Digital Age: A Fish Out of Water

In a digital age where social media clips, tweets, posts, likes, and pins are as plentiful as scales on a Spanish Mackerel, literally, anyone can become a fishing YouTube superstar. Who needs mainstream broadcasters anymore? Who needs to mortgage Aunt Silvia’s summer home to buy a cinema-quality camera? And more importantly who needs to go out and sell their soul to the fishing tackle industry?

I left the cozy confines Pine Post Productions the other day and made a pilgrimage to the megalopolitan of Toronto. At the request of a colleague who asked me to join him for moral support, I found myself waist deep in the corporate watering hole called Bloor and Yonge, the center of the advertising agency universe. My good friend—a decorated TV celebrity chef and a thirty-year veteran of the television cooking wars—was on a quest to find himself (digitally speaking), and to seek out the true value of his brand on the World Wide Web. Yes, there are places that specialize in this sort of thing. They’re called Digital Agencies. This is where all of the brilliant ones, the clairvoyants, the visionaries, and the prophets gather each day, trying to outdo each other in the prognostication of the “Next Big Thing” in the world of digital media influencers.    

Spending the last thirty-three years producing television for national audiences has led me to the conclusion that agencies, in general, are a bit like the storm sewers of our society. And I mean that in a nice sort of way. The umber-centric, the square peggers, the creative and intelligent misfits who can’t coexist with the general population—sooner or later, they all seem to find their way to an advertising agency, like salmon migrating to their home rivers. That being the case, Digital Agencies are the gutters that catch the overflow from that storm sewer. And much like the salmon, most of them never get a chance to complete their mission successfully.

This tells you a lot about the prevailing culture in digital media agencies. It’s a pressure cooker environment where enormous decisions are being made daily by people who are influenced by influencers. Millions of dollars are moved every day from traditional advertising to this relatively new form of engagement with consumers. In 2015, for the first time in our history, more money was spent globally in digital media than all other traditional forms of advertising combined. 

So there I was, experiencing the process firsthand. We were early for a 10:00 a.m. appointment, which was fortunate because my buddy the chef had to fill out several pages detailing his illustrious TV career (along with awards and personal achievements over his past thirty years in the business). This was all done sitting at a computer in the front entranceway of the sparsely-decorated twelfth-story office overlooking Bay Street. No fancy furniture, no colourful promotional posters, no corporate mission statements on the wall, no celebrity endorsements. Nothing but a computer, an Ikea-inspired chair, and the company logo handpainted on a stark white wall. This was anything but your typical downtown advertising agency—where we would have already been enjoying our first non-fat decaf latte.

Ten minutes later, we’re in a glass cubical sitting on a well-worn linen bean bag couch across from a young lady sitting cross-legged on one of those Ikea-inspired chairs.  She brings my buddy’s information up on her computer screen and proceeds to run him through the database where all the digital treasures are stored. After a bit of small talk, she discloses to us that she never looks at a conventional CV or headshot of her clients during the evaluation process. She does most of her casting via YouTube and other social media outlets, she says, looking for who’s causing a stir, a buzz, and influencing followers. All she’s looking for are digital brands.

I still find what happened in the next fifteen minutes incredibly hard to swallow. After she conducted several searches and punched in whatever criteria is required to evaluate one’s career as it pertains to the World Wide Web, it seems that my good friend the famous chef was a nobody. Zero influence on consumers who feed their appetite for culinary info digitally. In short, the many years he spent in scorching kitchen studios in front of those blazing lights have all been for naught.

“We are living in a whole new era where the old rules for getting noticed—expert at your craft, solid experience, bullet-proof references, financial wherewithal—no longer seem to matter as much.” (Pictured: In 2010, Angelo Viola and brother Reno Viola are inducted into the Canadian Anglers Hall of Fame.)

At one point in his career, he was recognized as one of the most influential television chefs of our time. This meant absolutely nothing to the young lady that was evaluating him today. She didn’t even know who he was. This guy is seen by more than ten-million television viewers every year, he’s a founding member of the television cooking industry, and he has inspired throngs of people to pursue the art of food preparation for both recreational purposes and as careers, and he doesn’t even show up as a blip on the digital media radar. Sweet mother of Jesus, what has this world come to?!

Needless to say, we were both shocked and speechless when she showed him his ranking. He scored a perfect zero out of ten in all fourteen criteria that the industry uses to generate digital brand rankings. Weaker men would have fallen to their knees were it not for the fact that we were only inches from the floor, sitting on that ridiculous bean bag couch.     

The overwhelming message from this experience is that today you need to create a digital footprint for yourself to be relevant. We are living in a whole new era where the old rules for getting noticed—expert at your craft, solid experience, bullet-proof references, financial wherewithal—no longer seem to matter as much.  

The landscape has changed. This world is all about digital supremacy. And let me tell you, it’s time for me to eat or be eaten. Can a veteran TV fishing show personality even adapt to this new reality? It’s adapt or die. Step back, folks, this could get messy…

Angelo Viola

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