• November 1, 2008
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Captive Audiences

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Memo from the desk of Marshall Lager, November’s Chief Fairness Officer:

It’s a shame sometimes that I have to hold my insights for the back page of the magazine. It’s not that I’m changing the world with them, but they tend not to be so timely when I’m forced to write months in advance. (I keep handing work in late, but it’s not having the effect I hope for.) [And that intended effect would be…? –Ed.] This month’s pithy ponderings hinge upon two events, both of which will be long since over by the time you read this: the Summer Olympics and our destinationCRM 2008 conference.

The Olympic Games are great, but the coverage of them keeps getting worse. The unbalanced reporting, the flag-waving, and the avoidance of any events not including American competitors always astound me. Chinese athletes couldn’t get a second of screen time without somebody mentioning the underage-gymnast scandal. And I’m not just talking about the coverage of the gymnastics competition itself—whether it was swimmers, divers, volleyball players, or fans in the stands, it seemed like any East Asian face triggered a Pavlovian response among reporters to talk about tumblers who may or may not have been 13 years old. Sure it’s a stain on the Olympics if the allegations are true, but could they let me watch the other athletes for five minutes without thinking about it?

Even worse than the American media, the behavior of United States citizen spectators continues to disgust me. It’s bad enough we boast we’re the greatest country on Earth and expect everyone to believe it—but we can’t even show respect when we’re guests overseas. The last time I checked, the modern Games were supposed to celebrate athletic achievement in every form, not provide a venue for getting one’s vicarious sporting jollies while chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!” At least American spectators weren’t booing the other athletes—they save that for when the events are held here.

I even caught Bob Costas, a highly respected TV sports reporter (it’s hard to imagine such a person, I know), shading his comments in favor of American athletes. It was noticeable in the women’s beach volleyball final, among other places—to hear Costas tell it, the Chinese team was making huge errors, while the U.S. duo was merely getting unlucky on slight miscalculations or was a victim of the rain-slick ball. To be fair, some of the Chinese players’ errors were big, and the U.S. went on to win—but it’s bad form. Journalists aren’t supposed to have a home team.

Yes, excitement for the events happening around you can sometimes make for a powerful story. Al Michaels’ exuberant “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” from the 1980 Winter Olympics hockey semifinal has become part of our collective memory, but I certainly don’t remember Al disparaging the powerhouse Russian team, which was widely favored to win the gold. Think about the 1937 Hindenburg disaster—another famous piece of live reporting. That historic dispatch wouldn’t have been made any better by snarky comments about the policies of Nazi Germany.

Only getting one side of the story during the Beijing Games rankled a bit, but I didn’t focus on it much until a conversation I had with John Roberts, chief executive officer of SugarCRM. We were talking about the magazine’s conference, destinationCRM 2008 (a huge success, by the way), and how its success was a good thing for the industry. Trade shows hosted by vendors have their place, Roberts said—I’m paraphrasing, of course—but at those events you’re only going to see what that vendor wants you to see, hear what it wants you to hear. A company highly committed to software-as-a-service, for example, sure isn’t going to spare much floor space for on-premises applications. Shows like ours provide a neutral ground for vendors to show their wares and let customers see those products side-by-side.

Ironically, John was in town for Sugar’s own marketing event, and he gave our attendees a 10 percent discount to come get Sugar’s story. I hope Oracle and Salesforce.com had booths.

Contact Senior Editor Marshall Lager at mlager@destinationCRM.com, but keep in mind that the only times he really wants to hear both sides of the story are when he’s arguing with the voices in his own head.

Every month, CRM magazine covers the customer relationship management industry and beyond. To subscribe, please visit http://www.destinationcrm.com/subscribe/.

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