Posts Tagged ‘news media’

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

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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

Media Pay for Play: a Bad, Old Practice Lives On

April 2, 2012

Today I stumbled across an online discussion in a LinkedIn marketing group about what we in the PR industry call “pay for play,” or the requirement that a company pay for an ad or sponsorship in order to be included in editorial coverage. The discussion was started by an associate publisher at a trade magazine company (read here “ad sales executive”).

He wrote, “Over the last few years PR firms have become increasingly aggressive in pushing editorial ‘collaborations’ for their clients, many of whom are nowhere to be seen from a publication advertising support perspective!”  His message:  companies that don’t advertise in a particular publication shouldn’t expect to be covered unless what they’re offering is groundbreaking news. Implied in his statement was that advertisers do deserve the  right to be covered, whether or not they have anything newsworthy or of interest to say.

As a PR firm owner and practitioner with many years of experience, preceded by journalism experience (both newspaper and trade media), I maintain that journalists  have no obligation to cover anyone – advertisers or non-advertisers. The only obligation they have is to inform their readers/viewers in an honest and timely way. If this means they end up not covering an advertiser because the company has nothing worthwhile to communicate, then so be it. If the advertiser doesn’t like this, there are always other media to advertise in.

Non-advertisers deserve the same balanced editorial coverage as advertisers.

It’s our policy as an agency to decline pay for play offers.  Sometimes a media outlet will approach a client directly and offer the opportunity to be included in a special issue of a magazine, or to be interviewed by a news broadcaster, or take part in a film, if the client would just pay a certain amount to “cover expenses.” On a few occasions clients have been tempted by these offers.  Generally, a little research on the publication or TV production company has demonstrated that the offer isn’t the great opportunity it was cracked up to be.

A couple of years ago, one of our clients received a call offering an interview on national TV, “Inside Business,” with Fred Thompson, the Republican politician, columnist and radio host. Our client was told there would be a fee of about $20,000 to cover the production company’s costs, but still thought this would bring some valuable visibility. We did some looking around online and found websites with discussions from other businesses that had taken the bait and were bitterly disappointed and angry at the outcome. Their biggest complaint was usually about the distribution of the video that was produced. Their interviews were aired at some ungodly hour when nobody would be watching TV – say, 5 a.m. on a Sunday morning. When we showed our client these discussions, he thanked us for stopping him from wasting his company’s money.

Years ago when I was a journalist I fought with publishers who constantly pushed the editorial staff to cover advertisers. The battle between advertising and editorial has only intensified over the years as both ad revenue and readership have declined, bringing tough financial times for many media companies.  However, good, balanced journalism is what attracts readers and builds circulation, not pandering to advertisers or demanding quid pro quo for media coverage.

It’s the job of the PR professional to understand and counsel clients about what’s news and what’s not. If a company hires a PR agency to “get ink” and yet has nothing special to offer the media, it’s the agency’s responsibility to manage the client’s expectations while seeking news nuggets and finding innovative ways to create news, if necessary. Let’s be clear: pay for play is not media coverage, it’s advertising.

Lucy Siegel

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Media Cutbacks Hurting Local News Coverage

June 22, 2011

I’ve written before on this blog about the danger to our society from the huge payroll cuts at news gathering operations, due to the current transition of traditional media to online “new” media.  The cuts in staffing have affected the amount of news that can be covered at the very least, if not the quality of the reporting.  With papers such as the Washington Post eliminating their local bureaus (the Post shut down all of its U.S. bureaus and now covers the whole country from its headquarters in Washington, D.C.), readers only get second-hand reporting of news outside the region in which the media outlet is located. Newspapers and broadcast news operations nationwide are depending on re-reporting news from local media.

However, according to a lengthy new report released by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the amount of news coverage at the local level has fallen off sharply, also, due to drastic cutbacks by local broadcasters and newspapers. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, speaking on June 10th at Columbia School of Journalism about this report, commented that the biggest challenge to journalism in theU.S. is “the disruptive impact the Internet and economic pressures have had on local news gathering.”  He noted that newspapers have cut back on staff, some have even shut down, and many local broadcasters also have cut back on news budgets.  He said, “…Many stations have no news at all…This matters, because if citizens don’t get local news and information, the health of our democracy suffers.  Journalism provides a vital check against corruption by those with power. The less quality local reporting we have, the less likely we are to learn about government misdeeds, schools that fail children, hospitals that mistreat patients or factories that pollute the water.”

