As many long-time readers of GNN are aware, I served as golf columnist for the Toronto Sun for about 14 years until getting the phone call last year that we all want to avoid, yet so many in the publishing business are getting these days.
My services were no longer required.
As difficult as it was to receive that phone call, I felt badly for the sports editor who had to dish out the bad news. He genuinely seemed concerned, but that’s the human side of a business that these days, seems to lack compassion and caring as advertising revenue continues to plummet.
That cushioned the blow, but it all seemed so sudden, even if I should have and did see it coming in an era in which it’s not all about what have you done for me lately? It’s about what effect are you having on the bottom line and how can we get rid of you without it costing too much?
Not being a staffer, I was one of those people who could go out the door without the muss and fuss of severance packages, etc., but I did exit with the memories of people I enjoyed working with and a column I enjoyed writing after replacing a well-respected pal, the late, great Ontario Golf Hall of Fame member Rick Fraser.
As time went on, the column began appearing in the Suns in Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg and Ottawa, as well as other newspapers across Canada. Like many in the golf industry, the job was about more than compensation, simply something I love to do.
I say that with no malice towards the Sun chain. For one thing, I had already established GNN and still have that and other outlets to carry on my golf/industry writing.
The second thing is why slam a place that you enjoyed working for when so many other media outlets are doing exactly the same thing?
There had been people who had worked longer for the Sun and likely had more profile than I did who had been let go before my exit and that’s a trend that I fear may continue after the announcement on Monday that Postmedia had purchased 175 English-language newspapers, including the Suns, from Quebecor.
What concerns me is that Postmedia has about 2,800 employees working for it across Canada, while Sun Media employs about 2,400. No announcement has been made, but those numbers seemingly add up to more cuts once the dust settles. Actually, it could get ugly.
Postmedia now has a solid grip outside of Toronto, so this may be naive from a business standpoint, but from a readership standpoint, it stands to reason that the newspapers or the digital assets, which are the crown jewels in this deal, will become more homogenous and mundane.
In their zeal to bring in more advertising revenue, newspapers have forgotten that they need a product to help put eyes on the ads that they do sell, which has likely played a role in their shrinkage as a powerful medium over the years.
I’ve heard sales people tell editorial types that they’re a drain on the bottom line because they’re not black-and-white revenue producers, but in a way that isn’t so obvious, they are because they add value for clients by attracting eyes not only to the stories/columns, but to the ads that surround them.
That by no means is meant to belittle the importance of advertising and the people who sell it, but only to point out that in order to sell a product, you have to have a product in the first place.
Somehow, you have to make your business unique and special, not only in a digital world where there are so many choices, but also in other businesses such as golf, where people can distinguish a golf operation through well-thought out, plans, programs and client relations.
In my previous blog here, digital assets were also the discussion and just as I said advertising sales were an important component in media, so too are golf course websites and other digital assets that can be used to capture the attention of the young people many of us are trying to attract.
Those website not only need to look incredible, but they need constant attention as golf courses keep it lively and updated to keep people coming back. If it’s the same each time a reader goes back, after a while, you lose them.
So, just like advertising we discussed above, websites, other digital assets and advertising your operation are indeed important in today’s business climate, but that importance doesn’t reduce the contribution of people who, as it is in media, are the face of your brand.
What you promise on that website comes to life if message does what you intend it to do by drawing people to your operation. What then?
If it’s a newcomer, how do you rid that person of the intimidation he or she might feel or gently encourage them to maybe take a lesson or two?
If it’s a more established player who might see you using the larger holes that have become popular, how do you convince that person that they’re only used on occasion for the newcomers and that it’s not a permanent thing?
How does your staff make people feel welcome? Do you ever call in a teenaged kid who has a summer job at your operation and pick his or her mind on how to unlock the secret of attracting youngsters and perhaps their families? Ditto with women and other females yet to try the game.
How can staff members engage the public in their own communities through charitable and other local events?
A golf operation sells more than fairways and greens and nice clubhouses because to the public, there are a lot of them out there, along with so many other entertainment venues, to capture their attention.
Golf is recreation as well as a business, but you don’t want the business environment to overwhelm the fun atmosphere that should be presented, which is where the people you hire make your product attractive.
Sales are incredibly important, be it green fees or advertising in the case of the media, but you can’t ever forget what it is you’re actually trying to sell.