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Why Australian GQ sucks – part 2: Writers May 16, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in branding, marketing, work/life.
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Typewriter keysStemming from the Editor are the people who fill the pages with wit and wisdom. British GQ boasts Simon Kelner, Matthew d’Ancona, Will Self, AA Gill, Tony Parsons, Jeremy Clarkson, Naomi Campbell, Martin Deeson, Alex Petrides, Rod Liddle, Alex Blimes and Piers Morgan – note: that is not an exhaustive list! It is however a who’s who of the British writing fraternity. Dylan Jones (the Editor of British GQ) could fall asleep for 4 weeks straight in a champagne-and-coke induced coma and be fairly confident, upon waking, that he still had a highly readable offering for the newsstands in a few days time.

Contrast that with the Australian offering, who provide almost nothing in the way of regular columns beyond an editorial, leaving the magazine to deliver informative if dry pieces that fail to hold attention (or at least do not hold mine). We have such a wealth of quality writers and thinkers in this country, and the irony is we don’t need to mine corners further than the ones Mr. Jones went to.

The Australian media landscape is so bloody territorial I get strange looks when I purchase The Australian on a Saturday from my Melbournian newsagent, I can’t imagine how many people there are residing here who’ve never heard of Philip Adams. But it goes both ways, I had no idea who Danny Katz was before I ventured south, and he’s great! What about Adam Spencer? Steve Biddulph? Andrew Denton? A music writer who is not Iain Sheddan, Molly Meldrum, Richard Wilkins or a staff member of Channel V or Triple J (personally I’m thinking Zolton Zavos who heads up Lost At E Minor)?

It only takes a few minutes of thinking to expand that list into dozens of names who I would gladly pay $10 a month to read all in one place, and in a market like print where content is the only thing you have going for you, you have to stand out. If you don’t, if you’re an also-ran, why bother in the first place? Quit that game and go do what you’re actually good at, stop wasting yours and everyone else’s time.

Tomorrow: art direction.

Image courtesy of bitzi, with thanks to Flickr Storm.

Update: I wanted to link all five posts together for easy reference, so here they are.

  1. The Editor
  2. The Writers (you are here)
  3. The Art Direction
  4. Audience & Competitors
  5. Online

Why Australian GQ sucks (and what it can do to fix itself – Part 1) May 15, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in branding, marketing, work/life.
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My favourite magazine on this planet you humans call Earth is GQ. British GQ. The writing is top notch, bringing in the UK’s best columnists, novelists, satirists and stylists and culminating each month in a snap shot of lifestyle that is accessible, aspirational and a fun bit of escapism.

Then there’s the Australian version of GQ. This is an entirely different beast. It is so unrecognisable from its English counterpart as to be a completely different publication, one of dubious origin and so sub-par I can only hope the name was stolen well in advance of antipodean plans hatched in the UK/US Conde Nast offices…alas I’m probably wrong.

One issue I remember going through with a red pen, highlighting each typo, each page layout that didn’t sit quite right. I got bored a third of the way through, scowling down at pages covered in red pen. Not being one to take a dump on someone else’s effort without offering up some advice, over the next few days I am going to offer up five ways Australian GQ can improve itself, and make me buy it again.

We’ll do the first one now, which is…

The Editor

The aesthetic and spirit of the publication begins and ends with the editor. In the British corner we have Dylan Jones, bless. Dylan is self-deprecating, articulate, passionate about more than his wardrobe and the next party he’s throwing, a published author, the kind of guy who is as comfortable getting a pint as a pinot. Or at least gives that impression – and therein lies the trick.

His Australian counter-part is Grant Pearce, oh dear. Twatty McTwat. I don’t get a sense of the editor’s personality in Australian GQ, unless the editor is in fact bland, shallow and all dollars no sense. Grant is actually Group Executive Editor at News Magazines, overseeing several titles including Australian Vogue. So, he’s clearly smart and hard working, where do we get let down?

The impression I get is he’s delivering a magazine he thinks other people would like to read, not really being interested in it himself – or simply too busy to give it its due. Dylan lives and breathes his offering, and marks every page with his stamp. Grant’s effort on the other hand seems to do its best not to offend, and in the end that means nothing really grabs you. I don’t feel anyone’s personality when I see Australian GQ, assuming that is that it isn’t put together by senior partners at Ernst & Young. Apologies to my friends who work at EY, obviously I mean other people.

So, first off, Grant, let’s see some personality. I don’t want editorials that sound like they should be in GQ, I want a magazine with its own sense of style and purpose. Show me some life, show me a sense of humour, show me a magazine that is more than the sum of its freshly-pressed, Bollinger-swilling parts. The same way you spit out the virtues of Vogue in this month’s Marketing Magazine, you should be the one driving GQ to its proper place.

By all means though, keep swilling the Bollinger. There’s got to be some perk to being GQ after all…

In the next installment: the writers.

