Sometimes old technologies really are the best

Sometimes old technologies really are the best

Bassoon Enquiries

I was listening to Harold Evans this morning who was being interviewed on Radio 4’s Today program.

He was an exceptionally effective editor of The Sunday Times  from 1967 to 1981.

Anyway, I was listening to Harold Evans being interviewed concerning the £1m that Murdoch is personally going to donate to charity following the revelation that people at The News of The World had been hacking into Milly Dowler‘s mobile phone. They had been erasing messages after she had been murdered, thereby making her parents think she must still be alive, and which the nation subsequently, without exception, found despicable.

The conversation moved on to why Murdoch continues to own newspapers. Evans pointed out that all newspapers are haemorrhaging sales. When I started in advertising, The Sun, another News Corp newspaper, sold slightly over 4m copies every weekday. The latest ABC-audited give weekday sales as 2.9m. The Sun is not alone.

“So,” asked John Humphrys, the program’s chief inquisitor, “why does he persist with them? Why not sell them?”

“Because,” replied Evans, “he loves newspapers.”

I think he’s probably right. Murdoch’s beginnings as a media magnate started in Australia, where he bought large numbers of regional and local newspapers. I don’t suppose Murdoch is an especially sentimental businessman, but it would be difficult to say goodbye to this part of his history.

That said, there are several bits of old technology which I still use, simply because I can’t think of anything which is newer and better. One in particular is the fountain pen.

Fountain pens date from the 10th century, are a complete pain in the arse. They leak, bugger up your shirt and jacket, run out of ink more or less at random, and leave guilty stains on your index finger. Olly Tseliki, London’s tallest art director and owner of 6f4, told me the other day that I had to move, however tentatively, into the 21st century. He gave me a red Sharpie permanent marker with a fine nib at one end, and an ultra fine nib at the other, to help me on my way.

But, I am not convinced. Were I to use this to write a personal letter to a new business prospect it would not really get the sort of attention I wanted, just as email would fail. My increasing impression of email is that people’s inboxes, mine included, are stuffed full of mail which is just never going to get read. Why has Heal’s, a South American company selling Viagra online, and Sixt car hire all decided to bombard me this month? Their emails have all gone straight into the Junk folder, unread.

But a letter does still get read, and it gets read more carefully if some or all of it is written by a fountain pen. Even if just the envelope’s address, and the greeting and signature, are written in ink, a fountain pen will get the letter read because it makes the approach personal and considered.

I once got a meeting with the managing director of Wisden, which was, at the time, owned by John Paul Getty III. The MD’s PA rang me the day he got the letter, and fixed for me to meet him that week. At the start of the meeting, I asked him why he wanted to see me.

“Because,” he said, “you sent me a letter so I thought it must be important. Nobody writes to me anymore.”

There’s definitely a lesson here. New business is personal. The biggest mistake you can make whilst pitching is not staying in touch with your potential client during the pitch process. If you haven’t established a relationship by the time of the pitch, you are not going to win it.

Finally, you might wonder why the picture at the top of this blog is concerned with bassoon enquiries.

It’s there because bassoons, too, use an ancient music technology which has yet to be bettered. It’s called lung-power.

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