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What if we’ve got it all completely wrong?

Like every other industry is, horse racing is at a crossroads. There must be a changing of the guard, because nothing and no one lasts forever. But, how? Do many industries actually have a future?

The baton must be passed, and the same question is asked: Who to and is there such a thing as a definite successful succession plan in place- especially if there’s no future and no one willing to take things forward?

Yes, no industry can keep talking about understanding customer demographics, but what if there’s not enough customers to keep a business afloat? It happens.

Is there good enough new young talent out there, or are making changes, a waste of time?

There’s a cautionary tale here to changing for the sake of change.

When having joined a major global music company straight from advertising, one of the first things done was to question the roles of those running Human Resources and Marketing and Promotions and make the decision to let them go. It wasn’t a tough call to make.

The people in those roles had become irrelevant to the new business model taking shape- though we didn’t know what this might look like. Or if it had a future.

After all, formats for music had gone from vinyl to music cassettes to compact discs and now to streaming for something made up of only twelve notes.

But, like the Platters sang to my parents’ generation, Oh, yes, we were great pretenders. We were flying by the seat of our pants, playing for time and hoping for the best.

We were shovelling bullsh*t like everyone else, Greed was good, and so what could possibly go wrong?

We were moving into the digital space and didn’t have anyone who really understood what the hell it was or what lay ahead. What did we do? Overdid everything by hiring so many from tech companies like Yahoo, but who had no idea about music. This turned out to be a complete mess. Nothing fit.

We had embraced Digital Days and digital everything else without thinking things through.

After standing back and looking at who had been hired, it was about us returning to the drawing board.

In horse racing, it’s stating the bloody obvious that the industry simply cannot afford to keep talking to the same old ageing and dwindling customer base.

We all know that the customer base must be expanded if horse racing is to grow. And to do this, it means looking at what does and doesn’t work for the potential new customer, and, just maybe, creating new business streams not even thought about- yet.

The danger is falling for and following trends- and we’re all suckers for these.

Many today, for example, are talking incessantly and knowingly about NFTs and cryptocurrency and the joys of entering the metaverse. But is any of this really relevant and understood other than being flatulent buzzwords? Is it all bollocks?

Could all this everything mean going somewhere and everywhere that’s completely irrelevant to a very basic product like horse racing?

Recently, there was a very clever idea using a virtual John McEnroe from the days when the iconic tennis player was “super brat” known more for his on court temper tantrums than his prodigious talent.

This John McEnroe meets today’s older, and still outspoken John McEnroe.

It’s a very good idea, but, as drummed into me by my mentor in advertising- the great Keith Reinhard- The Technique Is Not The Idea. Same with technology.

There’s possibly an idea here that could work for horse racing, but not something that’s already been done- duh- like a series of virtual races featuring the world’s greatest horses and/or jockeys.

Why couldn’t those of us who were involved in creating the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s brand that was Happy Wednesday have created a virtual version of this years ago?

Why? Because we skipped a beat and didn’t see what was staring us in the face.

We goofed because we had our heads somewhere else. But it doesn’t mean that all is lost- if we manage to get our heads out.

This leads to what’s known as “social media” and how it’s been allowed to take many completely down the wrong path quicker than one can say Tik Tok.

Many jumped onto the social media bandwagon without really understanding how it can be used and for what and understanding how much its roots are steeped in traditional advertising and marketing.

Just watch the brilliant “Mad Men” television series built around the early days of advertising in Madison Avenue and the complex character that was Don Draper.

What social media offers are online platforms for products to reach a wider and possibly younger audience- but there must first be something with relevance and a great idea to make this known.

The rudiments of advertising and marketing and making known there’s a product out there has not changed.

No relevant product, no nothing. No amount of advertising can save something that just isn’t there. Not even Don Draper can change that.

Did Mark Zuckerberg really understand what was happening when he and the team around him created Facebook?

Doubt it and which is why a few years ago he introduced Instagram for a younger market as Facebook had become too wrinkly and way too boring for many.

It had come down to scrolling and scrolling and seeing so much from “friends” you probably had never met in your life and never ever will, posting nothing that’s ever gonna rock your world.

More to the point, how is any of this, well, stuff, going to benefit you?

Could it even be stunting growth and taking your eye off the ball?

Is this why partners and so many others stay away from this faceless beast called “social media” unless they have a product to sell other than self promotion, and these days, out there competing to be seen as an “influencer”?

How the hell did we get here?

Unlike MySpace, at least Facebook is still around. But so what? Who’s on Facebook and why have you decided to join Eleanor Rigby and all the other lonely people?

These days, good old Zuck is tinkering with new online ideas in between buying luxury islands and building up his personal investment portfolio with retirement plans in possibly the metaverse.

Recently, every move Elon Musk makes has become headline news. But does even Elon Musk know where he’s going with anything?

Speak to anyone who wishes to be seen as having their finger on the pulse of what’s happening and what you will hear is everything you might have read on Twitter or The Big Book Of Google.

The fact is that no one knows anything for sure and maybe ideas have dried up. It’s happened before, but perhaps never on this scale.

We’re all in the middle of guesswork and with no leaders anywhere with real answers.

We’re making things up as we go and often, like in politics, wasting our time backing the wrong horse.

There’s much false bravado and chest pounding, but no real direction of home.

Bob Dylan was right again when he sang, Don’t follow leaders and watch your parking meters.

Yes, time waits for no one, and so how one uses this time has become more important than ever.

It’s not unlike the streaming of music and many happily swimming with the millions of other little fishes trying to figure out where everything that matters is and if the numbers add up, or if it’s a pointless game that has duped many- hook, line and sinker.

As for horse racing, with its loyal and captive audience happy with everything being served up, just as it’s been for around three decades, could this be as good as it gets?

If really serious about trying to attract new fans, especially younger ones, does reworking old strategies involving content yada yada yada lead anywhere? Who’s really listening?

With most of the world cautiously getting used to living with Covid, tastes and behavioural patterns have changed. Maybe we’ve finally gone back to what’s really necessary in our lives.

Personally, I don’t think we know what the hell we want, and who we even want around us.

For many, travel is off bucket lists as what should be fun has become bogged down by confusing rules and regulations and a very different kind of fear of flying.

This means a radical change in the media landscape and not simply regurgitating the same old same olds and to the same old same olds who are now twenty or thirty years older.

Those twenty and thirty years younger have no idea what they want.

Do they actually want anything?

Could there already be so much here that the clutter is hiding some gems?

Everything has changed forever and no one knows what tomorrow might bring.

Like good little Boy Scouts, it’s about being prepared.

Being prepared for what? Perhaps it’s about being prepared to face the truth and realise that we’re going down down down the wrong road, but too scared to admit this and being blindsided by irrelevance and way too much misinformation.

Maybe none of what’s happening should be happening?


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