Publicity Stunts and When the Messenger is Your Message


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This looks like so much fun. Hard work, sure. But blazingly cool. The article about the rise of the Paris bike messenger caught my eye.

My mode of transport used to be a bicycle when I lived in Italy.

It was my mother's bike when she was a kid, a full size beauty I sanded and hand painted white in my teens. I installed a basket up front so could carry a modest load of fresh produce and cheese from the open market. A satchel across and to the side, and I was all set.

That's how I built my quads and calves for running, by the way. An overpass stood between my home and the center of town. Very long and gradual on one side, and steep on the other. A guaranteed workout at least twice a day.

Which is what it took to get anywhere around the city. So when I saw this article about bike messengers, I thought about the uneven roads, and the long distances of Paris. This is not why it caught my eye, though.

A renaissance for messengers

What the article describers is actually a renaissance for bike messengers in Paris.

Bicycle racing (and much of what we think of modern bicycle design) arose directly from the newspaper porteurs of Paris, who shuttled loads of papers at great speed from press to newsstand at the turn of the last century.

The papers began sponsoring porteur races as publicity stunts to demonstrate how quickly they could get news to the streets. The racers would ride from point to point in the city, picking up and dropping off up to 80 pounds of papers at a time.

After a while, the routes began taking in nearby cities. Eventually, the papers were dropped, and bicycle racing was born. I believe the first city-to-city race was Paris-Brest-Paris (still run today), and from the PBP came Le Tour de France.

All modern sport cycling descends from the couriers of Paris. Started as publicity stunts where the message was the messenger: we deliver your news faster than the other guy.

Going the distance

Delivery distances in Paris are greater than in New York City, because businesses are spread out. Which is why many messengers struggle to remain competitive against the long-established scooter-driven delivery systems.

The trend is picking up, however. As Patrick Boudard, founder Urban Cycle said in the article, “People in offices just like the bike messengers.”

“They’re young, they’re athletic, they’re friendly. It’s a much different mentality than the scooter messengers, and that’s appealing.”

Today Urban Cycle commands a solid share of the delivery market. And I cannot help but think that the trend is also due to broader economic, environmental, technological and social developments.

Messenger as message

I thought about the social aspect of this renaissance as well. The human contact of getting to know the person delivering your parcel. The fact they had to traverse a long distance to get it to you. And without clogging traffic, nor the environment.

The image is also fitting the current business environment, complete with publicity stunts. Every single day a news story is delivered with great speed from startup to tablets to demonstrate how quickly we could crank out new businesses, with the help of technology.

Right now, it's about the apps, platforms, or products and a few individuals winning in Silicon Valley and (starting) in New York City. I cannot help but think that the rise of technology and spread of information will help bring more business to other urban centers and areas.

Eventually we'll stop focusing so much on the few lucky entrepreneurs going from start to exit as fast as possible, and put more emphasis on helping create a whole ecosystem of new businesses.

The modern business infrastructure descending from current entrepreneurs. Those who went the distance and stuck around to deliver more teaching and resources, and help make better promises.   

Because, you see, it is not the 80 pounds of data that we miss. We have plenty of that. What we miss is the people who can help with the query sets. Asking the right questions. Plus those who are going to do something with it, combining assets creatively.

And we need a very different mentality than the current delivery system for business. We need a renaissance of messengers who can deliver their promises over greater distances, at speed.

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0 responses to “Publicity Stunts and When the Messenger is Your Message”

  1. Awesome — one of my favorite topics, and a cool business spin.
    It’s interesting how a whole sport (and one of the world’s premiere athletic events) descended from utilitarian business infrastructure. While I’m not sure we’ll ever see social media as an Olympic event, you never know … 😉

  2. there seems to be competition of Olympic proportions for an industry that talks so much about collaboration. All kidding aside, I’d like to see the current entrepreneurial pockets grow into a true network with a long term agenda. Built to grow vs. flip…

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