I’ve seen discussions online among journalists about the big hole left in their coverage of the news and their fear that it will be filled with news releases supplied by public relations people.  You’d think that as a public relations professional this would make me happy, but it doesn’t. It isn’t a healthy way for the media to operate, and it will ultimately result in a further weakening of traditional media.

Some people feel that so-called “citizen journalists” will take the place of reporters who have been laid off, and that they’ll do just as good a job, if not better.  But self-proclaimed “citizen journalists” can’t replace trained professionals. For starters, readers can’t assess the accuracy of their reports. At least journalists working for media outlets have been interviewed and chosen by seasoned professionals, and their work is scrutinized on a daily basis by those who hired them!

Last weekend on an NPR segment about the new FCC report, I heard an interesting observation about the effect that Google search algorithms are having on the news people consume online. It turns out that Google’s software works in a similar way to Amazon’s and other retail sites’ search engines.  When you buy something – or even search for something – on Amazon, the site’s software makes assumptions that you’re interested in that product, and the next time you log into Amazon, you’re presented with suggestions for similar items to buy. Google’s search engine remembers your searches and the clicks you make on search results to select websites. If you search for or visit Fox News, the next time you’re looking for news, the search engine will push Fox News as well as other conservative news sources to the top of your search results. Similarly, if you visit the New York Times or the Huffington Post, you’ll be directed towards other liberal-leaning news sources. Therefore, Google’s search mechanism in effect reinforces people’s opinions and biases.  When I do a search on Google, the results I get can be drastically different from what someone else gets, even if the search is done at the same moment in time.

This built-in news bias, when added to the dearth of reporting at the local level, is very worrisome. No wonder politics in theU.S.has become so polarized, with the distance between red and blue, left and right, growing bigger all the time.

Lucy Siegel

“Old” Media: More, Not Less Powerful

November 30, 2009

Representing our clients to the media has become quite a difficult task, given the current painful death of the traditional media in the U.S.

Every day there’s another article about a newspaper or magazine publishing company that has cut 100, or 200, or 500 jobs. I read a report earlier this fall about unemployment in journalism that confirmed what all of us in the communications industry already suspected: the rate of unemployment is considerably higher in journalism  than for the society as a whole. Close to 36,000 journalism jobs disappeared between September 2008 and September 2009. Most of them are in the print media.

The destruction of the news media in the U.S. is both national and local. Downsizing has affected network TV and nationwide news publications such as The Wall Street Journal and Time. But city newspapers have been folding one after another, also.  This has led to a couple of noteworthy trends: the American news media is becoming more centralized, and in the process, a few media outlets are becoming much more powerful than they ever were.

In many countries there is one national communications hub city where all the important media are located. While New York is the biggest American news media center, there are influential media voices in Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Dallas, Miami, and many other areas.  Now, however, several once-prominent local news organizations are gone and others are severely weakened.

For example, The Rocky Mountain News in Denver died this year after being published for 150 years. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer also stopped print publication this year, after 146 years. And the The Washington Post just announced it was closing all of its U.S. bureaus and will rely on its Washington-based reporters to cover the news either remotely or by flying in and out to visit a news scene.

The consequence of downsizing and centralization is that local news isn’t being reported as thoroughly as it used to be. In addition, many local newspapers now rely solely on outside sources – syndicated material and wire services – for all non-local news, such as science and technology news, book and movie reviews and national news.  An example: only two or three of the top 10 daily newspapers in the U.S. still do their own science reporting and write their own book reviews.

Only a few big city papers are strong enough to produce a wide range of content, and those papers are selling their content to all the others.  So while the American news media used to be decentralized, the current destruction of traditional media has led to growing centralization. As a result, those few big papers, along with Associated Press and Reuters, are now immensely influential, since their content is used so widely in place of locally-produced content.  This is ironic, since the biggest print media outlets are being eviscerated, too, and the staff cuts keep coming. 
 
It’s healthier in a democracy if there are more, rather than just a few news gathering organizations controlling media content. While we’re going through a very dark period in American journalism right now, I’m hopeful that there will eventually be a total restructuring of the news industry that will bring it back to health and bring us back a greater variety of news sources and more thorough news coverage.

–Lucy Siegel


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