The Washington Post today announced that the UN’s World Health Organization has upgraded the H1N1 flu virus to a Category 6 Pandemic. It is worldwide, and appears to be gearing up for the Southern Hemisphere’s winter season.
For those who may not know, H1N2 is the swine flu. We stopped calling it that to protect farmers from ignoramuses who were killing their pigs, which is a useless tactic in fighting the contagion.
The bigger question is “Why didn’t you know that this announcement was made?” Because the mass media shot its wad on playing it up two months ago, and the public got bored. Leading with that old Swine Flu story now wouldn’t sell any hand lotion or beer, so it simply isn’t news if no one wants to watch it.
In the unusual appendices to late Michael Creighton’s novel State Of Fear he discusses at length the media hysteria that manufactures issues in order to keep selling ads.
In a recent seminar on media relations I showed a slide of the September 2008 train wreck in Los Angeles. With 18 dead, it was the worst rail disaster in America in the last 50 years, but no one could remember watching much about it. The reason? The same day Hurricane Ike hit Houston. With massive mobilization in hopes of widespread destruction, the media simply didn’t have the bandwidth to give big coverage to another event, regardless of what it was.
So Madoff gives way to Kim Jong Il, who gives way to the Swine Flu, which gives way to Stanford, who gives way to Iran, which gives way to Michael Jackson.
Knowing this, why would you run your business in reaction to the news of the moment? We all know that the doom and gloom of last Fall caused millions of people to close their wallets, creating a self fulfilling prophecy. At some point the media will start singing “Happy Days are Here Again” and we will start spending, regardless of whether we have more money or not.
This time, however, you need to look for the reality underlying the News Du Jour. The American consumer, that engine of world manufacturing (and thus world prosperity) has overspent his allowance. He spent next year’s allowance, and the year after that. He can’t borrow on his home equity, because he doesn’t’ have any, and probably won’t for the next 5 years. He can’t charge more, because he can’t afford the payments.
I received an email last week from a colleague on the East Coast. His clients, who had read my “Triple Threat” piece, were “tired” of the recession, and wanted to know when it would be “over.”
I hate to sound like a whiner. In fact, my own business is up almost 20% this year. I don’t accept that the economy has to dictate my success. But I am realistic about the recovery, and whether the media is proclaiming the end the recession or the end of the world, I intend to pay as little attention as possible.