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.
PR agencies will at some point find themselves faced with the opportunity to work with a company that at one point in its history was a great. The brand in question was so well known that it was a household name. Years later that brand has lost its way and some rival has eaten its proverbial lunch. PR people, being the optimists they are, love the idea of making the once great business great again. Of course, deep down even they know that their chances of success are tied to what the brand in question actually does. If the client has finally start making a good product again, and started solving pricing and distribution problems, then PR can really step up and be a major part of the turnaround.
I recall being invited to try and help a once great Canadian business (there’s aren’t many Canadian tech businesses that were huge so you can probably guess who they are). I met the CEO and we talked about how they could tell their story in a better way. I threw out a tag line that summed up this approach. Following the meeting I heard that he loved the thinking that I and a colleague had given him. We were excited to be a part of this future success story. Then things went quiet and then, rather odly, we heard that our contact at the client had been asked to leave and then we heard that the tag line we’d given them was being used for all their adverts. We were paid nothing for that tag line btw. Indeed it seemed they’d used the meeting to get some free advice and were then acting on it. Of course the free advice didn’t really save the company and it has now filed for bankruptcy.
I truly believed the advice we had given was great advice. But at the end of the day the advice was about how they managed their communications and not about how they managed their business. What they needed was a better business model, not a new tag line or better messaging. When you realize that PR alone can’t really save a business it makes you (as a PRO) feel a little sad. We’d all like to think that with our help the business can be turned around. But unless the problems that got the business in to trouble in the first place have been solved, then PR will at best slow the process of decline. So next time you are faced with an opportunity to turn around the image of a company, be sure to find out that that is all that is needed and that the business itself is taking the steps it needs to to fix its underlying business. Otherwise you too could witness the death of a brand that has really sharp positioning but little else.
Given the media is fully engaged either by the financial market meltdown or the US election (in this country at least), it could be argued that anyone planning to launch a new product or make any other significant news announcement right now, should look at waiting until things get a little calmer. Of course that’s hard to do when you have sales teams wanting the new product to sell and or a channel doing the same. My thesis is that right now is a time when people are struggling to even pick up a newspaper or magazine given all the negative articles inside. Indeed I’d hazard a guess that at times like this circulations may well stay high but readership beyond the lead stories will be dropping like a stone. Of course this does make it a good time for companies to shovel out any bad news they have. For one it will get largely lost amongst all the other noise. It will also be measured against some of the unbelievably bad news that the banks are dishing out on a daily basis, which by default makes it not so bad. We live in interesting times.
One of my businesses recently lost out in a pitch to one of the ‘large’ agencies. The pitch had been a drawn out affair with lots of agencies in the fray. In the end it came down to a final two and we lost. I should say now that I hate losing so that needs to be factored in to the equation here. What annoyed me was that we lost out to a blatant bait and switch. It transpires that the winning agency brought a ton of people in to the pitch, of which only two junior people were ever going to work on the business.
I know that there are reasons why agencies do this. The best one is that the people who are good at pitching are not always the best at the work and vice versa. Other reasons are that the demands made in the pitch are rarely what a client wants once the work really starts. PLus there’s the fact that the right people are either away or busy with existing client work. That said I do believe we need higher ethical standards on this issue. The client I mentioned is already annoyed to find that their new team is totally different to the one that pitched. Much as I’m skeptical about the ability of our industry to enforce codes of conduct and ethical standards I feel something needs to be done.
One way to solve this is to make resource planning a key part of all pitches so that the client can see in black and white what resources will be applied for the budget. The content here could then be an integral part of the initial contract. Another way to solve this would be for an organization like the Council of PR here in the US or the PRCA in the UK to promote a code of conduct on this issue and for them to set out rules their members agree to abide by.
Am I alone in finding the bait and switch issue frustrating? Personally I feel it does our industry no credit and only serves to re-enforce the image that PR is a less than ethical business.