PR PROs should drive insight not just news

PR agencies do more than drive news BUT they do tend to focus on the news cycle a great deal for obvious reasons.  Yet PR has to recognize that the way we consume news has changed drastically in the last five years.  Five years ago people had a primary news source, either via broadcast or a daily newspaper. Today they have a broad array of news sources that includes these same outlets, albeit online, but also includes bloggers, friends and people they follow on Twitter or are connected to on LinkedIn.  In such a fragmented market for information it is harder for companies to control their message.  This makes it far more important that companies determine the insight they want the news to create, which in will in turn drive the way they engage with the brand.  Yet all too often companies are so focussed on how to best to get the news out that they spend little, if any, time on what the news means and what they expect the people who should be connected to that news to do as a result.  In a world where we are drowning in information, the brand that goes the extra mile and helps us figure out how to make use of that information will win.  For PR agencies this means changing the way we think about the news cycle.  We need to work with our clients to make sure they understand the real and or desired implications of the news they want to promote.  There’s an old saying – there’s no such thing as bad news.  Perhaps PR consultants should worry less about the news and more about the insight.  Insight drives behaviors and actions and without these a client may well wonder why they engaged with you in the first place.


The media has been replaced

It used to be that we craved perspective and information from the media, largely because this was our only option (well apart from going to the pub with our loud mouthed friends I guess).  Anyway, it’s clear that the media got really good at influencing our behavior, likes and dislikes.  It’s also clear that it got awfully complacent. So when social media arrived it kind of ignored it.  Journalists often decried bloggers as amateurs.  How right they were.  If they’d thought about it a bit longer maybe they’d have realized that being an amateur can have its advantages.  The media was also slow to appreciate that people don’t care who gives them their news, their insight and perspective.  They just care that it is accurate and that it engages them.  We were loyal to media channels because our only choice was another media channel.  Given a completely different choice, many of us took it.  This isn’t to say the media is irrelevant and should become an historical footnote.  The media is potentially more relevant than ever.  Our world is becoming more and more complex and the expectations of the population ever more sophisticated.  We want to know, to be entertained and to be educated right now and in a way that we want.  We want live video and close up photos of the most obscure moments, not just the moments when presidents are shot.  We want to share our thoughts and hear the thoughts of others on what is happening.  We also want to act on the decisions this content may provoke.  All this and more is possible through the media, yet for some reason the media still chooses to limit the ways we participate in their process and they our lives.  So we turn to Facebook, Twitter and other social networks to learn, laugh and get stuff done.  As a result, the newspapers lie unread at the end of the driveway, the magazines in the dentist office curl at the edges and the TV stays turned off.  It’s not too late for the media but the media has to adapt to the new world.  It has to accept that it has competition for our attention.  Until it does, editorial teams will get smaller and magazines thinner.  Blame will of course be put on advertisers but we all know that advertisers are the effect and not the cause.  Come on media, get social, get engaged and show us what you’re made of.  And stop being so precious about the ‘role’ of the media.  Yes, you have a role but that role is to get us engaged, laughing, crying and doing not just listening to one point of view.


The Media Still Matter

The popular view is that traditional media is dying as we all stop reading the newspapers and instead pass our time on Twitter and Facebook.  For the generation that grew up with the Internet, the idea of reading traditional print media and watching the 6 o’clock news is an anathema.  They get their news and perspective from a raft of sources: friends, Internet friends (bloggers, communities etc), people they follow on Twitter and of course online media.  But it would be wrong to say that the media’s role has been relegated to a bit part.  The media still fuels the vast majority of twitter feeds for the adult world for example.  Indeed without traditional media, Twitter and Facebook would be very dull places.  Sadly the direct consumption of that media has dropped as people opt for the 140 character summary.  This is unlikely to change very soon.  Society now expects us to cram more and more and more in to our day.  In turn we are evolving as entertainment, news and perspective consumers into a population that expects to have its content delivered in a concentrated form.  We expect the middle east crisis, Iraq, Afghanistan and the latest jobless report to be summarized into a sentence or two.  We may be willing to look beyond the headline but a 5000 word article is just not going to be read, unless it is an amazing read, regardless of its import.  For journalists this is a nightmare come true.  These people were/are trained to dissect the news and give us the important perspectives.  They don’t even try to do that in 140 characters, or even 140 words in most cases.  But the future of journalism relies on their ability to adapt to this evolution in consumer behavior.  Some journalists get this and are embracing the opportunities online brings.  Many are simply ignoring the winds of change and are hoping that consumers will simply go back to the good ol’ days, or at least their publishers are.  This isn’t going to happen just like we haven’t all ditched our cars and gone back to riding horses. So, the media must adapt and adapt fast.  Here are some of my thoughts on how it could adapt:

1.  Fragment even faster.  The media has become fragmented but instead of fighting it it could champion it.  Instead of subscribing Forbes we can subscribe to Quentin Hardy.  Instead of making the magazine the icon, make the reporter the rock star.

2.  Create a new content model.  We currently have news, news analysis, features etc.  This model hasn’t changed much in the last 100 years.  Why not have news analysis pieces and features that are 200 words long but link to ten separate features that are also 200 words in length?  In other words make a 2000 word feature a collection of 200 words articles that fit together.

3.  Charge by the article not by the magazine.  We have all got used to iTunes and paying 99c or $1.29 for a track.  Why not offer news related content on the same basis from rock star reporters?

4.  Personalize it.  For over a decade the media has talked about making news more personal.  It hasn’t really happened.  My homepage gathers a bunch of news from traditional sources.  It doesn’t to appear to have learned anything about what I like or don’t like.  At least half the content gets ignored and much of the rest gets only a cursory view.  It’s time for the media to REALLY act in this area.

