Like a lot of people yesterday I sat slack-jawed as the impact of Bloomberg’s acquisition of BusinessWeek filtered through Twitter. I’m still having trouble understanding how BusinessWeek is in better shape without many of the incredible talents who are now left to chart new courses.
As the departures settled in - compounded by the week’s AP layoffs - I realized that my own response is really based on the vague sense that this period of destruction will be creative and beneficial.
I have no objective reason for believing that journalism will be better off for these changes, and deep down I know that the arguments of pessimists have as much going for them as those of optimists.
Nevertheless I can’t shake the belief that we’re headed in a good direction, even if it the road is painful. I’m not one to proselytize, but here are my articles of faith:
Is this blind faith? Perhaps. But I see new reasons to believe in it every day.
According to PR Newser Ken Auletta reports in his book, Googled that Larry Page told his PR department that he would give them “a total of eight hours of his time that year for press conferences, speeches, or interviews.”
Supposedly the Google founders aren’t fond of PR. Although Google apparently has 130 people working in the PR department so maybe they don’t find PR so distasteful after all . . .
The interesting thing, to me anyway, is that if I were Larry Page - and I’m a long way from being Larry Page - I’d probably do the same thing. In fact it strikes me as a pretty sensible approach for Google right now.
Let me explain.
A lot of times public relations professionals focus on two things - the message and the pitch - at the expense of all else. But there’s a third quality - connected to messaging and pitching - that we don’t spend enough time thinking about and that is at the heart of strategic public relations: the narrative.
The narrative, as the name implies, is the story of the company or organization over a set period of time. It has protagonists, antagonists, plots, plot devices, climaxes and denouements. There’s never just one of course and large brands such as Google always have several narratives they want to be associated with, several they wish people would forget, and several they hope never get told.
There was a time when the ’silicon valley whiz kids behind that oddly-named new search engine’ made sense as Google’s dominant narrative. That narrative got old a long time ago. The story Google is telling now, the narrative they deserve to be known for, needs to be spun around the various ways they are unlocking access to various types of data and the incredible array of talent - beyond Brin and Page - who are making that happen.
The Page/Brin celebrity gets in the way of that narrative and obscures it. It may be harder to secure a journalist’s attention without them - I wouldn’t know - but if staying consistent with the right narrative takes more work then isn’t that what you have to do?
I was quick to post my criticisms yesterday to Rupert Murdoch’s apparent decision to delist his media sites from Google. Too quick it seems, as in my rush I neglected to consider a possible counter argument, blogged here by Mark Cuban.
The core of Cuban’s post appears to be that Murdoch is right because Twitter and Facebook are on their way to eclipsing Google as the primary content gateways and that these sites pose no threat to publishers. I think he’s sort of right and sort of wrong.
Departing once again from my rule to never disagree with billionaires, here is what I think is right and wrong with this argument:
- Cuban: “This is not 1999, nor is it 2004, nor is it 2006, nor is it 2008. The calendar is about to turn to 2010. What worked and made sense 3,5 and 10 years ago, no longer does.”
o Me: Yes it is 2009, not 1999, 2004 2006 or 2008 - but in 2009 the Wall Street Journal get’s about 25% of its traffic from Google and 10-15% of its revenue as a result.
- Cuban: “TWITTER IS SURPASSING GOOGLE as a destination for finding information on breaking and recent news of all types.”
o Me: Surpassing? Maybe. Actually, let’s just say that’s definitely true. Surpassing isn’t the same as surpassed. Look at the numbers I point out above. That’s all still true. The numbers aren’t likely to change dramatically in the short term. They may change eventually and perhaps sooner then I think, but not tomorrow and probably not within the next 12 months.
- Cuban: “Whats more, TWITTER POSSES NO THREAT to any destination news site.”
o Me: No, you can’t fit a whole news story in 140 characters. You know what you can fit? News. Some people will want the whole story, some won’t. On the other hand it’s worth bearing in mind that newspapers aren’t just about breaking and recent news. Journalism, especially the kind that you can get at the Wall Street Journal and only a few other destinations, is bigger than that.
- Cuban: “if I trust a newspaper, tv or any brand, I can follow it on twitter and expect the news to come to me.”
o Me: Totally agree, good point . . . as long as you know who you want to follow. If you don’t you know what would be really helpful in finding out? Google.
- Cuban: “Having to search for and find news in search engines is so 2008.”
o Me: And for 25% of the Wall Street Journal’s visitors, so 2009.
- Cuban: “Nor am I saying that Google is toast and has no role. Non real time feed users will continue to source news through Google. I just see that as a declining number in an era where much of our first crack at news is via our phone. But, perfect or not, the bottom line is that in this new era of twitter, things have changed.”
o Me: I’ve been pretty critical but actually, I think this is right - or will be right. I do think more and more content discovery will happen outside of Google and Google News. I also think it’s quite possible that the competition could eclipse Google in this area. Here’s where I get off the bus, however: why delist? It’s just . . . unnecessary. You want to charge for your content? Charge. Why make it impossible to find through Internet users’ most popular form of discovery: search?
