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Jun 17 / King Kaufman

Are you managing the stock and flow of your media portfolio?

NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen tweeted a link Monday to a blog post headlined “stock and flow” by bestselling author Robin Sloane.

The post is 4 years old. I’d never read it before, but I could see right away why Rosen calls it the “Eames chair of blog posts.”

Well, not right away. First I had to Google “Eames chair.”

Stock and flow, Sloane explains, is a concept he learned about as an econ major in college:

There are two kinds of quantities in the world. Stock is a static value: money in the bank, or trees in the forest. Flow is a rate of change: fifteen dollars an hour, or three thousand toothpicks a day. Easy. Too easy.

What does all this have to do with the subjects we talk about around here?

I actually think stock and flow is the master metaphor for media today. Here’s what I mean:

Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind people that you exist.

Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today. It’s what people discover via search. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, building fans over time.

Flow was ascendant at the time Sloane wrote his post, and it still is. But his advice then, still wise, was to pay attention to the stock, the lasting things. You don’t want to get off the flow treadmill years down the line and find that you have nothing substantial to show for all that hard work. And yet:

“Don’t ignore the flow!”

If you woodshed for months or years at a time working on some big project, how is anybody supposed to know that you or it exist once it’s ready. Sloane points out that the successful artists and media people who seem to avoid the flow side of the equation—he brings up movie director Wes Anderson as an example—have others handling flow for them. PR and advertising, Sloane writes, are simply flow for hire.

For those of us who don’t have PR teams:

The real magic trick in 2010 is to put them both together. To keep the ball bouncing with your flow—to maintain that open channel of communication—while you work on some kick-ass stock in the background. Sacrifice neither. It’s the hybrid strategy.

That seems every bit as true in 2014 as it was in 2010.