Back in the mid 1990s I was managing editor of Wired. Each month it was my job, working with Kevin Kelly and Louis Rossetto, to wrestle some huge idea to the ground (in the form of a long narrative, usually), give it a conceptual hook that made readers want to open the magazine, then imagine what that idea might look like on the cover of the magazine. In mid 1996 we alighted on what we thought was a very big idea – Microsoft, the champion of all software companies, was becoming a media company. If you did the math, it was clear as day. To bring the idea home we turned Gates into a media mogul, placing him on a raft in the middle of a pool, ostensibly somewhere in Beverly Hills, natch.
I convinced Denise Caruso, a dear friend and talented editor, to write the story (The story is here). We worked around the clock to bring this story home, and it was not without controversy – in fact, Bill Gates was so adamant that we had the story wrong, he came to our offices to disabuse us of the notion. (Louis, our editor in chief and CEO, was convinced the reason Gates hated our line of thinking was that media companies had terrible multiples on earnings, compared to software companies. If MSFT was seen as a media company, it’s stock would tumble.)
My, how times have changed. Now Microsoft says it’s being underestimated as a media company, and it plans to prove it. And that Wired story ten years ago rushed back to mind today as I read the stories about Microsoft’s ad ambitions. From the Seattle PI:
Microsoft Corp., trying to reshape its business through advertising revenue, made its pitch Wednesday to some of the world’s biggest advertisers. But the topic of Google was unavoidable — even for Bill Gates.
“They’ve done a great job on their search, and what they’ve done with advertising,” the Microsoft chairman acknowledged in response to a question from ad exec and TV host Donny Deutsch. But Microsoft, he said, “will keep them honest in the sense of being able to be better at a number of those things.”
“I think this is a rare case where we’re being underestimated,” he added. That was the underlying message from Gates and other Microsoft executives on the opening day of the MSN Strategic Account Summit, attended by hundreds of representatives of major ad agencies and well-known advertisers such as Target, Nike, Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson.