Editorial: Moving The Needle

By Len Monheit

The term ‘Moving the Needle,’ in the context of this industry, was first described to me a few years ago, as I was contemplating the relative importance of investing resources into a bridge-building exercise between our industry and the world and national sports communities. The argument suggested to me then, was that one would need to pick and choose those issues where my unique set of skills, attributes, capabilities, resources and timing could impact, with maximum effect, a bigger whole, and move the needle on that particular issue.

Since then, I’ve watched numerous programs and initiatives begin and stall, people and resources get first energized and then tapped out, and also as serious, slow evolving programs have begun to take on momentum, reaching several points along their evolution where the needle has visibly moved.

One such example was the launch of the collaboration between the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES) and certifying organization NSF International last summer, in a relationship that would allow Canadian elite athletes to make supplement and functional food choices with a reduced risk that such choices would cause a positive doping response.

Another example is the increased focus on the development, validation and communication of analytical methods for Dietary Supplements and Natural Health Products, an effort we at NPIcenter hope to follow carefully and promote aggressively. And there are several other examples where we have seen the needle gradually swing as this industry struggles to mature, with AER legislation as a recent example of both collaboration and communication at the very least.

As I examine this business environment, there are a couple of thoughts that come to me.

First of all, individuals and organizations may not be as tapped out as they might think they are. In some cases, poor selection of ‘needle’ issues results in frustration and resource squandering. More frequently though, it’s poor issue management and communication that make it seem either like progress has not been made, the wrong yardstick has been chosen, the gradations on the meter are not small enough so progress is not noted, or that the projects have been designed with conflicting objectives, so the needle swings first one way, and then the next without measurable progress being made. It might be that more careful issue selection and management would engage more participants and generate more momentum. More vision up front of what the end-game looks like would help manage the needle and its ongoing movement, as well as help define the target. Once people visualize the target and elements of the path, it usually becomes a whole lot easier to get there.

The second observation takes me to a much larger issue, the surface of which I’ll scratch today. In identifying these needle issues and in fact, at a certain point, engaging in them, perhaps one must consider “what is the role of the media?” – specifically, B2B trade media.

I’ve had numerous discussions on this issue, and although I don’t have ultimate conclusions, suffice it to say that from my current perspective, while objective fact and news reporting is absolutely critical, the view of the media enables it to soar at ten thousands feet, swoop to inches for a close-up view, retreat to thousands of feet to put the issue into perspective and swoop again to capture another view. Just like any type of media, what it chooses to focus on is as important as what it ignores; what it chooses to make important becomes important.

In as closely defined an industry and category as we operate in, I would further suggest that industry media has an active role to push needle issues to the forefront of consciousness, as well as to push them along and track ongoing progress. One obvious logical process is that selection of the right needle issues and active engagement helps to support and develop a better, more vigorous, forward-thinking industry. I believe it is part of the responsibility of trade media to be a key architect in identifying and presenting trends, behaviors and practices that both help and hinder the industry, supporting the former and discouraging the latter through the tools that only media has available.

As a corollary to the above, those (media) simply standing back observing and reviewing, by their isolation and often abstraction, become reporters, rather than contributors to the industry community. The same holds true in the broader industry sense, as I’ve observed before – those not actively participating, by their removal from the process, ideally lose their ability to criticize the end result.
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