The Career Futon: Sage Advice for Media Runts

Helping Gen X/Yers Navigate the (Often Stinky) World of Business

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When I'm looking for a cheap media thrill, I seek out service pieces in The New York Times. Like last week's "Career Couch" column -- a career-advice Q&A -- in the Sunday business section. It -- and other Times editorial devices obviously meant for Gen X and Y readers -- are basically case studies in how not to court Gen X and Y readers.
Oooooh, shiny new headquarters.
Oooooh, shiny new headquarters.

This particular Q&A was about how to deal with a co-worker who stinks -- literally, as in BO. The column ended with this helpful exchange:

Q: How do you know you're not the one offending noses?

A: You can take certain obvious precautions, of course. Bathe regularly and, if you choose, use deodorant ...

Thank you, New York Times! (Next time in "Career Couch": If your nose runs while you're in a meeting, consider wiping it on a tissue or, if you choose, on the back of your sleeve ...)

Clearly the Times has concluded that helpless Gen X/Yers crave condescending discourses on the fine points of office etiquette. (Either that or "Career Couch" is a thinly veiled message to that certain reporter on the metro desk who smells like boiled cabbage.) Sadly, I'm sure we'll see more of this sort of Business Lite journalism, as pubs other than the Times also try to compete (ineptly) with The Wall Street Journal's lifestyle coverage and Conde Nast's upcoming Portfolio. It's like, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

In that spirit, here's my own stab at courting Gen X/Y readers, with the unvarnished, folksy wisdom of Media Guy's Career Futon -- for media and advertising up-and-comers seeking that extra edge:

Q: I'm not sure, but I'm pretty sure the company I work for might stink. Everything here seems incredibly lame, bureaucratic and inefficient. But maybe it's just like this everywhere?

A: All media and advertising conglomerates are well-stocked with erratic, temperamental, capricious "creative types." Competence is therefore graded on a curve, so chances are your company doesn't technically stink, at least in relation to its competitors. Many such companies, in other words, can actually stink to the high heavens but still be considered major players. Metrics, beyond competence, that actually do matter? For a media company to be considered "hot," as Patrick "IWantMedia" Phillips pointed out to me the other day, it must be building, or have recently built, a shiny new tower to distract us all from the sinking fortunes of the entire media sector. Time Warner, Conde Nast, Bloomberg, Random House, Comcast, The New York Times Co. and Hearst all fit this bill. (Bonus points if there's "buzz" about the corporate cafeteria.)

And if you work for an advertising agency, you must have been bought, sold, subsumed, merged or conglomeratized at least three times in the past five years for your company to be considered a player.

Q: Wait, should I not work for Fox? They're not building a shiny new HQ, are they?

A: Exceptions are always made for Rupert Murdoch's Fox. Rupert is hardly impotent (at 78 years old, he owns MySpace and has a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old!) and never suffers from performance anxiety, so he hasn't felt the need to ... erect a big, thick tower. Actual world domination is monument enough.

Q: How can I keep my boss (who, by the way, stinks) from thinking that I stink?

A: Simple. Lard your prose -- in e-mails, memos and conversation -- with terms like "mobisode," "viral community-building," "peer-to-peer" and "user-created content." As often as possible, mention blogs (while taking care to avoid revealing the URL of your MyBossStinks blog). Your boss doesn't really understand any of this stuff, but automatically thinks you do, even if you really don't. You should be able to coast on that fact for at least another 18 months.

Q: I work at an ad agency, and I think the work we're doing for one client in particular really stinks. Should I say something?

A: Don't! The only thing you should say is that you've thought of a great digital-marketing initiative to fold into the campaign.

Q: But I haven't thought of a great digital-marketing initiative.

A: That's OK. As per the advice above, just say something along the lines of "I think there could be a great social-networking angle here," or "Have we explored a product-placement opportunity in [insert hot upcoming video-game sequel here]?" Just remember, saying "digital marketing" is the advertising-world equivalent of dousing yourself with Axe if you don't have time to take a shower after going to the gym. Or handing a bottle of Febreze to the emperor who's not wearing any clothes.

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