Having fun with strategy
July 29, 2013
My peer from Aspen started laughing and couldn't stop. Great peals. I swear tears were rolling. Great to hear, really.
Only she wasn't laughing with me. Oh yeah, make no mistake, no question about it. She was laughing at me. She had good reason.
We were at a company meeting, and one of the execs had cause to flash the Vail Daily's "content strategy" on the big screen while making some quick point or another.
I think it's safe to say that among our company, the Vail Daily is kind of an odd duck, a bit of a maverick, faintly like the Oakland Raiders of yore, back when they were a collection of rogues who won Super Bowls.
We tend to have the same effect on our bosses that J.R. Smith used to have on Nuggets coach George Karl a few years ago, when both were part of the Nuggets. That is, J.R. rises for some crazy shot while Karl yells, "No, no, no!" Then it goes in. "Great shot!"
Lately, our crazy shots have been going in. I don't think it's quite true that we break all the rules. But this isn't a bunch that grew up carefully coloring inside the lines, soaking in what teacher says as if gospel, politely waiting for others to finish speaking before piping up. … No, I'm pretty sure I wasn't alone serving detention after school for some misdemeanor or another on a rather too regular basis.
I'm not saying I work with delinquents, quite the contrary. These are great, lively, creative and committed people, with a few personality quirks. Nothing criminal that I know of, anyway. And they all have good hearts.
But this group is less planners than doers. We're in the communication business, so we do as little of that as possible among ourselves, the joke goes. It's the story of the plumber's wife. She can't get a leaky spigot tightened. I dread orders for reports and plans — the life blood of organizations of any size — for the nagging, pleading, beatings for scraps of material I'll need for various reports to the execs.
And it ain't like I got into newspapers for the wonderful opportunity to make plans, hold meetings and write reports, either. Yuck. I want to actually do stuff, too. It's also more of a necessity in our post-recession era.
Sigh, but I did sit down long enough a couple of years ago to knock out our "content strategy." The phrase is a little formidable. And this is an invitation to dramatically overthink a simple question: What is it that people here will read and find helpful to their lives? That's a conversation that pretty much is ongoing in a newsroom. That's the whole mission.
I should word this carefully, because the more, er, corporate types understand such documents as serious and essential guides. And I confess I do find these exercises a little silly. It's what you actually read in the paper that matters, not some impressive tome passing itself off as a Bible to be earnestly studied for guidance of what you already know.
See, now you have a clue of what my overlord goes through, and no doubt some sympathy, too.
So why was my peer laughing hysterically?
Well, once I got over myself (as the protagonist in this story, I am indeed a very flawed one) and burrowed into the root of what the valley today is all about, I eventually got to one word.
I'm completely serious.
The whole reason our community today exists tracks back to fun, and the often challenging business of providing it.
Real estate, development, restaurants, resorts, what the supermarket sells and concierge does boils down to this. It's why we have so many chefs and marketing professionals.
Everyone who visits, buys a second home or chooses to live here full time is tapping this root on a fundamental level.
In Vail, this even governs how the cops behave when they give you a ticket.
How municipalities operate — the challenges they face — the economy, everything. Even death on the ski mountain, about as sobering a news story as can be, has a root summed up in this one word.
Here's the line that made my friend laugh so hard: "We own fun. It's genuine news here, and sometimes tough news. Underneath the drivers of our economy, whether tourism or real estate/construction, is the human quest for fun."
This instinct even permeated my own drive to bring some life to the droller tasks.
The full document fits as proper organizational scripture, and over four pages delves into community, the high tides of visitor seasons, and the spirit of our valley.
And I have to acknowledge that it has proven useful for deciding to pursue ideas that might look at first glance like J.R.'s crazy shot selection, but actually hew closely to our content strategy. Those are the ones that tend to work out best.
But my enduring memory of the whole exercise always will be my colleague Gunilla looking at the screen, looking at me and not being able to stop laughing.
"Seriously?" She said between cackles, wiping her eyes.
Absolutely. Even publishers gotta have some fun.
Editor and Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-748-2920.
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