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 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.
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…
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.
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.