Friday, September 28

Thinking Arrows: CBS Corporation

Steven Mallas with the Motley Fool called it right. Les Moonves, president and chief executive officer of CBS Corporation, sees CBS as a content king.

However, Nina Tassler, president of CBS Entertainment, recently said, because of social media (Jericho specifically), “…So I think we are looking at a shift and a change." And with the EyeLab concept, which will give consumers the ability to create short-film clips by editing content from CBS shows, some insiders are calling CBS a “next-generation studio.”

So which is it? Consumers are asking. Some are speculating.

“I do not think CBS even has people in place to evaluate and determine whether or not an opportunity is good for them,” commented Jericho fan blogger Terocious in response to our Tuesday post. “I think the company's success with new media must be coming from a small minority within the company who sees the possibilities and is pushing for them.”

Small minorities who see possibilities and push for them.

I agree. This seems to be happening inside CBS. But will that work?

Let’s imagine Moonves as an archer. He wants to hit the bulls-EyeLab for viewers, critics, shareholders, and, well, lots of different publics. If he does, then he is an expert. The ratings come in. Fans love the company. The stock soars. Everybody makes money, a portion of which is invested to make even better content.

Of course, it’s not that easy. There are a great number of variables, just like archery. Maybe the archer needs glasses. Maybe the environment is bit windy and could blow some arrows off course. Maybe the best arrows are too expensive so some of his arrows are slightly inferior compared to others.

Add to all these challenges: arrows that have minds of their own. Right. Unlike real arrows, each CBS arrow represents a small minority of people within the company who want to fly in a slightly different direction because they see a better target or want to adjust for the wind or whatever the case may be. Well, your chances of hitting the mark are suddenly pretty thin.

Successful communication requires one archer with great vision and unwavering arrows.

Companies that win have a quiver full of arrows that will always fly in the same direction. They will likely hit the mark, every time. Or, maybe they have an archer who is intuitive enough to listen to what the arrows are telling him or her and adjust. Either way, it works.

Some people like to tell me this is impossible, especially with big companies like CBS. They tell me that building internal consensus within a big corporation is an impossible task and maybe a waste of time. But that’s not exactly true. We do it all the time.

Teaching archers and arrows to work together and hit the mark.

A couple years ago, I was hired by a major utility to help create a graphic standards manual so its identity would always have some semblance of consistency (eg. no pink logos). The challenge, I was told, was that everybody — some 40 stakeholders within the company — all had different ideas about the company’s identity. (In other words, lots and lots of thinking arrows.)

What I really wanted to do was to use our core message process because one of the benefits is consensus building. But the utility wasn’t really interested because, they said, the geographical distance between several divisions was too far. So, even though we could not use a core message process, I applied a similar method that did not require all 40 stakeholders to be present at once.

I surveyed the arrows, um, stakeholders by e-mail; and then I followed up with interviewers. By the end of my research, I came across a surprising conclusion and laughed out loud.

All 40 stakeholders believed they were the only ones who understood the identity of the company. However, all 40 stakeholders had the same view. They just didn’t know it!

While that doesn’t always happen, it put us in the position to develop graphics standard manual that the arrows felt pretty good about. They liked the diection. Even better, the archer (the communication director in this case) felt very confident in being able to hit the mark every time, no matter who held the bow. They did.

The best external communication works from the inside out.

In sum, all this means is that for companies to succeed with communicaiton, the archer and all the arrows have to agree on the mark and the direction they must travel to hit that mark.

Or, in other words, if they can agree internally, then it’s easier to move a consistent message out into the mainstream. Unfortunately, especially with the advent of social media, more and more companies are sharing their internal opposing viewpoints with the outside world.

The result is mixed messages that leave consumers confused, frustrated, or worse, disenfranchised because nobody believes what the company is saying half of the time. From what consumers are telling me, that is what is happening at CBS, most major networks, and too many companies on or off the net.



Sweet Tea on 9/28/07, 12:28 PM said...

