William Madison Wood

I went down a sidepath of digression while researching the history of the Elizabeth Islands and came across the Wikipedia entry for Cuttyhunk Island, the last of the chain and a very fishy place with a famous striped bass fishing club (which I have never visited, but hope to).

For that matter I have never set foot on Cuttyhunk, but also hope to. Anyway, while researching the history of Cuttyhunk I learned that the old bass club had once been purchased by one William Wood. His story is fascinating, and personally interesting because my life intersects his at a few common points. It’s one of the classic rags-to-riches stereotypes.

William Madison Wood Jr. was the son of Portuguese immigrants. He was born at home on Pease Point Road in Edgartown, on Martha’s Vineyard, in 1858 – about the time of my great-great-grandfather’s last voyage from Edgartown as master of the whaling ship Massachusetts. Wood’s father was a whaler, a common occupation for the Portuguese, many of whom joined American whaling ships when they stopped in the Azores for crew and supplies on their way south to the Pacific fishery. He died at sea in 1861, when William Jr. was 12.

Wood found employment in the textile mills of New Bedford. During the Civil War, eastern Massachusetts’ textile mills were roaring to keep up with demand for woolen uniforms and blankets, and New Bedford was among one of the most robust textile towns, with the Wamsutta Mills dominating the trade there. Wood served his apprenticeship under a wealthy mill owner, Andrew Pierce, and rose rapidly because of his work ethic. He left New Bedford at the age of 18, moved to Philadelphia, found a job at a brokerage firm, and learned finance to the point that he returned to New Bedford and a job at a bank.

Wood made his fortune in Lawrence, Massachusetts where I was a newspaper reporter in the early 1980s. A hundred years before, the massive Washington Mill went bankrupt and was purchased by Frederick Ayer of Lowell, Mass. – Wood was hired and quickly rose through management, making about $25,000, a fortune for the the time. Wood’s smartest career move was marrying Ayer’s daughter.

Wood’s achievement was to consolidate a number of independent woolen mills into one massive trust, the American Woolen Company. He was no friend to labor, and was at the center of some controversial strikes after the turn of the century, including a trial for allegedly paying saboteurs to plant explosives in his own mills. These mills are pretty remarkable structures – massive brick buildings that run literally for a mile along the banks of the Merrimack River.

Anyway … third point of intersection for me and Wood was Shawsheen, Massachusetts, a village on the north side of Andover (the town where I grew up). Wood based his corporate offices for the American Woolen Company in Shawsheen, building a massive office building at the main intersection. When I was a newspaper reporter I rented a one-bedroom apartment in that building which had been converted into condos in the late 1970s.

Wood purchased the bass club on Cuttyhunk for his family and sold lots around the buildings to friends so his children would have some summer friends. That club is famous for being one of the most exclusive sporting organizations in the United States, formed in the 1860s by some New York financiers who used carrier pigeons to get reports from the stock markets, and who fished for striped bass from wooden causeways built on iron scaffolds drilled into the granite rocky shore. I would argue that Wood’s choice of summer retreats has to rank as one of the best in the world.

Wood suffered a stroke in 1924, moved to Florida in 1926, and a month after retiring went for a ride with his chauffeur. He asked the driver to pull over, got out, walked into the woods, and shot himself with a revolver.

Digital Governance in a Global Org

I spent part of past Wednesday at the the New York Googleplex with some fellow digital marketers and  agency people as part of Google’s Global Advisory Council.  I consider the content and conversations as unbloggable/off-the-record, but wanted to share  one excellent line from Scott McLaren at General Motors, who in the course of presenting how GM was able to centralize search marketing said:

Centralize the science and localize the art.”

That brilliant insight goes into my collection of business koans along with McKinsey’s Dick Foster’s line:  “Loosen control without losing control” and that anonymous jazzman who told another musician “If you don’t know what to do, then don’t do anything.”

What Scott summarized in that one-liner, is probably familiar to anyone in a global digital marketing role who has tried to evangelize a unified (credit to Carol Kruse at Coca-Cola for recommending “unified” over “centralized”) approach to planning, spending and executing a marketing discipline across many oceans and borders.

Decentralization is the rule in a massive global organization, a throw-back to the Roman Empire when the edges of the empire were too far away from the center of power in Rome and the Emperor had to divide c0ntrol between four Caesars. When I was at International Data Group in 2005 I felt the 1970s edict by owner and founder Pat McGovern that decentralization was the way the company would be organized and run was out of date and a worn out necessity born from a pre-fax/pre-email era, one that ignored the economies of scale of consolidating 300 websites onto a unified analytics and content management system.

Information Technology tends to consolidate and unify. The oldest story in the IT playbook is the hub, the router, the server, the data center.  All discussions of mesh architectures and complex matrixed “edge” computing models have been speculative structures, but in the end, the men in white coats want the users to be on dumb diskless workstations, working in unity off of one central processor. But – IT aside — money likes to be decentralized. If you want “feet on the street” to take accountability for sales targets, then you have to push fiscal responsibility down to the regional and country level — otherwise there will be no accountability or insights into local markets.

Back to McLaren’s statement and why I think search engine marketing must be centralized.

  • The auction model punishes organizations that have two or more people bidding on the same brand terms.  This is classic Three Stooges behavior. Search bids are science. Not art.
  • Analytical conformity. What’s the dashboard by which activities are going to be measured? How do you value search interactions and analyze search against other media in market? Can you compare the effects of a television campaign to searches? The answer is yes …. if you have a well controlled environment and are reasonably assured that your results are not being skewed by dealers, channel partners, or affiliates bidding on your branded terms against you. Analytics are science — not art.
  • Expertise. Most, if not all major search budgets are managed by search speciality agencies. They have to.  Search campaigns are complex, rigorous organisms that require deep, repeatable expertise. An agency accustomed to running complex global search for multiple clients will generally beat the efforts of a single internal operator or team of search operators. Dispersing SEM expertise regionally makes utterly no sense.

What else can be centralized in global digital marketing?

  • Display advertising, for the most part, can be negotiated, bought, trafficked, executed and measured centrally.
  • Display advertising should have a 15 or 20% set aside for local sites and local trafficking. There is art to display media plans, and local teams have the best insight into what local sites have local readership. That said — supporting many countries with many display media agencies is insane as non-working dollars explode and working dollars decline.

What can’t be centralized?

  • Display creative needs to be locally verified. Holiday promotions tend to drive ecommerce discounting and only a local team can declare St. Patrick’s Day over Golden Week.
  • Social media relations. Bloggers, forums, high profile users — all should be related to on a local, face to face basis. Local meetups and in-person relations are vital to any community efforts.

More later, but it was good to hear two very global, very capable marketers confirm the issues I’ve seen the past three years.  Digital marketing needs to be unified around IT, analytics, and discounted volume negotiations but localized around creative and customer/blogger relations.