Posts Tagged ‘journalism’

Change Your Expectations For Top-Tier Media Coverage

March 19, 2013

The rise of inbound marketing is tied inexorably to the decline of both advertising and the traditional media.

By now most of you who read the Bridgebuzz blog have heard my rants about the death of the mainstream media.  The Pew Research Center, a non-profit research organization, recently reported that for every dollar newspapers are earning from online advertising, they are losing $10 in print ad revenue. Print ad revenues now are less than half what they were in 2006. It’s no wonder that  the newspaper industry alone – not including any magazines, TV or radio, all of which have also had massive layoffs – cut 39,000 jobs between the beginning of 2008 and the end of 2012, according to the website Papercuts, which tracks newspaper layoffs.

The number of (employed) journalists in the U.S. continues to shrink, according to the Pew Research Center’s newest annual report, “The State of the News Media 2013.”The Pew report concludes that a continued erosion of news reporting resources has taken place at the same time that capabilities have improved for bypassing the media altogether and going directly to the public. This is the crucial message that I want the readers of this blog to understand.  Clients and prospective clients, hear this: you can no longer depend on the media to get your messages out to your target audiences.  No matter what your PR firm is telling you about their stellar media relations capabilities, you need to know that:

RIP Newsweek

  • There are now 30% fewer U.S. journalists employed than in 2000.
  • The number of stories produced by CNN has been cut in half since 2007. (You must have known this – how many times can they repeat the same stories over and over again in one evening!)
  • The number of live events produced by the three U.S. cable news channels has decreased by about 30% in the past five years, while interview stories, which require much less resources to produce, are up by about the same amount.
  • Newsweek bit the dust last year and now the only remaining weekly news magazine is Time, which made another cut in its editorial staff just recently.
  • According to the Pew Report, an increasing number of media are using a new automated technology that produces editorial content without the need for any human reporting at all, believe it or not. Forbes is one of the publications using this technology (ostensibly to supplement what its reporters are doing, since it’s inconceivable that a computer algorithm could totally replace the editorial staff – yet, at least.
  • People are noticing that the media they used to rely on for news is a shadow of its former self.  The Pew survey shows that 31% have stopped reading or listening to a news outlet because it no longer provides the news it used to provide.

PR agencies know this has been happening and understand what it means for the work they do: it’s much, much harder to obtain media coverage for our clients than even a few years ago, because the media are producing dramatically less news and information. But companies that hire PR agencies don’t seem to grasp this. Every potential client we speak to is looking for top-tier media coverage, yet getting into that level of media just doesn’t happen as frequently as it used to. As I said, no matter what PR firms are telling you about their ability to do this for you, beware, because there’s very little chance they’ll be able to deliver, no matter how good they.

If you’re one of the many communications and marketing professionals demanding what you have always been able to get in the past from your PR agency, top-tier media coverage and lots of it, please open your mind to new communications techniques.  After all, it’s the end that counts – reaching your audience with the information and messages you want to convey, rather than the means, isn’t it? As the Pew Center Report pointed out, technologies have been improving all the time for totally bypassing the traditional media and going directly to your target audience. The most savvy PR people have already acknowledged the need to do this and have become “PR journalists,” producing their own high-quality materials (articles, videos, podcasts, white papers, etc.) that they distribute online in a variety of ways, including use of social media and other online platforms. You’ll hear this called content marketing, inbound marketing and permission marketing. The same content can be used and repurposed in many ways, a method an NPR executive once called “COPE,” “Create Once, Publish Everywhere.”

In order for this type of communications to be successful in meeting your goals, it must be of very high-quality. It can’t be promotional, it can’t be self-serving, and you must provide value from the point of view of the audience – not the point of view of your boss or your company’s CEO. Luckily, there are some really good PR journalists available these days (some were trained as journalists before they went down the PR agency path). Don’t try to find them at ad agencies or digital marketing firms – look for them where you’ve always looked for help in communicating with the media: agencies that provide public relations and corporate communications services.  They will understand what you’re trying to accomplish and have the skills to be able to help.

Some of you who are reading this are thinking, “But my boss [or the CEO, or the CMO, or the company’s board, or all of the above) wants top tier media coverage, and that’s what I need our PR agency to get if I want to keep my job.” I’ll put the ball in your court. It’s up to you to educate that internal audience about the changing reality in the media today.

I’m sure as hell not saying that PR firms can’t get top tier media coverage anymore. Obviously, we do. But we don’t get it as frequently as we used to or as you’d like us to. There, I’ve put my neck on the line. You can believe me and start thinking hard about inbound marketing and content marketing as a way to inform and persuade your target audience, or not. If you’re curious to know more about how it works, read our new e-book about inbound marketing.

