I learned about the existence of SCOTUSblog this morning. The site is read widely by those with an interest in Supreme Court cases, and this year won a prestigious Peabody Award for excellence in electronic media.

While the industry pub I co-founded lacks the Peabody, I can see a clear parallel between SCOTUSblog and AdPulp. Both are industry blogs put together by industry insiders, as opposed to a publication from a traditional media company. SCOTUSblog’s co-founder and publisher is Tom Goldstein. Goldstein is also a lawyer who specializes in arguing cases before the Supreme Court.

In October 2002, when he and his wife Amy launched the site, Goldstein saw it as a business development opportunity. “Turns out it was a really stupid idea,” Goldstein said in a C-SPAN interview. “People who need serious Supreme Court counsel don’t say, ‘Get me the guy with the website.’”

Three years in, having learned a lesson about media and marketing, SCOTUSblog realigned its purpose.

“We hired a real reporter, Lyle Denniston, who’s been covering the court for more than 50 years and we changed the mission completely,” said Goldstein. “We don’t write about our own cases at all, and we’re not allowed to talk about our own cases. We said we’re just turning this over to the public. It’s not intended to promote us in any way. It’s intended to be a public good.”

Shawn Hartley and I launched AdPulp.com one year after SCOTUSblog got its start. I can affirm Goldstein’s findings. A stand-alone industry blog is a poor vehicle for self-promotion. Like Goldstein, I figured it would be easy for AdPulp’s readers to connect the dots and say to themselves, “Hey, these guys really know what’s up — let’s hire them to make advertising for us.”

Because I am a MarCom pro, this lesson might have been easy for me to relearn. It was not. Ergo, I will repeat after myself…Complicate and/or confuse the marketplace at considerable risk to your earning power.

I nearly quit AdPulp several times in the past few years. I have always enjoyed the act of making the site, but the near term return on investment has been consistently disappointing. Like Goldstein wisely counsels, people who want an ad campaign do not turn to the guys with a website.

Goldstein smartly incorporated his learnings and went in a new direction. SCOTUSblog is now a viable media entity. I’d like to see AdPulp become a more viable media entity, as well. We started it as a business, not a hobby, but it has become more hobby than business over the years.

Perhaps, we too need a shift in focus? For nine years, we’ve been a site for ad grunts by ad grunts. But that’s a small, well-informed audience. Meanwhile, there’s a massive audience of relatively uninformed advertising lovers and haters that we might serve.

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About David Burn

Writer, strategist and brand builder.

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Digital culture, Media