Update: I wanted to link all five posts together for easy reference, so here they are.

  1. The Editor (you are here)
  2. The Writers
  3. The Art Direction
  4. Audience & Competitors
  5. Online

They don’t call it the bleeding edge for nothing… May 14, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in work/life.
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Oh for simpler days, days when a single phone charge lasted the best part of a week before needing to plug it in again, before ring-tones and the need to update an OS because of a memory leak which manifests itself by deleting my call lists and text messages. I went to the Blackberry website to get information on upgrading the OS, only to find the link to the Software page entirely in French.

I clicked skip intro on the flash landing page for the recently announced Bold, and then software down in the footer, which brought up this.

What is French for \"Do not want\"?
Now, I’m actually learning French at the moment, so either my teacher has conspired with Research-In-Motion on account of me never doing my homework, or this is one single epic fail.

I’m going with the latter…

The joy of being wrong May 13, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in digital strategy, web 2.0.
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Some people have a love-hate relationship with their own fallibility. Not me. I revel in it.  I was talking earlier today about widening the range of ideas you let in to your head so as to stimulate your own thinking from a different perspective.

I was thinking about this a bit more today after posting over at the Marketing Magazine forums on the subject of being wrong in a digital space. We should be embracing the rapid pace at which everything is changing; every error, every out and out mistake is a lesson learned and a rule formed in a space where so few exist.

I wrote at the beginning of the year I was spending more time thinking about what was least wrong as opposed to most right. Semantics sure, but the point is we don’t know right now, and nor should we. If everyone could for just one day check their egos at the door and revel in the fact we’re still figuring this out, we’d get a lot more done.

Image from Paul Arden’s It’s not how good you are… – found via Andrew Cafourek’s Tumblog.

“And that’s what MySpace is all about!” May 13, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in marketing.
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This is a great parody of the social networking scene, featuring a guy trying to escape from them all.

Via Andrew Cafourek’s Tumblr.

Context of text in the next generation May 13, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in marketing, philosophy, work/life.
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I read two unrelated posts this morning which both said the same thing; the generation of children who aren’t yet teenagers have an interesting relationship with and approach to communication.

The first was from Fred Wilson who was after a new phone for his daughter to replace a broken iPhone. Funnily enough, she didn’t want it replaced with an iPhone, 2007’s must have toy.

She wants the new crimson red Blackberry Curve.

Fortunately, it looks like I can get an unlocked one on eBay for between $100 and $200.

I wonder what this says? I realize it’s a sample size of one, but I’ve heard that a bunch of her friends have also given up their iPhones in search of a better texting device which seems to be the one feature they value most.

The second was from Simon Chen who said exactly the same thing:

Ask a teenager to give up their mobile phone and see what happens. Actually, I bet if you told any kid today that the new rule of the house is their phones would be restricted to voice calls only (and that the text or SMS function would be disabled), there would be a global revolt. Parents would be locked in cars and basements and all manner of threats would be shouted from every rooftop.

Kids don’t talk on phones anymore. They grunt. But the little f@#ckers can text. Man, can they text.

I am loathe to carry out a conversation via text, I flat out refuse and don’t respond, or else I call if it is really important*. But I’ve seen this behaviour in my younger cousins, and being somewhat pedantic about grammar and punctuation, have certainly seen it carried out in the way sentences are constructed – or rather abbreviated into forms that begin to border on unrecognisable.

With this in mind, I’ve begun thinking aloud (and with no real clarity yet) about what this means for the way the next generation will communicate, particularly how they will expected to be communicated to and how this will impact their interactions with the rest of the world.

For example, is it reasonable to expect “correct” grammar to be taught if it ceases to apply to their daily lives the way it does to mine? Will an essay in SMS or l33t speak be admissable in new communications courses once they at university? More applicable to me, how does that change the nature of text in ads? How do you affect the tone of a piece if not just punctuation but vowels themselves cease to play a part? Srlsy?

I’d dismiss the above as nonsense, except I already see my own generation with hard and fast mind sets on certain things nobody had to teach us, we just knew. The notion of respecting someone because of their title never even entered our minds; what do I take for granted that the next batch won’t bat an eyelid at?

The changing nature of communication is something I find endlessly interesting, even if there are no easy answers.

*Things that are important:

  1. A guitar I simply must have
  2. The girl I’m seeing accidentally meeting the girl I’m seeing
  3. Confusion over which bar we will begin the evening’s festivities in
  4. A Springsteen tour being announced
  5. More as I think of them…

Seven worlds will collide May 13, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in digital strategy, work/life.
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This morning I drove one of my best friends to the airport. He was jumping on a plane back to Germany, he was heading home.
The Definitive Guide to Explore  by Timothy K Hamilton

I’ve been lucky to have an extraordinary bunch of friends here in Melbourne from all over the world. Canada, Wales, Germany, England, Switzerland, France, South Africa, Singapore – even the odd Australian from time to time. Having grown up in Hong Kong, I’ve really responded to the variety of culture and influence around me, not to mention the fact that they’re all incredibly passionate, intelligent and entertaining folk.

