To be a thought leader, you need to have thoughts
Welcome to a midweek edition of Unmade. Today we explore how companies in the communications world - and their bosses - position themselves as thought leaders, inspired by the example of the new magazine from Mat Baxter’s Huge. And we finally see a good day on The Unmade Index.
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How to be a thought leader
A few years back, the boss of a big organisation (which you will have heard of) invited me to lunch. He’s not with the organisation any more, but I’ll keep his role vague nonetheless.
We met up at Sake restaurant, in The Rocks.
“I want to raise my profile in the trade press,” he told me, over the excellent tuna sashimi. “Like Mat Baxter.”
During the years that Baxter was based in Australia, his high profile was a genuine mystery to many of his peers. Why was he always in the trade press?
The answer was actually simple. Baxter had a point of view and was fearless in sharing it. That included during his time as one of the founders of the now deeply missed Naked Communications Australia (“brilliant misfits” indeed), and it survived his move back into the corporate worlds of WPP’s Mediacom and IPG’s Initiative and UM. Some people disagreed with him, but he actually stood for something.
His contrarian point of view came from a place of conviction, rather than pursuit of headlines. That was simply a happy byproduct.
I explained to the person over lunch that if he wanted a profile like Baxter’s, he’d need to have an interesting, original point of view. He‘d need to be brave enough to share it when not everybody agreed.
I could tell that it wasn’t really what my host wanted to hear. He wanted a shortcut to being seen as a thought leader without actually needing to form and express those original thoughts.
My host that lunchtime has since mostly disappeared from view, while Baxter is still in the game. These days, via five years as global CEO of Initiative, he’s still with IPG, now running the New York based Huge.
Last year, Baxter closed all the Huge global offices except for the company’s Brooklyn HQ, declaring it a global experience company.
Yesterday, Huge unveiled its latest thought leadership project. It’s a new, “editorially independent” magazine on the future of business called Huge Moves.
The magazine’s editor-in-chief is Jennifer Leigh Parker, who has previously worked for the likes of CNBC, Bloomberg and Forbes. She also worked in branded content publishing for Surface Media.
It’s not unusual of course for agencies and other players in the space to commit resource to thought leadership activities which show off their expertise.
PWC has created a market position as a prognosticator on the media space thanks to its annual Media & Entertainment Outlook report. For many years, Junkee Media’s annual research into the youth audience positioned the masthead as an expert on the demographic. And plenty of agencies and media companies publish research and surveys (If I receive one more white paper on ESG I’ll scream).
Media agency PHD has been publishing books for more than a decade now. Hell, so has Trinity P3 pitch doctor Darren Woolley.
An independent publishing masthead is less common though.
The nearest recent example I can think of is venture capital giant Andreessen Horowitz, which last year launched a masthead called Future. At the time it was seen by some of independent tech journalists in the space - most notably Kara Swisher - as an arrogant attempt to control the conversation.
Future wasn’t particularly good, and Andreessen Horowitz announced its closure a couple of weeks back.
So what to make of Huge?
In fairness, it’s really hard to judge a magazine by the PDF, and I haven’t yet laid my hands on a printed edition. Things like the quality of paper stock and even the level of gloss make a big difference to the tactile reading experience.
On first impressions, I can tell you this much, David Ogilvy - king of advertising long form - would have hated it. We open on the second page with the runners and riders listed light-on-dark. Ogilvy always argued that was much harder to read, and I agree.
Missing from that masthead are sub editors, usually an essential component of magazine publishing. My inflexible neural pathways, formulated by many years of magazine proof reading took me straight to the typo before I saw anything else.
Yup, they spelled the boss’s job title wrong. To be fair though, that was the only typo I stumbled across in the whole magazine.
It’s a good business magazine that avoids the trap of feeling even slightly like advertorial. If it wasn’t for the interview with Baxter explaining the rationale, you’d have no idea what organisation was behind it.
The content - AI, Web3, NFTs, the future of the workplace, supply chains and so on - would not be out of place in The Economist. And that’s also the drawback. There wasn’t much that I haven’t already read in The Economist.
Overall the content feels US-centric. That may be by design. Although Huge claims to be a global agency, I bet most of its revenue comes from North America.
The downside of the long lead times of magazine publishing are also evident. The world of AI changed after the mag went to press. Although many of the images were generated by Midjourney, ChatGPT - which may prove to be one of the most significant developments of the decade - arrived after deadline. It’s not the fault of the editor, but the AI feature is hopelessly out of date before it even lands on client desks.
Nonetheless, the magazine is more than good enough that client recipients of the magazine will struggle to throw it out without reading it first. It will sit on coffee tables for months, which is good brand marketing for Huge.
As well as publishing occasional printed editions, there will also be a regularly updated website. Incidentally, Ogilvy would have hated the design of the website too. Online, the articles are published across wide columns, too wide for comfortably reading long form.
And in what feels like something of a gimmick, readers can sign up for an NFT which will give them access to additional content and invitations to events.
So is it money well spent?
For people who are in the industry but not close to a particular agency, they can usually hold at the most one thought or impression. The magazine improves the chances of Huge being thought about not as just another agency, but first as a business transformation company. That looks like job done.
I bet other agency bosses will be wishing they’d done it first.
Unmade Index: A burst of green
Most of The Unmade Index of ASX-listed media and marketing companies finally had a good day on Tuesday. The index rose by 1.84% to 662.4 points, after five consecutive days of falls.
Among the broadcasters, Seven West Media led the charge, rising by 4.82%.
The Market Herald, currently in the midst of a boardroom power battle as shareholders from the Argyle family attempt to oust founder Jag Sanger, was the only stock to fall, dropping by 7.69%.
Time to leave you to your Wednesday.
Regular readers will receive an unlocked edition of Tuesdata in their inboxes tomorrow morning. Our paying members received the analysis - which focuses on the final radio ratings results of the year - yesterday.
In six exclusive charts, we reveal which network wins the metro drivetime battle across the five capital cities; we look at the shockingly poor performance of ABC Radio National in breakfast and drive slots; we explain why Jim Wilson had to lose his 2GB slot; and we examine the curious cume bump for The Kyle & Jackie O Show.
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Have a great day.