Why design matters

Show your audience you give a shit

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Design is vital to building a brand since it’s an important way to express differentiation while also showing your audience you give a shit. Good design, consistently executed, can be an important competitive advantage. One of the best decisions we made at Digiday was to put effort into the presentation layer.

A year into The Rebooting, I felt it was time to work on the visual aspects to the brand as it expands beyond a weekly email newsletter. The launch of The Rebooting Show, coming on Monday, was a good excuse to define its visual representation.

The most important decision to make in designing is the designer. I knew I wanted to work with Claudia Chow of Studio Chow. I worked with Claudia back in 2013 in designing the Digiday brand. She was able to express the editorial values around honesty, simplicity and authority in a brand system that went beyond a site design. (Claudia also did the branding and site design for Glossy and Modern Retail.)

A good design is only possible with a clear point of view. The Rebooting was hatched in the throes of a pandemic, when our lives were turned upside down, leading many of us to rethink what we’re doing. I chose the name The Rebooting to evoke that feeling, the urgency to start anew and improve. The focus of The Rebooting is on the media industry, how it can and must reboot with sturdier business models that enable high quality content that attracts loyal audiences.

I wanted to capture the feelings of exploration, discovery and seeing the world differently. The experience of the pandemic reminded me of the Overview Effect, the name the philosopher and author Frank White gave to the range of emotions felt by astronauts who have viewed the earth from outer space. Those who have been to space and viewed the earth down below report a mix of feelings ranging from awe to an understanding of the fragility of earth and the need to protect it. Viewing things from a different point of view can be powerful. I wanted The Rebooting to capture that.

Design is about constraints. Some view constraints as an excuse to downplay the importance of design. Substack, in particular, offers a limited number of ways to differentiate through design, guarding against the design horrors visited on the world by MySpace pages. That said, there are always subtle ways to express a brand. The TRB stickers you’ll see on photos are one way. Same for the section breaks Claudia made as image files to get around the basic options Substack offers. The color palette comes from the visible light spectrum, which defines how we perceive stars.

Finally, it’s important for a brand to be able to grow. I don’t expect The Rebooting to remain a newsletter and (soon!) a podcast. I plan to add courses, events and more. It was important to think ahead to these new “surfaces” while mainly focusing on the here and now of what The Rebooting is. As always, I’d love to hear what you think.

Cashflow rules everything around media

Capital is like oxygen for businesses. But all companies in media, whether they’re publishers, agencies or tech providers, deal with cash-flow concerns. Stretched payment terms -- 45 to 60 days is the norm for accounts receivable -- has created a velocity mismatch: The media business moves incredibly fast, only the financial system underpinning it slogs along like molasses. That gap needs to be filled, leaving publishers with few good options, from revolving credit lines to drawing down equity capital. Many traditional lenders aren’t experienced in the long payment cycles in the media business. Enter Silverblade Partners, a strategic finance partner with the experience to work closely with senior management and banking partners to provide liquidity, better payment terms and higher credit limits. Learn more about how Silverblade Partners accelerates cashflow in the advertising media sector.

What The Rebooting stands for

Last week, I wrote about the difference between having a program, a playbook and a bunch of random plays. That sprung from my own frustration that many brands seemingly have an identity crisis. They don’t know what they believe, so they lurch from thing to thing without anything to hold it all together. I’d like to avoid that. Over the next several weeks, I’m going to include a section with a list of beliefs The Rebooting has when it comes to building sustainable media businesses.

The only way to fix the media business’s trust crisis is by better business models. Pretty much any issue in media -- loss of trust, terrible user experiences, sensationalism, misinformation -- can be tracked to bad incentives. For a healthy media ecosystem, fixing the business models is necessary.

Media businesses need to be humanistic. The pendulum in the media business swung too far to the need for scale, leading to scramble to growth hack and a premium placed on optimization and monetization. I tend to believe the next phase will see the shift to focus on content and lead to more humanistic models.

Media is more about execution than vision. Nobody is going to invent an app that changes media. This is a hard business, and success almost always boils down to consistently executing on the details. Vision without execution is delusion.

The best way you make money is many ways. Media business models aren’t like religion. Making money from ads isn’t inferior to subscriptions. There are upsides and downsides to both. But all businesses need to make money in multiple ways.

Direct connections are key. Loyalty is at a premium. The weight of many media business models is shifting to direct revenue, requiring media brands to develop direct connections with their audience in order to understand them better. Synthetic media is mostly doomed.

5 things to check out

  1. The Federal Trade Commission is fed up with the dark patterns many subscription programs rely on to trap people into subscriptions. Bait-and-switch tactics are common in publisher subscriptions. Nobody likes to feel ripped off.
  2. Maybe crypto needs its America Online moment in order to finally push into the mainstream. I’m moderately bullish on the impact crypto and blockchain will have throughout many industries, even if I’m not ready to live in a Facebook metaverse.
  3. Lindsay Crouse uses marathon running as the frame for moving beyond the “success addiction.” People tend to put too much pressure on themselves, usually to meet some standard that’s more about what others think versus personal expectations and fulfillment.
  4. MaybeAmazon could be the one company to meld commerce with TV ads. My former longtime colleague Mike Shields, who once told me he was resigning at a Starbucks like a 1990s breakup, has a new Substack.
  5. Punchbowl racked up $10 million in revenue in Year 1 with just a handful of people. Ads are a great bridge model to subscriptions -- and the amount of money pouring into DC influence sector is too great to ignore.

Thanks for reading this week. I always like to hear from people, including thoughts on the new design. My email is bmorrissey@gmail.com. The No. 1 way people find this newsletter is through referrals, so if you’re enjoying it, please consider sharing it with others.