Life — and news media — lessons from Dr. Phil


Having just wrapped up the holiday season in much of the world, many now turn attention toward reshaping and improving their (health, families, wardrobe, love lives, work ethic) in the new year.

‘Tis now the season of renaissance and forgiveness, so I’ll beg the pardon of INMA colleagues as I borrow from the Oprah Winfrey-minted “Truth TV” star, Dr. Phil McGraw, and his Ten Life Laws.

Dr. Phil, as he’s called here, started his advice show with a bang. His down-home Texas slang (“You can put a cat in an oven, but that don’t make it a biscuit,” “He looks like the dogs have been keepin’ him under the porch,” and “This ain’t my first rodeo, son,” to name a few) helped earn him a reputation as a friendly straight-talker and common sense advice-giver.

He helped hundreds of Americans eat healthier and lose weight with his Ultimate Weight Solution, and continues to challenge repeat excuse-makers with the oft-employed question, “How’s that workin’ for ya?”

True, if you click the “Want to be on the show?” link on his Web site, it’s possible Phil has moved a tiny bit toward Jerry Springer: “Does Your Spouse Need Man Camp?,” “IDENTICAL TWIN TROUBLE,” “Daughter Married to the Biggest Jerk?” and “SO CAL: Do You Have Fat Hands or Chubby Fingers?”

Still, I like to believe Dr. Phil means well, and I’ve borrowed four of his Ten Life Laws (culled from his book, “Life Strategies: Doing What Works, Doing What Matters”).

Here they are, applied to our roles as news media marketers and audience pleasers:

Life Law No. 2: You create your own experience.

“...If you don’t like your job, you are accountable. If you are overweight, you are accountable. If you are not happy, you are accountable. ... Don’t play the role of victim or use past events to build excuses. It guarantees you no progress, no healing, and no victory.”

News media company takeaway: Let 2013 be the year that we, as media company leaders, reclaim “the story of us.” We are not dying; we are evolving and innovating. We are relevant, trusted, critical to the lives of our communities, and we adapt to how people live and consume news.

Remember in 1981, when Ted Turner predicted that today’s newspapers would disappear within 10 years? It’s true that he was pushing us to adapt to digital delivery, but here we still are.

Do we/should we continue leading with print? Depends on the market. Will people always need accurate, fast information on their slates, smartphones, or at the doorstep, if that is their preference? Of course, yes.

Life Law No. 4: You cannot change what you do not acknowledge.

Strategy: Get real with yourself about life and everybody in it. Be truthful about what isn’t working ... stop making excuses and start making results.

“...Acknowledgment means slapping yourself in the face with the brutal reality, admitting that you are getting payoffs for what you are doing, and giving yourself a no-kidding, bottom-line truthful confrontation. You cannot afford the luxury of lies, denial, and defensiveness.”

News media company takeaway: Have you and your editor had a “come to (fill in the deity of your choice)” meeting about what a 24/7, digital-first newsroom really looks like? And how staff will need to act accordingly to serve not only print subscribers but those who turn to their phones or tablets first and all through the day?

It might be painful, but it’s well past time for that discussion.

Have you and your ad director had the same pointed discussion that every rate plan will, in fact, include digital, and that your sales executives will be dis-incentivised if they sell print only? Are you still relying on print revenue to carry you instead of nurturing it while diversifying other revenue streams?

There’s no time like the present to reclaim and reshape your organisation’s practices the way you already know they need to be reshaped.

Life Law No. 5: Life rewards action.

“...Talk is cheap. ... Translate your insights, understandings, and awareness into purposeful, meaningful, constructive actions. They are of no value until then. Measure yourself and others based on results, not intentions or words.”

News media company takeaway: Is everyone in your sales and news departments equipped with a tablet, a smartphone, or both? Why not? Have you spent the time to investigate useful and meaningful training for your staffs?

Have you personally visited those companies that are doing it right? Do you engage regularly on social media and understand its vast influence on our business?

If not, why not? Ask someone to help you, invest in your own education, and spend some money on your staff’s training. They need you to care, deeply.

Life Law No. 7: Life is managed; it is not cured.

“ ...If you don’t have a plan, you’ll be a stepping stone for those who do.”

News media company takeaway: This one stands on its own. How many more times will we let others eat our lunch or step into the markets and segments we (sleepily, distractedly) own?

Yes, Dr. Phil might have lost me with segments like “Drama With Our Nanny.” But I am a firm believer in taking advice from anyone at any time if it nourishes growth and self-knowledge.

With that in mind, let another one of Dr. Phil’s signature phrases resonate, guide, and inform you as you enact your company’s 2013 plans: “Get real.”

And find success. Happy New Year.

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