Tidying Up

Monocle shop, Tokyo

Monocle shop, Tokyo

This past weekend Monocle magazine's much-anticipated television show for Bloomberg premiered with the airing of the first two of six episodes on Saturday and Sunday.

If you are not yet familiar with Monocle, since its 2007 launch much has been written about it and its globetrotting founder, Tyler Brûlé, including two love letters last year from Business Week and New York Magazine.

Like Luxury Culture, which I wrote about last week, Monocle breaks rules, only in a much larger way. Suffice it to say, I am one who was drawn early on into the Monocle orbit, happily parting with $10 for the magazine at newsstand 8 out of the 10 months of the year that it's published, and more recently buying the seasonal newspapers--Monocle Mediterraneo and Monocle Alpino, stopping by its postage stamp-sized West Village boutique, where it sells Monocle-branded bags, as well as products created in conjunction with chic, like-minded partners such as Kitsuné, Blackberry, Comme des Garçons, and Delvaux, and even tuning into the weekly radio program online from time-to-time.

Yes, it is all a bit much, except for the fact that it's extraordinarily well done and unfailingly interesting. And all carried out under the umbrella of an exceedingly smart, multi-pronged, rule-breaking business model, which is so obvious--except that Brûlé saw the opportunity for it ahead of the curve and no one else is pulling it off quite like the Monocle team. All of which makes my disappointment with the first two episodes of the television show, well, surprising. Not least to me.

Where the magazine, newspaper, radio show and even the shops are sharp, energetic, immaculately groomed and current, these episodes of the show were not. Easy opportunities to tie the content of the show, magazine and website together were missed--at least, so far. And Brûlé himself looked rumpled, disheveled, and his glasses (as well as those of Editor Andrew Tuck), which work so well in photographs, veiled his eyes on air, making him appear a bit shifty, hard to pin down.

One of Monocle's trademarks is dolling out crisp, constructive pointers to the cities, countries, shops and companies about which it enthuses. In that spirit, my tips to Monocle for its television show:

  1. Inject some life: The narrative that infuses the pages of Monocle's print and online copy is vibrant, with quick touches of wit. The smooth, measured tone of the television voiceovers drains the on-air personality of that vibrance. Sadly, there was no wit to be found.
  2. Connect the dots: Episode 1 featured a somewhat predictable segment on ArtBasel. In the February issue of the magazine, there's a fun piece on Mera and Don Rubell, patrons of ArtBasel. I know that because I have a copy of the magazine, not because I was told about it on the television show. The article made the television segment more interesting. Others, if told, might also find the article a stimulating complement to the television summary.
  3. Go deeper: Use the website to go deeper: include a video interview with Mera and Don, additional footage of the Swiss food producers or an in-depth conversation with auto designer Ralph Gilles featured in episode 2. Tell viewers of the television show that the content can be found on the website. You get the idea.
  4. Take control: Monocle's print ads are frequently as entertaining and informative as the magazine itself, partly because, for many, Monocle is co-producer. I watched the television show on my DVR, so I was able to fast forward past Bloomberg's inevitable low budget weekend advertisements, which otherwise would have been a detractor from the show. I know Monocle could produce television ads with its advertising partners that would equal its print ads, up the level of the television experience and could even run online.
  5. Lose the 1970's motif: The set! The music! What happened?! It's like a producer for the Merv Griffin Show got hold of Monocle.
  6. Tidy up: Three piece suit not required, but Brûlé's carefully styled muss could use a touch of straightening for the television set. Just a touch.

The front cover of the February issue of Monocle features a smartly tailored, bespectacled guy next to a graphic entitled How to Chart a Steady Course. Over the past three years Brûlé and his team have clearly trained a laser focus on the 7 points in the graphic with extraordinary success. On the television show they may have loosened their grip on Point #6: Be tyrannical when it comes to details.

That said, if I were laying odds, I would bet heavily that they will come back to center and that, over time, we'll see a television show that neatly suits the perfectly integrated portfolio of Monocle content and products. Until then, my ardor is undiminished but remains confined to print and online.

You can read Brûlé's own take on the genesis of Monocle and his vision for the business and brand here and design notes from Monocle's initial website here. J Crew's Men of Monocle spread is here. And Brûlé's weekly jetsetting and sometimes cranky column for The Financial Times--The Fast Lane--is here.