Thursday, April 30, 2009

Moving the Needle

I heard they called an emergency meeting at The Big Joint. It was gonna be upstairs in the big conference room with its big mahogany table and big leather-backed swivel chairs. Everyone hated that room. No windows. Static cling. Noisy vents. And one of the light fixtures was bad -- it was like sitting under a strobe. Instant headache. But you needed a big room to discuss big ideas.

Emergency meetings at The Big Joint are run by The Big Doer, because he gets things
done. That's what he's paid to do. They knew the meeting was serious because there was no agenda in advance. Meant they couldn't prepare. They were going to wing it. Winging it was fun but scary. Fun when others were talking, scary when it was your turn. These guys never used to wing it, but emergencies required it. You couldn't plan for an emergency, you had to wing it.

Everyone got there early. The Big Doer came into the conference room at precisely 10 AM. His big platinum chronometer was set off nicely against his tanned wrist. His hair was disheveled -- his assistant would typically tousle it a few minutes before any serious meeting to make it appear as though he had just
done something -- he wasn't wearing a tie, his collar was open, his sleeves were rolled up, and his visage was grim. It was the grimmest visage anyone'd ever seen. Lucy Doe, who was sitting next to randy Randy, shuddered when she saw it. Across the table, Big Hat's leg jumped like a live frog and a dark shadow passed across his face. No one who was there that day will ever forget The Big Doer's visage.

"Thank you for coming. This is no time for small talk. I just saw the numbers. They are so bad I'm not even sure they are correct. Finance is double-checking just to be certain these are the numbers. They are so, so bad." He began rubbing his temples. "But they are
our numbers. You have to take responsibility for these numbers. These numbers don't just show up on our balance sheet -- no! You put them there. The marketplace doesn't take responsibility for these numbers. No no. The consumers don't take responsibility. No no. The state of the economy -- shall we ask it to take responsibility? No no. Each one of you is responsible. Not me. You. And now. Now what do you do? How do you change these numbers?"

Whenever The Big Doer asked two rhetorical questions in a row, that was the signal for T-boy to take over the meeting. Now they were gonna get down to brass tacks.

"Team. We got a problem," he shouted. He smelled like Listerine. "Print media are dying. Book reviewers are getting fired. Even when they write something, the public's not paying attention. No effect on sales. Reviews just aren't moving the needle. Zip, zilch, zero." He tried to modulate his voice down a little but it wasn't working. He sounded insane. "We have to move the needle. If we don't. Well, you know. The needle stays where it is. We can't allow that to happen." He finally completed a breathing cycle and stole a glance at The Big Doer. The Big Doer was engaged in picking his teeth with what appeared to be a pushpin.

T-boy inhaled. "Team! Do you read me? We gotta come up with answers today. Tomorrow is not good enough. Ideas anyone?"

Big Hat bounced straight up out of his chair. "We can move the needle, I know we can. But we gotta cut costs first. No more galleys, no more mailings. No more freebies. If these reviewers can't make something happen, we shouldn't support them. Same with the retailers. Let them go online and search for content there. They're always asking for freebies. Why should we keep giving them something for nothing?"

The Big Doer squished a little dab of plaque between two fingers and looked up. "Hmm. I like the way you think," he said. "No more freebies."

Lucy Doe joined in, "That makes sense. No more freebies." Followed by randy Randy. "I get it -- no more freebies, right?" Everyone around the table joined in. There would be no more freebies. If the reviewers couldn't deliver consumers, they'd just be cut right out of the equation.

After letting everyone voice their agreement, T-boy watched The Big Doer get up and leave. Then he summed up the discussion. "If we cut reviewers out of the equation, it'll move the needle. Sounds like the beginnings of a strategy. I want you to go back to your desks and flesh it out. Gimme a timetable. When do we start cutting? You heard The Big Doer -- each one of you is responsible. We need to take concrete steps. Everyone on board?"

"Yes." "Yeah, sure." "We're on it, T-boy." "I can't wait to get back to my desk." "I'm gonna meet with my people first. This is exciting."

Just then, Dunce raised his hand and began to speak, "Wha, wha, what about on-line reviewers?" he stammered. "Don't we want them to write about our books? Surely they make a difference." The whole room broke into nervous twitters as T-boy walked over to Dunce and put his arms around the little guy. He looked down on him and spoke softly.

"Maybe someday the web will drive sales, but that day's a long way off. You're way ahead of us on that one, kid." At this he gave a big wink and everyone nodded. "Great meeting guys, you really showed your stuff today."

At that, the room began to empty. Poor Dunce, he sat there thinking about how
he could move the needle. T-boy let the others leave, then took pity on the young man, "Don't give yourself cramps, kid. We're all in this together. Nobody can do it by themselves. You know something, your idea wasn't all bad. It's just that we can't afford to think about online reviewers until we see some sales. It's the cart and the horse. It's ants and elephants. Balls and strikes. Chickens and eggs. Needles and pins. Hey, when the rubber hits the road, I know you'll be in there with us, right?"

"Right, sir. I'm there." When T-boy turned away, Dunce took his wad of gum and stuck it up under the bottom of his chair.

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