Guest post to Ronn Torossian blog on Ronntorossian.com
Mama, don’t take my Kodachrome, by Juda Engelmayer, SVP, 5WPR
“When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school It’s a wonder I can think at all, and though my lack of education hasn’t hurt me none, I can read the writing on the wall.”
These words, iconic and now ironic were made famous by the great duo Simon and Garfunkel at a time when the orange boxed Kodakchrome was as common as the iPod is today. The Eastman Kodak Company, however, failed to read the writing on the wall. The iPod, for its part, made Sony’s reigning portable music box known as the “Walkman” obsolete, but unlike Sony, which maintained its edge with other devices, Kodak failed to adapt.
The company — whose name was until only a short time ago as synonymous of the camera industry as Band Aid still is to the adhesive bandage business— was so comfortable being on top, its corporate culture could not see beyond it own greatness to plan for leaner times.
As digital imagery entered the market and the megapixel count rose to such a point that the silver coated cellulose acetate strips have gone the way of the muscle car’s carburetors, leaving it for enthusiasts and pedants, Kodak, which based its growth on the sale of cheap cameras and mass quantities of consumables such as its film, developing chemicals and photo paper, lost its market share.
Remarkably, though, the technology may be different, but the ingredients are similar and Kodak was poised for evolution. Anyone who ever tore apart an old floppy disk knows that the memory mechanism was little more than a thin sheet of plastic. Kodak presumably had access to the raw materials, much like the plastic film it made, but lacked the foresight to simply add an additional assembly line, if not change some out completely.
So what happened?
Kodak became complacent, hoisted on its powerful name and unwilling to see the world change around it. Its leadership failed to predict the coming storm. Other companies that were never before in the photography business saw an opportunity to not only create cameras that rivaled the best Kodak could develop, but to create a whole new industry. There are the high capacity memory cards that can hold more images on a thumbnail sized device than 1000 rolls of Kodak’s top consumable films, and there is a massive network of photo sharing and editing options available online in Cyberspace.
Instead of seeing that people would now be sharing their children’s portraits on Smartphones rather than wallet sized paper photos, Kodak was still pushing the old standards. While the family portraits on office desks across the world were being viewed on multi-picture digital photo screens, Kodak was still hawking paper fitted to cheap wooden frames.
By the time it bought its way onto the Internet with its Kodak Gallery, it was behind countless others, priced at the higher ends, and offered little communal interactivity.
The field of public relations is not so dissimilar to products that are inadaptable. It was not long ago when the Big networks were the only news in town and the print publications ruled the news landscape. Public Relation Firms founded in the glory days of Walter Cronkite’s recitation of the news, which felt blogs, podcasts and Huffington Post were not as “authoritative” as what they believed were the standards of news media, are likely not around today to complain about the fast pace of innovation.
Innovation and evolution are both key characteristics of companies that want to grow and meet the demands of a new era. Technology has moved fast since the dawn of the personal computer in the early Nineteen Eighties, and it has changed the way just about everything is done today. From manufacturing, to marketing, to the speed that information flows, complacency is not a choice a company can make anymore. The big three American Automakers learned the hard way that resting on laurels was a recipe for failure when they lost ground to the new, less expensive and better quality foreign manufacturers.
As Kodak is looking down the gullet of obsolescence and worthlessness, companies and corporate leaders can use it as a valuable learning tool.
In the late Seventies my uncle had a cartoon hanging on his bathroom wall that I always found interesting, but I never really contextualized it until the news that the giant of Eastman Kodak was falling. It was a drawing of a roadside with tire tracks running through a broken outhouse and a caption that read, “Technology in of itself was not the juggernaut of our destruction. Our machines did not just lead us down the road to perdition. They merely rolled over us as we squatted by the roadside.”
The writing is on the wall. Don’t let it happen to you!
This was a special guest blog post to the blog of Ronn Torossian, CEO of 5WPR