Skiing lessons for media business success

Competent skiers at Puy St Vincent. Martin isn't amongst them!

I have just spent a week falling down mountains. At the age of fifty, I have discovered the truth of the adage: “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Specifically, you can’t teach this ancient pug how to ski. As much as I understand the theory, the practice is beyond me. And I have the bruises to prove it.

Annoyingly, of course, it was also my children’s first attempt at skiing. After their first two-hour lesson, they were straight back up the mountain to crack the green runs. By the end of the week, one of them had conquered red runs and the others were comfortable on blues.

Fortunately, we went with several friends, so we all had a great time, and we have booked again for next year. It may well become an annual fixture. By the time my kids are out of their teens, they will be skiing as if born to it. And I will hopefully have finally completed a green run without falling over.

The same could very well be said of media businesses as they deal with adaptation to the digital age: from desktop to laptop to mobile, from ad-funded to pay-walled to subscription. For older businesses, it is a painful, slow, learning curve; while other businesses are born digital and can navigate the tricky slopes of an ever-changing media landscape more easily.

The key to skiing, I am told, is to relax, and lean into the slope. Embrace the hill rather than fight it. Too many old media businesses are still fighting the slope.

I am told that even good skiers sometimes stand at the top of a piste and wonder what they have let themselves in for. It’s the same nervousness that businesses feel as they look at the changing media world. The impulse is to turn around and get the lift back down; to think “I can’t do that”.

Then you end up sitting on the terrace with a beer watching other people make it look ridiculously simple. (Yes, I speak from experience.)

But here’s the thing: unlike skiing – where your own lack of skill can be fatal – in business you are able to recruit people to help address your weaknesses. Those people on the piste, parallel skiing under full control on a 60% slope; they could be working for your team, building their career while helping your business.

We often encounter traditional media clients who question why some of the digital natives – the natural-born skiers – would want to join them. There are many reasons; everyone is different. The key is to talk to enough people with the right qualifications and experience. That’s what we do, day in, day out.

After all, even Frederick, my ski instructor, said he preferred working with beginners. “I love to see the improvement,” he says.

In my case, he didn’t see much. But there’s always next year.

(And yes, I am fully aware that there must be a joke in here about ‘media moguls’, but I just couldn’t make it work.)