Hi all. Got back from our week-long trip to Moscow last night at 5 (that's 1 a.m. Moscow time for you jet lag fans), so I'm a bit behind on the Monday morning picks. Thought I should get to first things first, however: the announcement on Tuesday of Thanksgiving week that Adweek will no longer, as the name implies, be a weekly that covers advertising, instead only publishing 36 issues a year as it builds out a better Web site. If you haven't heard this already, then at least one thing about the announcement worked—if the publication had something it wanted to shout from the rooftops, it wouldn't have buried the story by releasing it on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. In news terms, days like that exist for brushing distasteful matters under the rug. (UPDATE: Nat Ives at Ad Age broke this on Tuesday which forced the story. What can I say ... I was in Moscow.)
Truth is, I'd heard that this was happening some time ago, but hadn't had a chance to report it and feel a little bad about not sharing it with you awhile ago. (Yes, it's true, I'm an oxymoron of a blogger; I actually report things from time to time.) Knowing what I knew, I would've expected something, well, a lot less half-baked than the wimpy, weak-on-detail, so-called announcement that came out on Tuesday. From a publication that prides itself on carving through spin, it was embarrassing—a misleading headline that said, "Adweek to Expand on Digital Offering," on top of a "story" which left until the end of the third paragraph that little side-note about the powers-that-be cutting the weekly down to 36 issues a year. It got worse when, in a fit of jet-lag induced insomnia, I went to the Mediaweek site to see its write-up of the shift late one night last week, because the one thing I hadn't already heard was whether the cut-down in frequency applied to Brandweek and Mediaweek as well. The answer is no, it doesn't. But get this: a comment about how forward-looking Adweek is blah, blah, blah is attributed on the Adweek site to BBDO North America's Mark Goldstein. At Mediaweek.com, the exact same quote is attributed to Adweek editor Alison Fahey. Pitiful. (UPDATE: You kinda knew this was going to happen: as of late today, the Mediaweek quote is from Goldstein as well.)
But, of course, these are mostly semantic issues. The real question is whether Adweek can survive as a principally online publication, and the announcement was painfully weak on details about how this might happen, promising only "the most robust content in the industry 24/7 replete with exclusive Nielsen data," according to Nielsen Business Media's Sabrina Crow. Puh-leese! I can hardly wait! Why the publication didn't wait to make this announcement until they had an actual site to show people—beta would've been fine—to add some meat to the blather defies logic. (And there's no indication as to when this new site will launch.) The announcement was one of the most painfully inept attempts at spin I've ever seen. George Parker put it as only he can, "Oh please Sabrina, why can't you just say Ad Age is kicking your arse and you can't make any money?" Right on, George.
And what could a revamped Adweek site really offer that Ad Age doesn't already? (Oh, right, "exclusive Nielsen data", but that's hardly enough to save a business.) With the exception of AdFreak (yes, I founded it), there isn't one innovation in online in recent years that Ad Age hasn't done first, and Adweek, because it mostly operates separately from Brandweek and Mediaweek, probably will have neither the money, nor the staff to pull it off. To that extent, taking resources out of print should help, but the Adweek staff has been absolutely decimated in recent years in a slow drip, drip, drip that has made it barely noticeable to outsiders. Even several years ago, Adweek had a raft of reporters in New York covering agencies, and at least one staffer apiece in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit, Dallas, Atlanta and Washington, DC. The Dallas, Detroit and Atlanta staffers are long gone, and, as of the departure of Aaron Baar out of Chicago, Adweek has pulled out of that market as well. Let me repeat ... pulled out of Chicago! DC reporter Wendy Melillo, who occasionally still seems to file, left recently for American University's School of Communication. Long-time agency reporter Kathy Sampey wasn't replaced when she departed earlier this year for MRM Worldwide. The problem is that in the time the Adweek staff has shrunk to its current size, the news hasn't gone away; it's just that Adweek's ability to cover it has. Unless there are plans to beef up staff to meet that 24/7 demand for news, it's hard to picture how Adweek will pull off a great resurrection now. Addressing the staffing issue, if there's anything positive that can be said about it, is just the sort of thing that should have been in the announcement.
To that extent, if anyone cares, I think pulling back on print is absolutely the right move, but, if it were me, I'd pull back even further. Hell, I'd make the print issue a monthly. Media consumption is a habit, and that alone makes the 36-issues-a-year gambit awkward. What is habit-forming about a magazine, that might—or might not—publish on a given week? The random nature of when these issues are coming out diminishes their value. A monthly might have the opposite effect, making the the print issue more of an event for subscribers and advertisers. It also would free up more resources for online, and would give the print issues a concerted focus on in-depth reporting, a real contrast to what the Adweek Web site—or Ad Age—currently provides. Publishing kinda, sorta, whenever makes the print issue of Adweek neither a weekly nor a monthly nor a biweekly, and with print as troubled as it already is, that's a huge liability.
I could go on here, but I've gone on quite long enough. Maybe people who read this will think that I detest the place, after having worked there for years, but I don't. It's just frustrating to see a brand that I've loved mishandle the biggest challenge of its existence.