 

Lucy Siegel

Three Reasons Online Images Drive Web Traffic

February 26, 2013

ImageryYou can’t skim a video.  I would much rather take 10 seconds to skim an article to see if it’s worth reading than to stop what I’m doing, look for my earbuds, plug them in and sit in front of a video that might take a couple of precious minutes of my time. Yet study after study shows that online video is extremely popular, as is the sharing of photography online. The news media understand this, and even newspapers and magazines with roots in print are depending more and more on video and photos. Here are five reasons why:

1. Imagery Makes an Immediate Emotional Impact

When I flipped through The Atlantic’s 2012: The Year in Photos, the answer was clear about why online images (both still and video) are so prevalent and well-liked. The Atlantic’s collection of photos offers visual evidence of 2012’s Sturm and Drang. Some of these photos have the power to elicit strong emotions about the numerous and horrible natural tragedies that occurred last year.  Others make the news about game-changing political upheaval around the world come alive. Yet others document the triumphs of mankind, from scientific achievements to the performances of Olympian athletes. These photos are hard to forget.

2. Images Make the News Real

When I read about the Free Syrian Army clashing with Syrian troops, I can absorb the “who, what, when, where, why and how” of the event. But when I see a photo of a Syrian man crying while cradling his dead son in his arms, one of 34 people killed by a suicide bomber, the emotional pain inflicted by the violence in Syria becomes much more real. This is certainly nothing new: a 41-year-old image of a naked Vietnamese child, running with other children away from the scene of an aerial napalm attack, was credited with helping to end the Vietnam War. It brought the horrors of the war to life better than any words could.  The difference between then and now is a matter of speed and degree: the buzz about the 1972 photo was spread by print and television media over a period of days and weeks. Today, it would take only minutes for the photo to go viral and be seen within hours by many millions around the world.

3. Images Motivate People to Act, Creating More News

Online image-sharing technology itself has played a role in empowering people to stand together and take action. No need to carry a camera anymore. A photo or a video can be taken with a cell phone and uploaded to Flickr or YouTube instantly, where it can be seen instantly and globally. The emotional impact of images has motivated people around the world to participate in political protest for the first time. It has moved average citizens to donate money to help disaster victims because of the way it brings crises closer to home for many people. Online images motivate people to take action, and that in turn creates more web traffic to see the images.

Just as these visual social media tools have helped people around the world to connect and share ideas and emotions, they have also helped communications professionals to deliver their companies’ or clients’ messages with greater impact. However, the overwhelming quantity of media images makes it harder to stand out and gain attention, so this is a double-edged sword.

It’s inevitable that I – and others who grew up without computers – will eventually gravitate more to online video.  But I’ll also be happy when someone invents a way to skim a video the way we can skim an article to find out whether or not it’s worth the time to watch.

Lucy Siegel

9 Things Journalists Do & Do NOT Find Newsworthy

November 15, 2012

One of the most difficult parts of my job is to explain to a client why the announcement the company’s CEO wants us to make isn’t news and is unlikely to be covered by the media.

Here are a few examples of what journalists don’t find worth covering but companies frequently want them to cover:

  1. News that has already been announced and reported in the media is no longer news and will not capture journalists’ attention.
  2. The activities of a small privately-held company are usually not considered newsworthy to the national business media. We are often successful in getting start-up company clients covered by the media despite this, but the way we do it is to de-emphasize the company and pitch its activities as part of a new trend, or to demonstrate that it is developing earthshaking new technologies, or to position it as a threat to large and well-established companies, or to offer the CEO as an expert who has the credentials to comment on something currently in the news.
  3. Just because something is an important issue does not mean it is newsworthy, as Brad Phillips points out on his blog, Mr. Media Training.  For example, the growing number of parents who choose not to vaccinate their children is an alarming trend and an important issue. But it’s been written about from various angles for a number of years, and isn’t newsworthy.  An outbreak of a devastating disease like polio in the U.S. resulting from this trend, previously believed to have been eliminated from this country, would be newsworthy.
  4. The visit of a company CEO from abroad is not newsworthy unless the company has major business interests in the U.S., or has an announcement to make that will affect Americans. This is a situation we sometimes face. We are asked to set up a round of business media interviews for the visiting head of an overseas client company. Even if the company is fairly sizable and well-known in its own market, without a real presence in the U.S., journalists won’t have much interest. However, if the company president gives reporters news (that hasn’t already been announced) about a new plan to build a plant in the U.S., for example, or a new partnership with an American company, they’ll be very interested.

What’s Newsworthy, What’s Not

  1. Conflict is newsworthy, especially when it first appears. Peace and harmony are not, except for the exact time when they bring an end to conflict.
  1. Scandal is newsworthy. The juicier the better from the media’s perspective. Awards for good behavior are not.
  1. Surprises are newsworthy. Expected outcomes are not. The media give more time and space to a company that misses or greatly surpasses earnings projections than to a company that meets earnings projections.
  1. Lies are newsworthy (or rather, catching well-known or high-up people in lies is newsworthy)
  1. Announcements that have local impact are newsworthy for local media outlets. In many cases the definition of local is very narrow. Recently we approached news outlets in various Connecticut towns about the debut of a national company in the Connecticut market. Most of the media we spoke to at the small town news organizations told us they would only cover news related specifically to their own towns.

It’s natural to feel that the activities of the company you work for are important and to lose perspective on whether they’re of interest to the rest of the world. One of the advantages of working with a public relations firm is the more objective perspective that the agency PR team can bring to a company.