This got me thinking about the places we draw our influences from, the points we call on to stimulate thought processes and new ideas. Purely a coincidence, but my set of Method Cards from Ideo just arrived which I’m quite excited about. I’m not even sure what I will use them for, but if even a single insight is there to be garnered from them then it is worth the investment. If nothing else, it is a series of thought exercises from a completely different point of view to my own.

I’m a big fan of unconventional ports of call to find ideas that change the game. Speaking of games, when I was in the video game industry in the midst of ord of the Rings knock-offs, I was pitching ideas based on Shakespear – funnily enough none of those games got off the ground (yet).

The point is the games industry subsists on mediocre sequels and plenty of “me too” titles. So much so that when something like The Sims or Nintendo’s Wii comes along, it completely flips the industry on its head and changes everything we held to be true.

The same can be said for consumer products and marketing. Which is why Microsoft buy their way into the game each generation instead of being the innovator, and why the necessary changes to mass media won’t be brought about by News Corp or Viacom or the BBC. Corporations are more human than we give them credit for, they’re the sum of their parts and history just like us; thus they’re looking at what they already know in order to innovate.

We’re drawn to the familiar, to what’s comfortable. We’re naturally averse to change. But if we want to change the game for our clients, products, services and even ourselves, we’ve got to constantly find stimulation from a place we don’t natively have inside. The people I’m lucky enough to have in my life have made me a much better human being and a hell of a lot smarter.

Don’t get me wrong, a lot of people make a great living out of keeping the wheels turning. But if you want a whole new way of getting around, you’re going to have to re-think a few things…

Photo credit: Timothy K Hamilton, with thanks to Flickr Storm.

Say what you need to say May 8, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in work/life.
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Charlie O’Donnell heads a start-up called Path 101 out of New York I’ve blogged about before. Path 101 exists to help people figure out what it is they really want to do with their careers which, given I worked at Hippo, was a subject near and dear to my heart.

His recent post “10 things you’re not supposed to say in the Echo Chamber” made me smile; it may enrich your life, it will most likely just give you two minutes of pleasure in between this and whatever the next thing you’re doing is. Given he is CEO of his own start-up, this one (a bonus at number 11) was a surprise:

3/4 of founding CEO’s should not be the CEO after the first 18 months of the life of the company. Unfortunately most of them have too much pride to step aside and focus on whatever it is they do best.

His blog, This is going to be BIG! is worth subscribing to.

Bluefreeway receives voluntary suspension May 7, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in industry news.
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Bluefreeway requested and received a voluntary suspension from trading today. Their shares had been on hold since last Friday after a request for a temporary trading halt was approved Monday. The halt was due to expire this morning, the shares have now been suspended with no date attached to it.

In a letter to the ASX this morning, Bluefreeway said it needed to undertake further investigations due to restructuring efforts in order to make an announcement on its expected revenue for the financial year ending June 30, 2008. Stating it would take up to two weeks to conclude investigations, the company expects the subsequent announcement to end the suspension.

What all this means is anyone’s guess, though after the spate of resignations they’ve experienced this year and Mitchells stepping away from buy-out talks, how deep the rabbit hole goes is anyone’s guess.

Opted In vs. Engaging In May 7, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in branding, digital strategy, marketing.
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I was having a chat this morning with Simon Chen, and those readers who’ve been with me a while know I can’t say enough good things about the man – even if he doesn’t get Twitter yet. One thing we were talking about was having a large email database vs. a smaller database that was actively engaged by your offering.

I was reminded of this while reading Doc Searl’s blog just now, him talking about a piece Chris Anderson (editor at Wired) wrote on recognising a real if untraceable cost that stems from subscription cards placed in magazines:

They fall out of magazines when you pick them up, forcing you to bend over to retrieve them and find a trash can in which to throw them away. This is a real negative cost that hurts our relationship with our readers, but because we can’t measure it directly, it’s an externality and thus mispriced at zero in the economics of the magazine industry.

I find it particularly ironic blogging about this given I’ve just started writing for a magazine which, like most other publications on the planet employs just such a method for adding subscribers. The example Chris gives above is admittedly minor, but flows on to a brilliant presentation from David Armano on micro-interactions.

In his presentation David argues brands have moved from dictating perception to being the sum of their interactions. In other words, you can no longer tell people how to perceive your work, you will be judged on actions and not words.

So what’s the follow on from subscription cards being removed from magazines? Do publishers and editors really think their offering is valid enough to drag people to a news stand once a month? Do they feel the caliber of their contributors (and I’m one of them) is great enough to make that happen?

For a lesson in micro-interactions outside of a marketing space, read this article from Fast Company on the future of TV shows and the branding around them. If there’s anyone who understands micro-interactions, its these guys.