Give Moonves a bow and arrow and all he'd do is end up shooting himself. If CBS can't fix a simple message board/chat problem and everybody says somebody else is responsible for finding a solution then I have no faith in much of anything CBS says or does.
They certainly don't understand customer service. Wingnuts.
Great Rich. Thanks.

Rich on 9/28/07, 1:14 PM said...

Hey Jane,

If that is the case, maybe he needs to have a chat with all his arrows at once.

I usually use a different analogy with this set up. Lots of little arrows inside a big arrow. If the little arrows are all moving in different directions, the big arrow will not be able to move forward.

It's cleaner, but picturing Moonves as an archer was too much fun.

Form what you and others keep telling me, they don't understand CBS, let alone their consumers. That's a shame. There have a lot of good ideas, but it all needs to be captured and condensed into a single direction. Not only would that help their company, but it would end what often looks like double talk.


terocious on 9/28/07, 10:56 PM said...

This reminds me of when you posted that NBC had begun using fan art to promote shows and wondered why CBS would not do the same. Could it be they could not? How frustrating it is to hear that the message boards for all of CBS's shows Get monitored between phone calls. Are these people stressed out like air traffic controllers hoping CBS will hire some more help? It could be incapacity over incompetence that wins out and ends up in a poor user environment for the fans of more shows than Jericho.
I feel like I am twelve years old again with a stereotype of this network that keeps proving to be true.

terocious on 9/28/07, 11:06 PM said...


Don't they see these problems or at least have people they pay to see these problems for them? Is it common for major corporations like this to budget for an outside opinion?

Sweet Tea on 9/29/07, 7:20 AM said...

There is no end to my questions for CBS. NBC appears to have it all together. I visit their message boards and see how they include fans in everything. I would think Moonves has enough of "his people" to inform him about things but he's been quite clear that it's all about the money.
Broken arrows.

kystorms on 9/29/07, 9:06 AM said...

Great post Rich!

Here is the way I see this:
CBS (Les M) needs to understand that you have to have people who understand the internet, who have grown with it, live its growth. The net moves so fast ( apps and such) that to bring in someone who can recall when cable began and hand them the internet division ( if they even have one at CBS my vote is still out on that one) is nuts.
If you want success you have to use the proper tools, in this case trained people who can and want to do this job!
Les really needs to sit down with those of us, the fans of all his shows and use the internet to access his shows info and survey us, but he can not do that until he knows WHAT to ask in that survey.

And he also needs to know what CBS goal will be for the net, no goals no success. And with all the other nets doing so well with the internet CBS better find someone on the inside who can speak louder than Les can!

Just my two cents

Rich on 9/29/07, 11:18 AM said...

Hi Lisa,

Those are some very interesting ideas. I think you are spot on with several of them.

If I were calling any shots at CBS, I would put everyone in a room, collect all their thoughts, find out which points clearly demonstrate a contrast between them and their competition, develop a general idea of where they want to go and assign the right people who are dedicated to meeting those goals (as set by everybody). Then, the Internet division, which would have much more communication with the rest of the company, could works with consumers such as yourself and other departments in a very intuitive, productive environment.

But really, that is an oversimplification on my end.

Always happy to have you two cents!


Rich on 9/29/07, 3:32 PM said...


Great questions.

"Don't they see these problems or at least have people they pay to see these problems for them?"

All companies have people they pay to see problems, but that doesn't mean they see them or agree what those problems might be ... because, well, they are people.

"Is it common for major corporations like this to budget for an outside opinion?"

Sometimes. But a lot depends on who they hire to do the job and what they expect from the job being done. As for the utility, they put the job out to bid because they understood they were too close to the problem to see it clearly.

I'm an advocate of close social media platforms (even blogs) for internal communication. But even then, handled incorrectly, they can lead to misuse, misinterpretation, and delusion. For the same reason mentioned above. People are people.

Sure, we like to pretend that companies are somehow different than people (that's why it's easy to raise taxes on businesses). But in the end, all they are is a bunch of people. And people, me too, will make mistakes.

All my best,


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