clients are awake and watching the Donny Deutsch show." "The perception that agencies are easily interchangeable." "Creativity." "Mediocrity." "How to lead change vs. react." "Did my photo run in Ad Age yet?" "Maintaining spontaneity while thinking things out." "Martha taking her ankle bracelet off." "Lack of entrepreneurial leaders."

"Unleashing marketing innovation. Much of the talk is about ROI-a somewhat mechanical and after-the-fact process that's like a giant sinkhole. We're not spending enough time or energy talking about the processes needed to create the next iPod, the next Starbucks, the next Jet Blue."

"Wannabe clones of Steve Case, circa 1985, who believe they can control everyone, own everything, extend everywhere when it's crystal clear the `it's-all-mine' business model is dead."

"What keeps me up at night is thinking of ways to keep others up at night."

That last one was my favorite. Except for this closer: "Who will father my children?"

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