A good job is hard to find. So ran the crushing thought through every journalism major’s mind as graduation loomed.
The lot of us had spent the better part of the past four years training to be journalists of the “one-man band” variety; capable of producing video, editing slideshows, and writing magazine features, all while attempting to harness the burgeoning power of social media. It was, we were told, the way of the future: legions of self-sufficient reporters spilling out to cover the world from local beats to international conflagrations with a three-dimensional acumen that was all supposed to fit within—and emanate from—a single camera bag.
Doubts? We had a few. And our prospects in a changing industry? Too few, it seemed, to mention.
But it turned out our journalism professors were right. It only took a year and a half at a leading New York ad shop to learn why. When I arrived at AD Lubow in July 2011, a revolutionary theory was beginning to take shape: the agency (and public relations firm) of the future should operate more like a journalistic enterprise—creating and spreading content with greater innovation than most traditional media outlets by tapping into viral channels to give breadth and sustenance to the stories the agency was striving to tell.
Since joining AD Lubow, I’ve been part of a team of designers, filmmakers, animators, copywriters, and creative thinkers who have put hand to a variety of projects for a diverse roster of clients and have used every instrument in my journalistic toolbox to help carry them off. Whether creating a serialized video series on the best turn-around schools in America or building a multimedia slideshow to recruit college applicants; designing a line of interactive e-books or a museum promo that was an exhibit in and of itself; our goal was to engage participants in something larger, exciting and enduring.
Being part of these projects and others, I’ve learned it’s important to synthesize what’s going on around you, but also equally necessary not to get stuck in the humdrum buzzing of the now. You have to take yourself out of your own environment for the bird’s eye view of where communications are going. For example: a survey of history informs us the communications revolution began in the ’30s. That is, the 1830s.
You could say that it was Charles Dickens who, writing in weekly installments, pioneered the serialization of social media content. As each successive chapter was published in the paper week after week and shared around tavern tables and in parlor rooms by a rapt and increasingly ravenous readership, Charles Dickens effectively communicated his views on social reform. Had David Copperfield debuted in a single volume, Dickens’ voracious London readership might have given it a scornful, “tl;dr” (too long; didn’t read, in internet parlance).
In this vein, we like to joke that we never know whether our agency is 10 years ahead or a hundred years behind. But behind the joke is the full assurance that historical perspective so often extends as far in one direction as it does in the other.
The strategy is one part information, one part inspiration. Today’s communications professionals need to think and act more like journalists, just as today’s journalists need to assume the mantle of communications professionals who integrate social media and multi-platform content systems into their day-to-day production schedules. Isn’t crafting content for a specific audience at the heart of both professions? Those on the traditional editorial side might suggest this is scary line to blur (ethics and all that), but hasn’t the idea always been that original and engaging content rises to the top and gets discovered?
Ours is an age when technology empowers human ingenuity like never before, both as a tool for creation and communication as well as a platform for dissemination and discovery. A multifarious set of skills is needed to navigate so lush and expansive a digital river delta. Journalists have begun to understand this, but do they realize how many novel and emerging outlets there are for their work? Or is that now the ad man’s job?
Matthew Leib is Copy and Social Media Editor at AD Lubow, one of the premier multimedia advertising agencies in New York. He graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications in 2011. You can check out his agency’s creative work here.