Does the future have a human face?



Kansas City:




(Courtesy of  Cashill Newsletter - January 12, 2000 )

By Jack Cashill

In this [Ingrams] issue, we thought we would get a jump on the rest of Kansas City and celebrate not our sesqui-centennial but our bi-centennial. In so doing, we lay out many of the challenges Kansas City might face in the next fifty years and many of the ways it might face them.

I argue in The Road to 2050 that the one thread that weaves through Kansas City history is its unpredictability. No one in this fair burg has ever predicted much of anything with success. On this score, count us at Ingram' s among the guilty.

When we plotted this very issue, we could not have imagined that Ingram's would be facing its own greatest threat, not 50 years hence, but today, as this very issue hits the stands. Nor could we have ever predicted that the source of this threat would be a seemingly benign not-for-profit which Ingram's had recently joined, the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.


When Publisher Joe Sweeney told me a few weeks ago that the Chamber was planning on launching its own publication in collaboration with the Kansas City Star, I was inclined to dismiss his concerns. Surely, I argued, the Chamber would never compete with its own membership by introducing a competitive product. And even if the Chamber had done some planning along these lines, I was confident it would change course once its execs understood the potential fall-out.

I have long had great faith in free enterprise and its various engines. Some 20 years ago, when I wrote my Ph.D. dissertation on the theme of "The Capitalist as Hero," I tested this faith in the hostile, socialist groves of academia and survived. My experiences as an entrepreneur in Kansas City have vindicated my confidence. In the last ten years, I have never collected less than 98% of my accounts due. I have never had to contract a lawyer. And whenever any of my clients or collaborators has given me their word, they have kept it.

So when I accompanied Joe and Michelle Sweeney to a meeting at the Chamber, an institution that has historically reflected the ethos of local business, I expected good faith and a positive outcome. Apparently, I was in the wrong place to find either.

If this meeting were a poker game, the Sweeney's would have left with all the chips. Each of the arguments--logical, ethical, and certainly emotional--went their way. Despite their best efforts to convince us that the new "Chamber communications vehicle" posed no threat to Ingram's, the Chamber honchos looked distinctly uncomfortable so doing. I was sure they would reverse themselves.


But a week later we got hold of a copy of the "KansasCityBusiness" media kit, and I realized the source of their discomfort. "Threat" wasn't the right word after all. "Clone" was. The plans for the new publication were well advanced, and the resemblance to Ingramn's was eerie. Though the Chamber has but 2500 members, it was to publish 25,000 copies of KCB, the exact run of Ingram's. Its proposed demographic data--curiously published without source--mirrored Ingram's most recent readership survey. Its editorial calendar mimicked Ingram's calendar--released three months prior--almost to the month (though, admittedly, KCB's "Philanthropy" issue would come in November, before Ingram's in December).

Scarier still, the ad rates, dimensions and frequency breaks paralleled Ingram's down to the veritable price per square inch. If more irony were needed, KCB was plotting an Ingram's-like "regional" focus on Lake of The Ozarks--"Greater Kansas City" being obviously much greater than we had ever imagined.


It was no wonder the Chamber had its lawyer present when we met the week before. In retrospect, everything about the meeting was disingenuous. The Chamber execs had already made what marketers call a "Go-error," and they knew it. Corporate momentum had pushed them to a major decision before they could cross check all the variables, including the serious hurt they were about to inflict on one of their own members. And no one in the room had the wherewithal to check that momentum. The lawyer, in fact, continued to push forward. He figured that if he just called this 900 pound KCB gorilla "Cheetah," he could convince us it was a chimp. He almost did.

If the Chamber had truly launched the magazine "to communicate better with its members," it was failing miserably. A voluntary association designed to help local business doesn't win friends by competing with those businesses.

According to readership surveys, Ingram's has been doing an execllent job conveying the same information to the same audience in the same format as the proposed new Chamber publication. Fellow entrepreneurs have to wonder what's next from the Chamber. An employment service? A training company? An accounting service? Perhaps the Chamber could team with At&T and crush those upstart telcom companies, "Providing better phone service for our members!"

Working for a collective like the Chamber may help its execs evade accountability and ease guilt, but it also diminishes passion. That's why the Chamber, in this misbegotten effort to pay for itself, will not overcome individual entrepreneurs like the Sweeney's. One way or another, no matter how much it costs, the Sweeneys will prevail. It's just preposterous that their own Chamber should put them to the test.



Posted: January 12, 2000
Cashill Newsletter
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Editor's note: Jack Cashill is Ingram's Executive Editor and has affiliated with the magazine for 25 years. He can be reached at


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