First day luncheon keynoter Mark Walsh, who personifies the intersection of politics and the information business, provided a convenient frame for summarizing the rest of the morning’s program. He predicted that “micro-scripts” – a new term for the sound bites and bumper stickers that play all too large a role in what often passes for political discourse – will be increasingly important to business messaging as well in the overflowing media environment. At the same time, he forecast that the more thoughtful political style of the new president will help shift the political (and business?) culture toward more transparency, accountability, and forethought, resulting in better decisions and analysis. (However, when I asked him what near-term events we might look to as evidence this is happening, he answered a different question…which – as he acknowledged – is more representative of the discourse we know.)
So, what were the most effective micro-scripts of the preceding morning? The morning's opening speaker, Pearson CEO Marjorie Scardino, offered that education is what Pearson is about in all of its businesses, not just Pearson Education; she declared that learning needs throughout society will provide opportunities for information companies of many stripes.
The core of the subsequent panel, entitled “Sink or Swim? How Can You Grow an Information Business Now?"
was provocateur Michael Wolff’s observation that the low margins associated
with direct marketing have always precluded much investment in quality original
content; and with the Internet (read: Google) following the direct model, it is no
wonder that now “the primary strategic question is ‘how can we pay less or
nothing for content?’” The other
panelists (from Time Digital, Congressional Quarterly, and various professional
information businesses), all representing different aspects of the business of
original content creation, found this premise hard to rebut convincingly. So when all general news and consumer content
costs nothing, who will fund, for example, professional journalists in Baghdad
Glenn Goldberg, president of the Information & Media Services segment at McGraw-Hill, (interviewed very effectively by Hal Espo) provided a succinct rule of thumb for identifying attractive information businesses: are there industry benchmarks and quality standards that can be measured, analyzed, and imbedded in workflow? This may be as close to a “golden rule” of high-value business information as I’ve heard.