I say, stumbled. And with good reason. Because in two years I’m not sure we’ve ever put one foot firmly in front of the other; it’s always been a case of putting a tentative toe forward and gently seeing if the ground is about to give away beneath our feet.
And I defy anyone to say that, hand on heart, they know what they’re doing. We’re all slaving over our Bunsen burners throwing in bits of subscription here, local advertising there…. hubble and bubble, tons of toil and plenty of trouble trying to discover this new media gold…
Anyway, back to our Mark I incarnation, www.rickwaghorn.co.uk. For those of you who never set eyes on it, it had this set of legs whirring around on the top; the big idea was that these were the subscription characters – The Wife, The Pro, Eyes, etc, etc.
Given that Neil arrived on the scene only two weeks before its launch, his hands are clean; it had my finger-prints all over it. Which is why it is nowhere to be seen these days…
The other ‘big’ idea was that as a local journalist whose ugly mug had adorned various Carrow Road advertising hoardings and Norwich bus-stops for a number of years – there is a decent grafitti gag to be had on the speech bubble that adorned the one on Castle Meadow and my elderly mother’s reaction to someone’s spelling of the word… – but this being a family-orientated blog, we’ll move swiftly on.
The point is that – rightly or wrongly – I figured I had a strong enough local ‘brand’ that if I needed to throw myself off the top of Archant Towers and put my faith, my mortgage and my eight-year-old’s future in the hands of the Internet, there would be enough of a welcoming committee on the web to break my fall.
Cos I had a name. And that name wasn’t John Smith. It was easy on Google’s eye; if no-one else’s. And as such people would come and find me; we’d work the brand; the brand, the awareness and the bus-stop presence that 12-odd years sat on the back page of the Evening News had given me.
And if I could get my name, my brand to work out of one city evening newspaper, why not look to bring out all the other boys and girls who did my beat? Tatts in Birmingham; Mark in Portsmouth; Meeksy in Barnsley; Adam in Southampton… we were all on the same circuit; pounding the same beat; delivering the same, informed opinion and comment on a passionate niche subject – just to different niche audiences… then we pull all those niche audiences into one…
But it doesn’t work.
Cos you can’t work off a name; can’t work off an individual journalist.
And, in part, that’s back to that bus-stop. Or rather the no47 bus that arrives there. Because as far as a bank are concerned – and, indeed, your punters are concerned – you could fall under that bus. And, bang, the whole thing folds in an instant.
On this occasion, I see a bank’s point; you build a community around any one person’s individual name and it is only ever as strong and as durable as the individual concerned. Take Rick Waghorn out of www.rickwaghorn.co.uk and it collapses; on a wholly different level altogether, it’s why I don’t think www.jeremyclarkson.co.uk would motor as far as the banks were concerned.
Massive traffic, interest, etc, etc… but only for as long as the brand itself were alive and kicking; that ‘brand’ falls underneath the wheels of the new Alfa 159 or whatever and the whole proposition goes down the pan. Again, where’s the value? There’s no value in flesh and blood; it’s all too human; all too frail.
Which is why one lunchtime in the Walnut, me and Neil had to come up with something more robust; something that could firmly do without me; that was a brand in its own right.
Hence MFW. But it still took six months to prove the point. Because as we wandered our way down the A140 and crossed the Waveney into Ipswich territory, the original idea was to add another familiar ‘brand’ to the pack, albeit now under the ‘MFW’ umbrella.
That went out of the window as a number of obvious candidates decided that they were better off sticking with the devil they knew; they didn’t fancy the leap. Which is fine.
Neither had ‘previous’; no bus-stops; no advertising hoardings at either Portman Road or Layer Road. All they had was a spot of match-day programme advertising and MFW as a platform.
Two months in and Mark had pulled 5,500 uniques into the Ipswich site. The next month was January; transfer window month.
And for those national commentators poring over the spike in bigger and better ABCe’s than ours; that’s your answer to January’s bumper numbers. Football transfer stories.
Anyway, we emerged from January with 20,500 uniques; a four-fold increase. Mark’s a good writer and a very solid operator; but that’s not his ‘brand’ working its magic. Nor, I suspect, is it too much to do with MFW.
It’s all about the functionality that working that web ‘beat’ brings; delivering people’s news where and when they want it – that and the way that the web virals out your ‘brand’ in an instant; pop up on a message-board and be the review good, bad or indifferent, people will have a look. You’re in their niche; talking their passion; they’ll look; they’ll decide. And you’re away…
The other big point now we’re starting to try and fit some bigger pieces of the jigsaw together; trying to be a long tail to someone else’s water lily, is that you can’t fit a jumble of individual names together; someone has to be ‘mother’.
Someone has to give it order, structure – and, above all, elegance.
www.rickwaghorn.co.uk may have been many things; elegant it weren’t. As journalists we need to re-organise, re-group, re-think and re-align. Into nice straight lines, ideally.
That’s the challenge that my little brand was never going to meet. Never in a month of Sundays. Individual journalists still have huge strengths as individual brands; they equally have fatal weaknesses when it comes to organising, elegantly, the kind collective networks that we need to survive.