July 2008 - Rick Petry

Into Thin Air

By Rick Petry

Recently, iTunes surpassed Wal-Mart as the largest retailer of music in the U.S. That’s right, another e-tailer now dominates its category, just like Amazon.com rules over the world’s bookworms. Interestingly, this leading purveyor of digital entertainment, Apple, also introduced the MacBook Air, an ultra-thin notebook with no hard drive, a sign of things to come in an era of wireless communication that increasingly renders such features unnecessary.

As I schlepped 400+ CDs into a new creative studio the other day, I contemplated the acceleration with which the compact disc, that had terminated the 60-odd-year reign of vinyl, has itself been overthrown by the iPod in a mere 25 years. This phenomenon, dubbed creative destruction by economist Joseph Schumpeter in the 1930s, wreaks havoc on industries and jobs for those who fail to adapt. As presidential candidate John McCain recently told a group of Michigan workers who have seen their livelihoods set sail overseas, their jobs “aren’t coming back.” Although his point is on point, this tough love intended to seduce voters is more likely to be remembered by the affected as a bitter pill that sticks in the throat like a hanging chad.

Yet, as former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan observes in his memoir, “The Age of Turbulence,” it is the chrysalis of creativity that reinvents industries, jobs and hope. Such momentum springs from the ashes of outmoded business models amid a torrent of investment and innovation that summons the next cycle of prosperity. In time, through a fog of gritty determination, comes an economic engine that charges forward like a train fueled by foresight.

This spirit of invention was in full bloom at ERA’s Annual Convention last year; you could feel the buzz on the tradeshow floor. Yet, drifting among the enthusiastic throng was the piercing hum of the minority who foment static around the idea that ERA doesn’t focus enough on its DRTV roots; that the organization and its leadership are somehow deluded and infatuated with the come-ons of dot-coms. And while it’s true that an infomercial can still act as a powerful hub that fuels the spokes of an integrated marketing communications plan, mere blind fidelity to media that is mass may ultimately lead to one feeling as though the “m” has fallen off that italicized word that once proved so reliable.

After all, as the migration of orders from TV to the Internet steadily erodes the essential promise of direct marketing-accountability-that Promised Land that once felt rooted on such solid numerical ground is increasingly looking like nothing but an oasis. Nonetheless, the innovators among us will find the watering hole. For those perhaps troubled by such assertions, I wonder, “Would you stand with your back to a freight train and expect to survive?” Now imagine that it is minutes before midnight and that light in the distance reflects an opportunity that looms closer with each passing second and as it does, that it may hasten second thoughts. Grab hold now as it whistles by. It is moving like a bullet, hurling toward your future.

Rick Petry is interim president and CEO of ERA. He is also immediate past chair of the Board, a freelance writer and a marketing consultant. Petry can be reached at (503) 740-9065, or via e-mail at [email protected].


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