Improving the economies of words

Bridging the gap between both sides of the media coin

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In the beginning of human expression, technically speaking, there was the pictogram. The marriage of image and meaning, irrespective of the degree of abstraction involved, is how communication can be kept “on record”. Where glances and body language cannot be preserved without comparatively extensive technology, words and pictures codify human history.

In this sense, it is indeed appropriate that the 200th issue of Executive magazine entails a section on advertising. The endeavors of content communications and marketing communications are semantically subsumed under a shared term – media. Being both part of media, the economic relationship of marketing glorifications and critical reviews of the same stuff – products, news, opinions et cetera – is a perennial competition. 

The truth of this competition is that media will have a prosperous future only if we can, on both sides, understand and practice our opposing approaches as a non-zero-sum game. Non-zero-sumness, as defined by American thinker Robert Wright, is the development scenario where competing interests overlap positively and an optimum outcome can be produced that brings more advantages to the interested parties than a zero-sum, or win-lose, solution. Walking a mile in the shoes of Adam Smith, one might perceive the logic of non-zero as an evolution of the “invisible hand”, which the philosopher-father of economics did not actually elaborate on.

According to Wright, non-zero-sumness requires advances in communication, technology and information processing, factors that are central pistons of the global economic machine. But it also needs something called “moral imagination”, which enables us to envision life as being at the same time ethical and successful, or what for Smith might have been captured in the “impartial spectator” concept; a humanly inherent ability to assess our own actions from another person’s perspective.

Applying such assessment techniques to the situation of Lebanese media at the current juncture, Executive editors see it as prudent to call for more interaction of journalistic – in the real sense – and responsible advertising media. This interaction is needed to address the questions of media ethics that in the digital age can no longer be answered in the ways in which answers were constructed a hundred years ago. 

The economic survival of both marketing and journalistic media depends on the ability to tell better stories, all the time. If the Lebanese advertising market is suffering, we are both as fishers in two tiny vessels that are shaken by the same gales and battered by the same breakers. Telling stories better requires talent which we are happy to ascertain for the Lebanese creative advertising community and, with a modicum of humility, ascribe to our track record of 200 issues and almost 500 contributors.

Also required for production of better narratives are competency in the digital sphere and diversity. In the first regard we have much to learn at Executive. Thus, our note to the editorial self and call for action are to improve our digital capabilities and their applicability in all parts of our enterprise, and then embark on a new life in the avant-garde of business publications. If top standard setters of 20th century journalism could start their careers in 19th century places such as Boonville, Missouri, and St. Louis, Missouri, we see no reason why the next impulses for top business journalism should not germinate in our inspired environs of Achrafieh, Beirut. 

In parallel, we urge the entire Lebanese marketing communications community to invest in their digital capabilities. As evidenced by a contribution of only five percent to advertising spend, Lebanon is still a laggard when it comes to digital practices, and we hear from leaders in the media planning industry that many agencies have yet to invest into and develop convincing digital offerings, as well as initiate measures to increase awareness within the local advertiser community. We call for more such outreach from marketing communications players.

We further reiterate the call to collaborate on codes of conduct and standards of ethics for the entirety of Lebanese media enterprises on both the marketing and journalism sides. All players need to devise and agree on a code that gives audiences confidence that outlets understand and respect the country in its specificities, and that incorporates ethical accountability in media behavior.

And last, on the topic of diversity and leadership, we – all in the Executive editorial team but especially its male members – offer our masculine curtsies and tip our feminine hats to the leadership evolution of local marketing communications companies, where an impressive number of agencies have achieved parity of women and men in managing director positions. Thank you for setting examples for us to learn from.