Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The 42nd Annual Magic Collectors Weekend - May 20, 2011 Part 1

Friday, day two of captivity, sees us starting at the too damn early time of 10 AM. (Mostly, I expect I am in the minority, but we magicians do like make for a late night at these events.)

This year the organizers of the weekend have decided to try to thematically group presentations. (Ending some of those sessions with a group panel.) This idea, despite some unevenness in presenters, has possibilities and is worth exploring. The first three presentations in the morning session deal with marketing and advertising.

It’s Magic
First, we are treated to a slide show presentation of print ads from the Bob James collection. Bob is a local magician and dealer. Through the years he has collected hundreds of advertisements from the mainstream world that have the theme of magic. The slide show represented a small portion of those ads. The unfortunate thing is that the images flew by and became nothing more than visual noise. I didn’t know what ads I was looking at, just that there were a lot of them. A good idea poorly executed.

Marketing Wonders
Our next presenter was Phil Schwartz. Phil is the world’s foremost expert on the Thayer Magic Company. He has collected over 600 Thayer items including letters, photos, and promotional materials. In 2010, with Dr. Robert Albo, he produced a two volume book and ten DVD set on the history of Thayer from 1877 to1963.

His talk is to be about how and how well magic has been marketed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. With a career in marketing and advertising, he is, with out a doubt, an expert. In fact, most of his speech will cover general marketing ideas and concepts. As to the how well part, the answer is—not very.

Simply, the vast majority of magic companies throughout our history had no concept of marketing 101 or creating a plan to properly market their wares. (Such as branding, logos, motto, etc.)

There are two problems with the speech and they are related. Phil breaks the cardinal rule of Power Point presentations: Don’t read from your slides. This is a real pet peeve of mine. (It is okay, Phil didn’t know.) This is death to any presentation. If you have something written on a slide, like a bulleted list, I can read it. You do not have to read it too me. If you do need to read it to me you don’t need the slide.

Here is some Power Point 101: If your slide has words on it, tell a story that adds or illustrates what I read on the slide. If you need to convey to me a concept, tell me, your slide then can have an image to serve as an example of such.

Hence, Phil spends so much his time reading his slides of bulleted points of general marketing theory that he doesn’t have room for many illustrative examples from the magic world. The few that he does show are interesting, but there are not enough of them.

New Era Advertising
I have mixed feelings about the next presentation by Adam Rubin. Things start off very bad, but there is sound information, yet, there is a big “why?” Adam is the marketing and creative director for the online service, Groupon. His talk will deal with new advertising channels such as blogs, twitter, youtube, and social networking.

Adam starts by telling the audience that this is not the talk David Ben had asked for. David wanted Adam to design an online marketing campaign for an old magic product. This is actually a quite clever way to show how these new online platforms work. Adam told us that he didn’t because his “hourly rate” was too high. Wow, really Adam? Your time is too valuable? We are not worth your time and effort?

In the audience sits some of the great historians and collectors in the history of magic. Individually, they have spent countless hours, even lifetimes, to bring their presentations to the Magic Collectors Weekend. Adam can’t spend a few hours over a few months to produce something of importance.

Instead, he starts out telling us about this great thing he didn’t do for us, so what we get is the low effort cut-rate talk. On the other hand, for what the talk is, he has some useable information. He knows the world of online marketing.

I don’t know how much of the technical aspects got through to this audience. The average age in the room is dirt. Did they connect with what he was saying? Another problem is that he used two incomprehensible charts to augment his talk. One big chart, that looked like a giant flower, showed the various online tools available. They is so much and even blown up stage size little can be understood except if he is trying to tell us that the internet is overwhelming. He nailed that. The second graph showed the online sharing path of a New York Times story or the long term trajectory of Voyager 2, it made that much sense.

He did make some points to consider:

  1. We all know word of mouth is the best advertising. Twitter, blogs, Facebook have become the way to communicate that word of mouth.
  2. Expert is a relative term. Usually the first responses on a search page are the experts. To become a “search page expert” you need to blog. You need to be consistent, do it frequently, develop trust, and don’t be phony.
  3. Online services really allow you to target a small niche and thanks to my friend Gordon, I know there is money to be made on those fringes. Find you niche.

Another thought about this presentation was brought up to me by another regular attendee who is the CEO of a large company, while the presentation was fine, Adam’s talk didn’t belong at this convention. What does the world of online marketing really have to do with collecting magic or magic history?

Adam did allude to a relevant message that got lost in the clutter: as historians and collectors we need to leverage social media to become “the expert” in our interests and communicate to a whole new audience. If we don’t infuse new blood into our mix, the Magic Collectors will die out.

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