Posted on: 2/17/2023

Follow The Puck

How next generation media companies are building extraordinary engagement


On Tuesday night I spent an hour and a half crawling through LA’s rush hour traffic (yes, the stories are true) to watch a screening of the “The Fire of Love”, a National Geographic documentary film centered around the touching love story of two French scientists, Katia and Maurice Krafft, who were united by their passion for roaming the planet chasing erupting volcanos. Spoiler alert – it all ends in tears.

The Oscar nominated film was directed by Sara Dosa, and it is terrific – visually stunning, moving, and at times frankly terrifying. But if I’m honest, it probably wouldn’t have been my first choice. But I was there because I was invited to this “private” screening by Puck – it was their endorsement that overcame my lethargy. The fact that the 1600-seat theater was packed suggests that others shared a similar reaction.

Creating authentic connections

For those who don’t know, Puck is “a new media company focused on the intersection of Wall Street, Washington, Silicon Valley and Hollywood”. It has rapidly become my go-to source to make myself appear smart and well informed. So far, so shameless plug.

The idea of media companies doing reader or subscriber events is nothing new of course. What feels different to me in this expanding world of narrowcast media companies such as Puck, The Ankler, Axios or The Athletic, is that the connection feels much more personal. We feel invested in particular writers such as Puck’s Dylan Byers, Matt Belloni, Julia Alexander or William Cohan, in a qualitatively different way than we do with larger, more broadcast media organizations. We feel that they know us, the issues we’re thinking about, and the people or companies that we’ve worked with or for. And as such, an “invitation” from Puck feels that much more compelling.

And the same seems to be true in the podcast world. Listening to my own favorite, “Pivot” with Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway, I’m struck by how increasingly often the hosts talk about being stopped in public places by “fans”. The “double act” format seems to work particularly well in this regard, bringing out a more multi-dimensional picture of the host’s true personality, which in turn deepens the audience connection.

What’s going on?

What appears to be resonating with audiences might presage a subtle shift in traditional notions of the “star” columnist or anchor. Of course, we want to be informed by people who have a level of expertise in their chosen field. But they no longer have to be the smartest, the most attractive, controversial, or charismatic. Nor mirror the “house style”. Rather, we want to hear their authenticity, integrity, and inner alignment. We want them to speak with their true voice. And in so doing, these new media companies are able to generate levels of engagement which are orders of magnitude beyond the sharing of a Facebook post or an Instagram Story.

What does it mean for Talent?

The implication for media leadership is that it becomes critical to be able to create a culture of deep trust and collaboration. One where people are encouraged to be themselves, to take risks, and are supported if they don’t come off. Where star performers are still absolutely sought after but left in no doubt that their talents are used in service to the greater good of the team. Outstanding media organisations start to look and feel increasingly like the best sports teams. And executive talent flows naturally between them.

When asked about the secret to his success ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky famously said “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” Wise words Wayne, wise words.


Jonathan Davies