Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Short takes: Apple guarantees the retail store photo-op; Time Inc. CEO brings in Bain; candidates are reportedly raising and spending less money this election cycle

Word throughout tech-media-land spread fast: if you want a new iPad this weekend you'll have to go to an Apple Store (or some other retail outlet). What a surprise, right?

The marketing strategy of limiting online sales and therefore driving customers to the brick and mortar locations is an old one by now. Each time Apple launches a new edition of the iPhone or iPad we can expect to see pictures of long lines outside Apple stores. As well as the hordes of media folk reporting same.

Lines outside an Apple Store, like this one in Tokyo last fall for the launch of the iPhon4 4S, are now a common site each time Apple launches a major new product.
Photo by Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

One has to admire Apple's ability to generate so much publicity by doing so little.

Those who ordered the new iPad online last Wednesday – or at least tried to – know that Apple's website was not exactly Amazon-like in its efficiency. Many buyers encountered an unresponsive site and gave up. Jason O'Grady, ZDNet's reporter who stomped his feet like a child when he was once again passed over for an invite to the iPad event, bitched and moaned about Apple's online site last week:
The person in charge of Apple’s online store should be summarily fired. Like yesterday. That’s what Steve Jobs would do. I’m sure he’d roll over in his grave if the iPhone they buried him with had enough battery to launch the Apple Store app during the embarrassing pre-order fiasco.
But how could be be a fiasco when Apple managed to sell out of iPads online, and simulataneously guaranteed themselves a photo op this Friday?

The only down side I can see from continuing to use this marketing strategy is that it is getting tired. Samsung, who would be thrilled to see customers lining up for a new product launch (they have so many, which launch would you line up for?), is doing a pretty good job of pushing the message that lining up for an Apple launch is pretty uncool.

Time Inc.'s new CEO, Laura Lang, was brought onboard because of her digital advertising experience, having run the interactive agency Digitas. Critics of the hire pointed to her lack of magazine publishing experience.

Now the New York Post is reporting that Lang has decided to bring in a consultant – and not just any consultant – Bain & Co.

My own experience tells me that there are only two reasons to ever hire a consultant: you are without a clue what to do, or you are looking for cover.

Having been a consultant for a short time, I probably shouldn't make fun of the consultant industry. But, really, I've never been involved in a situation where a consultant has come in and advised anything interesting. For the most part they advise whatever the CEO wants them to advise – that's how they get retained and paid. Few CEOs hire a consultant to come in and tell them to do something they don't want to do.

But most times consultants are used to provide cover. As the Post article points out, usually this means layoffs. New CEOs rather want to be blamed for coming in and chopping heads.

It's possible that this is the case now, but it doesn't really matter. The CEO of Time Inc. is supposed to be a leading authority in their industry. The CEO of Time Inc. is supposed to be who Bain goes to when it wants expert advice, not the other way around.

Polls show that tonight's primaries in Alabama and Mississippi will be close affairs with Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich currently splitting the conservative vote, leaving plenty of room for Mitt Romney to possibly squeeze out a victory.

Both states, of course, are solidly red, so no matter who wins tonight the eventual GOP nominee can count on both states in the fall.

But despite the apparent enthusiasm of Republican supporters to oust the sitting president, money raised by the campaigns is actually down. According to a Washington Post report, the leading GOP candidates in 2008 – Sen. John McCain and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani – had raised nearly $310 million and already spent $278 million though the early primaries.

This year, the GOP candidates have only raised $146 million and spent $133 million. Many assumed that the new Super PACs would make up the difference, but so far they have spent $37 million.

“There seems to be very little excitement among voters in the donor class about these candidates,” the WaPo quoted David Donnelly, the executive director of the Public Campaign Action Fund. “What that gets replaced with is this new phenomenon of people writing huge checks in support of the candidates. You’re replacing excitement with those who have a huge amount of money."

For media companies, this is also bad news. Every four years newspapers and local television outlets located in hot primary states receive huge influxes of campaign ads. The last thing these outlets expected this year was ad spending to be below previous years.