Attention Washington: Follow the lead of digital media
By Bob Carrigan
The presidential primary season is under way, and congressional races will follow later this year. With political bickering prevalent, and action in short supply last year, an election year is likely to mean more of the same in 2012.
There must be another way, and I think the interactive advertising and media industries can provide examples.
While the overall economy continues to improve slightly and far too many Americans are out of work, the online advertising business grew to $22.8 billion through the first three quarters of 2011, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau. That's a 23% increase compared with the same period in 2010. Figures for the full year 2011 will far surpass the record $26 billion in 2010. While other industries are contracting, the digital universe of media, advertising and ad tech companies is hiring developers, salespeople and executives.
In 2009, the IAB commissioned a study that estimated that the advertising-supported Internet creates an estimated $444 billion of economic value per year. This estimate is several years old, so you can imagine what that contribution has grown to today.
So what can the apparently dysfunctional U.S. government learn from the digital sector?
Many believe our government's biggest problem is that Democrats and Republicans refuse to agree on anything. The other side is the enemy, pure and simple. Little gets done, and pessimism reigns.
Our industry is just the opposite. Sure, there's fierce competition for business, but when it comes to overriding issues—such as privacy or providing customers what they want—we come together and cooperate. The fact is co-opetition works, and our political leaders should take note.
Replace legacy ways of doing business
The digital media business, in fact, was created largely through disruption, by dismantling old ways of delivering information in favor of revolutionary new ways that continue to evolve. In many cases, these new, interactive solutions were introduced by 21st century companies weaned on digital. But these pioneers were joined by some enlightened, traditional media companies that became digital professionals.
Successful companies in our industry—some of them around for decades—resisted the temptation to preserve comfortable legacy systems. Rather, they embraced the new and, as a result, have prospered in the digital age.
Our political leaders face legacy issues all around them: from an inefficient healthcare system to an anachronistic Postal Service. I do know that the answer lies in figuring out how to leverage technology to drive efficiencies and new ways of doing things; in other words, to innovate, not to protect legacy systems.
Retool and rebuild
The fact is, neither we nor the government can run a 21st century business on 20th century infrastructure. We in the interactive ad business understand that modernized infrastructure is critical. That's why Internet companies leverage capital to make the underlying digital network faster and more efficient. That's why the IAB has devoted much effort to creating standards—a comprehensive set of guidelines, measurement and creative options—for interactive video and other areas. And that's why companies such as Apple and Google are investing so much in creating the systems that underpin mobile ad delivery.
Meanwhile, our politicians debate whether to spend more on the nation's deteriorating roads, bridges and transportation infrastructure. An updated, well-functioning public infrastructure—in both the physical and digital worlds—is a necessity for a higher standard of living over time for our nation.
We believe in investing, in creating, in building, in taking risks and, as corny as it sounds, in following a dream.
We believe in a global marketplace, with limited international trade barriers and boundless international trade.
Our overriding mission is to create value. We are, at the core, unabashed optimists. The net result is we work to create meaningful, sustaining, fulfilling jobs in a growth business that is just beginning to hit its stride. The last thing an industry like ours—such a dynamic, growing, employment-generating industry—needs is more government regulation.
In fact, if politicians really want to get this country moving again, they need to first recognize the importance of industries like ours to the broader economy. Second, they need to encourage the growth and development of industries like ours. And third, they need to help better prepare the young people of our nation for success in this global, 21st century, technology-oriented marketplace.