(Note – I am attending and speaking at OMMA in Hollywood this week, and will provide occasional near-live coverage.)
(Added: I just noticed after publishing that this keynote address was actually titled: Big Media’s Scramble to be Relevant in a World of Seismic Change – the above title was mine)
Arianna Huffington is the Co-Founder and Editor in Chief of the Huffington Post (HP). Jokes that her accent is real. She actually once told people she was born in Fresno and cultivated the accent – has received actual letters asking how she did it. (audience laughs)
Arianna wants to introduce how to reach the public with messages while avoiding the firewall. In recent Cannes conference, the message was that advertising should be seen as “part of content” versus “interrupting content.” She learned that she should apply this to Huffington Post. Provided the advertising is “organic” to the site, the users will accept it. Their site is set in values about responsible consumption, so the advertising has to somehow match the values if it is going to work. There is a demanding for authenticity and transparency. When those demands are met, “the magic happens.”
Some of her friends asked “why did she suddenly want to get involved with the Internet?” A lot were nay-sayers, and worse – predicting doom and destruction. Talks about the worst review she could possibly have, and showed in a recent book that if you should have bad reviews, it should never stop the goal. So often, when new ideas and products are launched, we can be stopped by nay-sayers. She feels that the women in the room might be able to better understand what she is saying about the “inner critic.” “Our worst enemies do not talk about us the way we can talk about ourselves.” To be creative in this space, you have to deal with both the inner and exterior critics, and believe you can achieve.
The most fascinating thing about the HP is the way that it matches her obsessive nature. There are two types of extremism in media: mainstream media tends to go light on content (she used a disorder but missed it), while the blogging community suffers from OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). Talks about how no one knows about what is going on with Kosovo, and asks the audience: no one knows. Then talks about Elian Gonzalez…the mainstream media takes a story and goes on with it, then drops it. She asks who now knows how Elian is enjoying Cuba and his new life. No one knows, because it is “past news.” Conversely, the blogosphere likes to find little nuggets and turn them into big stories.
She cites a small story in the Washington Post that spoke about Karl Rove. That was ten days ago, and she told her office to make that the headline. It grew into a huge story. As news aggregators, bloggers can very effectively turn little nuggets into big stories. She says the HP is a hybrid – a news aggregator and over 800 bloggers. People write for us for free – don’t you love our business model? (laughs). They do it because they want their views out their. This is the same thing with those that occasionally write for major publications – not to get the $150, but to get their views out there. She feels that they offer their bloggers the most accessible system – mentions that not all blogs have to be Movable Type – she even used to get blog posts via fax. Larry David would call from the set of “Curb your Enthusiasm” and dictate a blog. The dictated post she received from (?) shortly after the Mel Gibson anti-semetic remarks was on the home page of HP within 10 minutes. With a popular blog, they can get the same type of exposure from this as any major newspaper. Young bloggers are suddenly being noticed at HP and getting more opportunities thanks to it.
It will never be either-or. In the foreseeable future, there will always be magazines, blogs, newspapers, and blogs. She says “let’s have a three-way.” (big laughs) About print and new media: The print that wants to survive in the new world has to embrace the new media. It is very important for any major news organization to have a major online presence, and these should be managed by people that know the space. Those that are navigating new media: they must find people that can “swim in the media.” Some are amphibian – she feels she can walk on land as well as swim in the new media. Some will be specialized in one or the other.
She cautions that not all those you will work with may be people you want to go to dinner with. Think of it as a two-way conversation. HP will be 2 years old on May 9th, if you want to send a card. This is how long it now takes to build a brand. Now in fact it can take a year or less. As we are looking to how to bridge new and old media, it is imperative to stop looking at either-or. She talks about the NYT hiring someone from Disney engineering to help create the new personalized NYT option, but then wonders why it is so hard to get content from NYT for free! She believes content online should be free, unless it’s porn, especially weird porn. (laughs).
She describes some of the partnerships they are forging with many of the new online “masters of the universe.” She wants to wrap up by saying that fearlessness is incredibly important as we approach this new world. Need to accept a high failure rate. She spoke with Marissa Mayer from Google, who considers a 20% success ratio huge, more often a single digit success ratio is acceptable. One must acknowledge failure as a stepping stone to success. This is critical to any new adventure. Change expectations, and don’t be so easily discouraged when we don’t get something right, right away. Her second book was rejected by 36 publishers – imagine that! At about 31, she had second thoughts and was thinking about another career. When opening up a new world, we do not know what the next invention to change the world will be. 2 things: sense of humor – nothing like humor to be able to tap into consumer loyalty; and a sense of adventure. She announces that they will launch a new humor site called 23/6 (versus 24/7).
(I have to personally say that was one of the most entertaining and insightful keynotes I have seen in a long time.)