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Resisting the Inevitable: Chekov on Marketing and PR

I saw Anton Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard in Los Angeles tonight and was struck by just how relevant the play’s themes are today, in an age where so many marketing and PR professionals are still taking a wait and see attitude towards new media, despite undeniable trends which they acknowledge and accept.

In The Cherry Orchard, a family of Russian aristocrats are warned by a nouveau rich businessman that the only way to save their estate is to sell their cherry orchard, subdivide the land and build summer homes, to which the land owner Madame Ranevsky replies, “I just don’t understand such things.”

After laying out a clear, concise business case for the benefits of using corporate websites, email marketing, search engine optimization, video on-demand, blogs, podcasts and RSS to literally hundreds of marketing and public relations professionals, and demonstrating in no uncertain terms how these tools can drive tangible business results, I regret to say that I regularly get a similar response.

The Cherry Orchard ultimately gets sold out from under Madame’s feet, even though she had early warning and a reasonable alternative. She argues that the orchard has value because it produces fruit, but the arbiter reminds her that the harvest comes once every two years, and people want summer homes today. Ultimately it is he, the son of peasants, who buys the orchard, after she ignores his advice.

Much as the aristocrats in the play take a laissez fair attitude toward the inevitability of their fate, faced with mounting debt and no way to satisfy it, I see a chilling parallel to the marketing and PR trades, where executives often choose not to play an active role in the use of the web to achieve the same objectives they are chasing through print and broadcast advertising, direct mail, cross promotions, media relations and trade shows.

As these push media channels wane in importance and reach, the executives relying primarily on interruption marketing tactics risk losing their autonomy and P&L responsibility to the “web guys” whose pull media programs are gaining in importance and reach.

With 60 million Americans using search engines daily, the combined ad revenue of Google and Yahoo! in 2005 outpacing the three major broadcast networks in prime time and peers emerging as the single most credible source for information, you don’t need to be a visionary to realize that a laissez fair attitude toward web marketing could be damaging to your job security. It’s like letting the cherry orchard be sold out from under your feet.

When I demonstrate how a tool like iPressoom can help marketers and PR pros leverage the web for marketing communications and public relations, I often hear the words “we have web people who take care of that.” But as the web continues its rise in importance and influence, I can see the day when the conventional marketing and PR execs — who adopted a laissez fair attitude toward online marketing — will wind up reporting to the very same “web guys” that they used to have upload their press releases, search engine optimize their podcasts and RSS enable their content. These “slaves” they tell what to do today, could very well wind up owning the media orchard tomorrow.

For the record, the production was selected by Los Angles Center Theater Group’s new artistic director Michael Ritchie and stars Annette Benning as Madame Ranevsky and Alfred Molina as Yermolai Alexeyitch Lopakhin.

Ironically, the Los Angeles Center Theater Group, which is in desperate need of funding to sustain itself, hasn’t done a very good job search engine optimizing its website, which would definitely help them reach the younger audiences they say they want.

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