The 21st century teamster experience: How old ways die (and survive) with technology

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You can still find horse-driving teamsters in some circumstances, such as this Oktoberfest event By Hullbr3ach - This image was taken by me, Hullbr3ach., CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1217232

The word “teamster” lives on in 2019 to represent a member of the truck drivers’ union (Teamsters). Of course, the word dates back before the internal combustion engine, when goods were delivered with horse-drawn carts, with a team of horses pulling the goods wagon.

These days, business leaders associated with conventional print and broadcast advertising supported media outlets might feel a little like they are pulling the old horse-drawn carts. (And modern truck drivers/teamsters may be next, with the advent of autonomous self-driving vehicles.)

Technology, through high-speed Internet connections, social media and powerful online advertising resources (think Google AdWords for example) are killing off the old media outlets in droves.  In fact, there are indications that the newspaper as we know it will be virtually extinct within five to 10 years.

How serious is this shift?

I participate on a voluntary advisory board for a small community newspaper. Circulation has been declining every year. But the real shocker is in the demographic data. Less than 2 per cent of the publication’s readers are under 40.  An amazing 21 per cent are 85 and older. It doesn’t take much calculating to see that at this rate, the publication’s readers are literally dying off.

Conventional print media has survived because of marketing inertia and sometimes specialized considerations. For example, in some jurisdictions, the law regarding certain mandatory legal ads hasn’t changed with the times — so advertisers must use relevant local newspapers. And of course publications geared to very old people might last a while.

Marketing inertia is an interesting explanation of how the old stuff survives. Funds are in the budget and the advertising business just continues with the old stuff because, well, it is there. That works for a few years, perhaps, until the advertising business hits a rough spot and needs to cut unnecessary costs — or more positively, someone in the advertiser’s marketing department figures that the same funds can be much more effectively spent on online and social media.

Like the evolution from the teamster/cart to the internal combustion engine, many publishers can transition their businesses, though not without some serious dislocations. Online advertising is much less expensive and much more competitive on a cost-per-thousand than print or broadcast media; so the surviving business must become very lean to survive, or discover alternative revenue sources. (The New York Times is a good example of a publication that is successfully transforming — making good revenue from paid online readership subscriptions; effectively replacing its old “syndication” model, where it sold its stories to other local newspapers for a fee.)

We’ve changed our model, as well. As an example, last week I met with one of our longest continuing advertisers (almost 30 years).  Our salesperson had pitched a multi-page business anniversary feature (the business has been around 70 years), but the client wasn’t interested. Who would read an eight page phantom “print” feature in a magazine now distributed primarily online? The advertiser then pulled out old newspaper feature published a decade ago, 16 pages, in print, and now quaintly anachronistic.

So I suggested an alternative approach. We would combine display, banner and eletter ads with carefully controlled editorial (“native advertising”) features designed to bolster relationships and induce measurable orders. This wouldn’t be a one-time feature. We’d run it every month.

The advertiser without hesitation agreed to a four month trial, enough to give the new approach a proper test.

If you are running an architectural, engineering or construction business, you may not be experiencing the teamster transition yet, but it is possible you will find that the integrated factory-built design and construction systems moving into the marketplace may cause plenty of disruption in the not-to-distant future. Like the teamsters turning to truck drivers, or the newspaper publishers turning into Internet marketing gurus, you can certainly transform and perhaps even retain the core purpose of your original business/trade. But you cannot deny the change is happening.

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