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Alisa CromerShifts in words often reflect a social evolution. An example of this happened yesterday when an antiques dealer complained that people coming into her shop referred to the new furniture at Restoration Hardware as antique, failing to distinguish anymore between "antique" and "antique looking."

"Now we need a new word," she said.

Old antiques, anyone? You can see how offensive this degradation of the word can be to someone whose livelihood is selling "old antiques."

I bring this up because the typical word used by press associations to describe technology companies vying for partnerships with media is typically "vendors." But that term has also gathered some offensive connotations and masks the fundamental importance of technology companies in the evolution of media.

Vendors, according to Wikipedia, are entities that "contribute goods and services in a supply chain" and "often manufactures inventories items." That really does not describe what happens when the form is the function, that is, there is no verticalized supply chain at all. A content management system or commenting tool is fundamentally different than, say, a copy machine or printer or set of news racks.

Moreover, the relationship between media companies and technology companies who provide platforms, tools and services is also different. Technology companies can be deeply involved in training, or sell in market with the sales team. The business model is often a revenue share, and media companies are moving towards investing directly in companies who stand a chance of building out a wanted platform more quickly than they would on their own. SecondStreet Media "Learning Center" is just one classic example of how vendors can pool the collective knowledge of their media customers to provide best practices, webinars and online resources.

For the purposes of LocalMediaInsider and the projects it's working on, we usually use the term "technology partners." A business partnership can be any general form of alliance and covers the many varieties of relationships between media companies and technology companies that exist today. Moreover, there is the strange fact that "vendor" has oddly become a slightly deprecating term, perhaps because it implies "down" the supply chain and also that the technology providers are sellers, inherently... well, pesky.

Media companies complain both that they get too many calls from too many companies, and also that they can't find exactly what they need. Technology companies are relegated to the ballroom of the conferences, an incredibly expensive and inefficient way to get to know media executives: Handing out pens and ball caps and trying to strike up conversations with executives who walk past during the cocktail hour. Still conference are the only game in town. As one of them mentioned, SEO doesn't work well for most media technology because the search terms do not deliver usable information and media executives have a tendency to want to "ask around" rather than search out which companies specifically work with media — and their type of media, out of thousands of providers.

In reality, technology companies are typically more savvy, nimble and able move media companies forward faster than they could on their own. What they bring to the table is enormous opportunity to acquire very cool technology at very low rates, and at a speed otherwise impossible. Many companies rely on dozens or hundreds of third party technology partnerships, sometimes replacing these with in-house versions as the capabilities improve.

What's needed is not only a new way for media to talk about these companies, but also a new way to communicate with them. We disagree with one element of Mashable's recent excellent blog, "Four things media need to do or die," that product centric media must always develop using their own programmers, rather than strapping on layers of licensed tools and platforms. Programers on staff is a great idea — we have some ourselves and can't imagine running a media company in this day and age without programmers.

But it isn't realistic, to conceive of any media company of significant size operating today without dozens of third party technology partners. Even the most savvy companies can save time and money to focus on their core products by picking up what's already available and easy to use, from real-time Facebook analytics in the newsroom to flip-books for iPad sales presentations, facilitated by updates on DropBox, and of course, a web-based CRM. We found our crew of programmers on Odesk.com, a third party platform to match skilled workers with employers around the world.

There is just no way around the number of technology partners that the most product-centric media will continue to utilize as the industry evolve. It's a moving target. Just as some companies are reaching out for a certain kinds of technology, other media may be moving that element in-house, or upgrading to a better or less expensive partnership. We look forward to sharing ways to change how media and technology companies communicate with each other so that each party gets more out of the time and money they spend in this area. Starting with what we call them: Technology partners.

Alisa Cromer  
 
Residential fellow



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