The Party’s Over. Let’s Celebrate.

chris stephensonIn this guest post, Chris Stephenson of media agency PHD thinks he lost the room when he tried to tell the audience at the newspaper industry-organised Caxtons conference that it was time to change – and wishes he’d been able to offer more solutions.

It was reported this week that the Caxtons’ famed ‘junket’ to an exotic location will not happen this year. We were reassured however that next year said junket will be back

Well phew. Heaven forbid that in the midst of the biggest systemic shift in print advertising in several generations we miss the chance to junket it up somewhere exotic.

Bear with me…

Chris Stephenson at the Caxtons

Stephenson at the Caxtons | Source: Caxtons Facebook page

I should begin by declaring an interest; I was honoured and privileged to be asked to speak at last year’s Caxtons, on Hamilton Island no less, so last year I very much enjoyed the benefit of giving a presentation in the Caxtons’ mourned-for exotic climes.

I have to be honest though; I didn’t wholly enjoy my presentation, and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why.

The truth is that I wasn’t at my best … it wasn’t the most focused of talks, and that’s my bad. But I think it was also a lot to do with the room; a mix of mainly newspaper staffers, ad agency people, journalists and the occasional flotsam and jetsam like me. You see sometimes when you present the room is with you, and if you’re like me that makes you better; but sometimes the room isn’t with you, and that makes some people stronger, but if you’re like me it can let a nagging doubt creep in … perhaps I’m wrong? Perhaps I’m crazy for even suggesting this!? … and when your presentation to a bunch of creatives pivots around your (my) belief that “the worst thing that ever happened to advertising is adverts” you can see how that would affect your (my) performance.

I’ve gotten pretty OK at reading rooms, and I think the reality is that whilst I wasn’t, by my full admission, at my best … some people in the room just didn’t want to absorb my message: a message that the time had come to change.

My audience, perhaps quite rightly, wanted to get on with what the Caxtons are there to do: celebrate creativity in newspaper advertising. Who the freak was I to turn up and rain on such a brilliantly orchestrated parade? People’s hearts and souls and time and effort had gone in to organising that celebration. People much, much, better than me had created ingenious and awesome presentations to delight and entertain and stimulate.

The words of Maya Angelou echoed in my head that night and many nights since: “People will forget what you said, People will forget what you did, But people will never forget how you made them feel” … and I think that is why I failed that day last year on Hamilton Island – when the words and actions were long gone, I had made that room feel no better about the situation I believe press advertising revenues are in. I hadn’t followed-though the dark night of my presentation to deliver a dawn. I’d attempted, but it hadn’t landed.

Thanks for bearing.

So why the confession? Well, this week’s news that – essentially – the party is over, filled me with nothing but sheer optimism. Because as anyone who pays any attention to print media in Australia can attest, the party is over, something I tried but failed to say last year.

But the party being over makes it all the more important that the celebration continues; because what I experienced on Hamilton Island, that energy and passion and creativity, shouldn’t be lost because of some crazy perception that the Caxtons is a junket … what I witnessed at Caxtons was much more than that. The Caxtons isn’t living the vida loca in some exotic location, it’s an idea.

An idea that creativity can solve problems, can change how we think, how we feel, and what we do; the idea that creativity can transform the fortunes of brands, businesses and indeed whole industries.

The Caxtons, just like print advertising revenues, must now reinvent itself … and that is a conference (in the truest sense of the word) that has never been more urgent or necessary. This is the Caxtons’ opportunity to fight not just for its own future, but for the future of the media industry in which it has thrived. I believe that it’s more than up to the task.


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