We’re paid to advise clients and develop workable strategies for their public relations efforts. It’s always a better use of our services and a client’s budget to ask us how to reach a particular goal rather than tell us what tactics to take to achieve that goal. Our collective years of PR, journalism and marketing communications experience will save a lot of money by preventing wasted efforts to build visibility!

Lucy Siegel

Advance Approval of Interview Quotes: a Self-Destructive Media Policy

September 19, 2012

We’ve all been there: despite training and practice, the CEO blows a good media coverage opportunity by saying the wrong thing to a reporter, and neglects to say what should have been said to communicate the company’s key messages. We all want to see the best possible media portrayal of our companies, or clients’ companies, and there are times we’d love to rewind the interview to answer differently.

We’re finding out that within the political realm, this is indeed possible. It came out this summer that the staffs of both Presidential candidates have refused to grant media interviews with the candidates, their wives and their key aides unless the media outlet would agree to submitting the quotes used from the interview to the campaign staff for approval. Big influential media outlets like the New York Times have been acceding to this demand.

Image

This practice clearly undermines the quality of the reporting by allowing the campaign staff to sanitize remarks made in interviews by changing quotes to make them more vague and less likely to offend anyone. Never mind that the quote reflected what the person actually said. The purpose of checking the quotes goes way beyond simple fact-checking; it’s aimed at damage control.

Quote approval gives the candidates the power to use the media to shape public perception.  The media play an important role in a democracy as independent third-party voices reporting the facts as objectively as possible. Allowing the candidates to control the reporting to the extent that they can take back what they said weakens the veracity of the reporting.

The cat is out of the bag. Some major media outlets readily admitted that reporters have been allowing quote checking (and alteration) by campaign staffers as a condition for obtaining an interview. Readers who are paying attention and now realize this is happening are bound to have less trust in the media.

This morning I attended a meeting where Bob DeFillippo, Chief Communications Officer at Prudential Financial, spoke about the ways social media has played a role in blurring the lines among earned media (i.e., what is reported by independent news organizations), paid media (i.e., advertising, and paid editorial coverage, often called “advertorial,” which is not earned media but advertising) and owned media (i.e., content that companies create and disseminate themselves, which is neither earned nor paid media). He pointed out that the definitions of the three are becoming more blurred every day, and commented that we need to respect the definitions, not contribute to changing them, because earned media plays such a significant role in building corporate credibility.

He concluded that it’s in the interest of PR people to safeguard the integrity of earned media in order to protect the powerful contribution it can make towards reputation-building. I totally agree with him.

There are many reasons for the blurring of the lines among paid, earned and owned media, not just the proliferation of social media. For example, “pay for play” media coverage – where a publication insists that an organization be an advertiser in order to receive any editorial coverage – is more and more common these days, unfortunately, due to the desperate financial straits many media companies find themselves in. My firm advises clients to stay far away from “pay for play” media situations.

It’s the responsibility of public relations professionals to prepare clients well for media interviews. Sometimes despite our best efforts to do this, clients aren’t portrayed the way we would like them to be in an interview. The solution is not to insist on the right to see and change their quotes. It is certainly not better to rely on “pay for play” media. We just need to see to it that clients get as many media opportunities as possible so that one media mishap doesn’t play a major role in defining the client’s reputation.

Lucy Siegel

Will a New Buzz-Predictor Tool Change Journalism?

February 10, 2012

It had to happen. Computer scientists have just come up with a way to predict before publication whether or not a news story has the potential to create buzz.

MIT bloggers wrote on a “Physics arXiv Blog” post this week that computer scientists at HP’s lab in Palo Alto, Calif. did research that showed they could test news articles to see whether or not they would spread widely on Twitter. Since Twitter buzz about news stories has been shown to be a predictor of general interest beyond Twitter,  the ability to

test an article in advance could have major implications for journalism, and, of course, for public relations as well.
The HP scientists used an automatic online news aggregator to collect news stories for a week. Then they scored each story on four different criteria: what news organization published the story it, what category the story fit into, how subjective the language used in the story was, and what people or things were included in the story.  They tracked these stories on Twitter to see how far and how fast they were spread. They were able to use the data to identify what levels of scores in each of the four criteria were correlated with the popularity of a news story on Twitter. Then they used these criteria and their scoring formulas to predict in advance how popular a story would be on Twitter.

The MIT bloggers speculated that it probably wouldn’t be long before someone would use this type of data to develop a “popularity checker” tool, similar to the grammar and spelling checkers that are built into word processing programs. They commented that it might be detrimental to journalism to have such a tool, since journalists would surely be pushed by their employers to write for the tool.

But think of what a boon to PR a popularity checker would be!

PR industry newbies would be able to test their news sense to get objective feedback on their news releases and media pitches. PR team leaders could use the checker to demonstrate tactfully to their employers or clients that promotional language really does not work in a news release, or to point out the lack of newsworthiness of an announcement proposed by senior management without having to argue about it.

If anyone hears that such a tool is under development, please let me know so I can sign up as a pre-release beta tester and invest in whatever company is behind it!

Lucy Siegel

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