My view is simple.  The media has all the assets to succeed.  It has talent and content.  It simply needs to rethink its channel strategy.  We all care about the media and we all want the media to succeed but that doesn’t mean we always will.  A diminishing role for the media is a realistic prospect but it isn’t inevitable.

PS – I just realized that most people stopped reading (even if they started) some 3000 characters ago.


Back to school

Across America it’s back to school time.  Families are getting used to packing lunches, the joys of nightly homework and arranging after school activities.  It’s also a time when work calendars fill up as people return from vacations, supposedly refreshed.  Of course in America they don’t take the long vacations that are common in countries such as France and Sweden.  Instead they stretch to ten days, or two weeks if they are feeling particularly brave.  Either way, Americans are now ready to do battle with the economy while their kids do battle with mathematics and English.  In the world of communications and marketing in general, the summer is a quiet period where only a real crisis will garner much attention.  The Fall on the other hand is a period where news floods out as businesses launch products and make acquisitions.  The flood of news does of course make it harder to get people’s attention.  You are, after all, competing with others for your fifteen seconds of fame (the Internet equivalent of Warhol’s prediction).  So does this make sense?  I appreciate it is difficult to get things done over the summer when so many people are away and the argument goes that: what’s the point of announcing things when nobody is around to read about it?  I’d argue that in the age of social and online media, the summer is no longer a dead time for getting attention.  It is merely a dead time for people seeking it.  While I was away I checked on the news, industry and otherwise, everyday on my iPhone and I’m not that unusual.  With today’s technology people hear about the news whether they are at work on a south pacific island.  So it makes me wonder whether companies should rethink summer media madness and use the fact that attention is easier to get to their advantage.  Perhaps, therefore, it’s time for us communications folk to go back to school…


How to make people pay for media

We all consume media on a daily basis.  We love the stuff but we are paying less and less for it as our parents die and we all get our content online.  And as we all know, news online is almost all FREE.  Free isn’t a business model that really works for media.  Good journalism is expensive and tough to support through online advertising.  Rupert Murdoch has responded aggressively to this by putting a charge on many sites such as WSJ.com.  This hasn’t worked too well in part because you can still get to the content through a Google search for free.  He’s threatening to change all that though for the simple reason that they are struggling to make the economics work even with an online subscription model in place.

I have a suggestion for Mr Murdoch and other media moguls.  In the same way that we pay a cable fee in this country and even a TV license in the UK, why not charge a monthly media fee that would enable you to access all the media without having multiple subscriptions.  You’d need an aggregator such as Apple’s iTunes to get in to the mix but I’m pretty convinced that in the same way as people will pay $10 a month for satellite radio, they’d pay $10 a month to access the top 100 publications in the US.  Now there’d be a challenge figuring out which magazine or newspaper got what out of that $10 each month but I’m pretty sure it could be worked out.  It would also enable one player to take over the challenge of managing the online advertising for a host of publications, instead of having a fragmented model as they do today.   It would also mean as a user that you would only need one login.  I’d almost pay $10 a month just for that as I keep forgetting what username and password I have for various online titles.


Should boring = less newsworthy?

The sovereign debt crisis that started with Greek governments spending habits and has caused financial markets to take a beating in recent weeks has received remarkably little press considering it could result in the world being pushed in to a double dip recession.  Indeed a quick look at the major headlines of the NYT and WSJ in recent weeks will show you that they have covered the story for sure but that other items such as the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico have garnered greater attention.  Similarly you havn’t seen the debt crisis trend on Twitter.  I can only speculate as to why and my speculation is that the topic is both boring and complex.  Two factors that ultimately make it less likely to get picked up and talked about.  But just because something is dull and complex shouldn’t prevent it from being talked about if it’s important.  Surely?

I grew up in an era where the BBC covered stories because of their importance, not because they were easy to understand and interesting.  I learned to be interested in the Middle East issues simply because the BBC kept on covering them.  I worry that in an era of self publishing and an era where traditional media will do anything to get a reader/viewer, the complex and potentially less interesting stories will get short shrift.  This would be a terrible outcome.  Sometimes we need to be forced to consume news that we find tough to get through.  That may mean devoting less time to stupid human tricks on YouTube and more time to the complex economic issues going on in Europe right now.  I say this, not because a focus on Europe would necessarily improve the Greek debt crisis but because today’s Greek debt crisis is tomorrow’s equally dull story that has a more immediate impact, much closer to home.


Will the iPad be good for the media industry?

Another way to ask this question:  “will Apple’s iPad be bad for the media industry?”  Right now traditional media is struggling.  I’m not referring simply to print media which is getting more and more desperate for ways to stay alive but also broadcast media, as people spend more of their free time online.  The iPad could be a game changer for the media.  Why?  Well, the iPad does two things:

1.  It creates a new platform for the media – early views of the WSJ on the iPad suggest it is a far better product than the current online version.  This in turn suggests the iPad offers, magazine publishers in particular, new ways of presenting their content.  That’s got to be a good thing.

2. The iPad puts media back into the time equation – people currently spend their time online looking at Facebook, YouTube and Google because they like to explore, make connections, learn etc.  But the iPad creates the opportunity for media to be a part of what they find and even look for.  I, like many others these days, like to get news online.  That said, even a laptop isn’t a great substitute for a good magazine or newspaper.  An iPad may well be.  In other words, given we have all become used to spending time with our computers that we would have spent with our TVs, the iPad may start to shift the balance back towards consuming media.  Of course it will only do that if the content is worth us spending that time.

One thing is clear, if the media doesn’t grab opportunities like the iPad and the Kindle by the horns, then its steady demise will only continue.  That would be a sad, sad situation.  One that’s bad for society and of course for the media moguls.  The latter doesn’t bother me so much but the former most definitely does.


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