I make it a rule not to disagree with billionaires but Rupert Murdoch’s apparent plan to make News Corp sites invisible to search engines is mystifying.
The media industry isn’t dying; it’s changing, and while it undergoes this metamorphosis there will continue to be a lot of hand wringing, a lot of failed experiments and a lot of creative destruction. This is a bad thing, obviously, for those employees and companies that are left out in the cold, but journalism will survive and professional news gatherers will continue to be paid - even if we don’t precisely know how (though I suspect some pay walls will work).
So things are changing and we don’t know who’s going to end up on top. It’s only natural that publishers would experiment and it’s absolutely natural that they would turn their ire on search engines (Google, principally) that seem to be responsible for putting their business in jeopardy.
But making your content invisible to search engines? Murdoch rationalizes this by saying: “What’s the point of having someone coming occasionally?” and “If they’re just search people… They don’t suddenly become loyal readers.”
Why indeed? And while we’re at it, why sell first year subscriptions at deep discounts? Why sell single issues at newsstands or in bookstores?
Perhaps the misunderstanding stems from the use of the phrase “search people” as if we were a class or a generation. Search people aren’t a slice of the population or a demographic, they’re people, as in: people-people, as in: the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, and the investment banker, the lawyer, and the day trader.
Today, and for the foreseeable future, search engines are everyone’s gateway to the Internet making them, by default, the gateway to the content, all the content, found therein. To be sure, today’s dedicated readers will probably continue to be dedicated readers - those that currently pay, anyway - but what about the (hoped-for) readers of tomorrow? They’re to become dedicated readers how?
That’s only part of the problem, however. The larger issue is one of relevance. Its one thing to institute a pay wall, readers can decide based on headlines, first paragraphs or third party commentary whether an article is worth a micropayment. But removing something from search engines is, almost by definition, synonymous with removing it from the Internet itself. How can you be part of a discussion, part of a community of interest if no one can find you or if the barriers to interacting with you are so cumbersome (Murdoch also seems to indicate a coming wave of fair use lawsuits targeting, presumably, blogs)?
Murdoch wants his readers on his terms but the Internet doesn’t work that way. News - but not journalism - is basically free and plentiful. Journalism has a low, and lowering, barrier to entry. Asking people to pay for your content, find your content without the benefit of search engines, and continue to read your content as it stands roped off from the rest of community is asking too much.
Or so I believe. I could be wrong. I’m no billionaire. Maybe rendering the Wall Street Journal obsolete is part of some master plan to reinvent the media business through Seppuku.
At the Australian launch of Windows7 today, Microsoft has invited Twitter followers to take part, with the event being streamed live through Ustream.tv . These followers have the chance to engage directly with senior Microsoft executives, and during the Q&A session, every fourth question will come directly from the Twitter feed.
However, a number of journalists are not keen. First they would prefer questions only come from journalists at the event itself. Second, they’re worried the Twitter questions will be filtered and that only the easy ones will be answered. Third, they’re concerned it will take up too much time and give real journalists less opportunity to table their questions. But with only 140 characters and no follow up, it’s not likely to be a time consuming exercise.
One alternative suggestion put forward by a journalist is to run a Q&A by the likes of Slashdot and Digg, where questions are crowd sourced, than a top ten are posed to the interviewee and would better represent what the audience wants to know.
Either way, it will be interesting to see how it goes and the reaction. Twitter is now common place on TV with live studio audience shows using it to get questions in real time from viewers.
How many other PRs, particularly from the tech sector, are incorporating Twitter feeds like this into big events? What has the feedback been? Keen to hear what people think.
There is a vast amount of research that has been conducted recently regarding the consumers’ preferred method of receiving marketing communication. A recent study by Forrester Research, and commissioned by ExactTarget, highlights that the majority of consumers today still have a strong affinity towards email.
The important take out: Consumers prefer email at a rate of three-to-one when compared with any other avenue for marketing communications such as social media, Instant Messaging, phone and SMS!
Despite the abundance of research that all points towards email being the marketing method of choice for consumers, why do marketers continue to ignore this?
Despite the spike of Internet users using social media, for example three quarters of Australian online adults now use social technologies (Forrester: Australian Adult Social Technographics Revealed 2008), as a general rule, consumers are NOT open to receiving marketing communication via this channel.
As social media continues to boom with new channels for communication being created everyday (with new social networking sites and the like popping up), there is an overreliance and tendency to use this medium for all-purposes in order to reach the masses.
Unfortunately we forego the very fundamental principles of Marketing 101.
We need to stop, think, plan and go back to basics:
Who are our customers?
Where are they?
What are their preferences for receiving marketing messages?
What are the right messages for each customer segment?
What channel do we use to reach them?
A quick Google search and some top line research is enough to reveal where our customers’ preferences sit. It’s all very simple. Follow the basic principles of marketing and target the right marketing messages to the right audience based on their preferences using the appropriate channels!
Yet sadly we are missing the point! We’re frustrating consumers and, ultimately, not getting the outcomes that we desire!
Last week, Strategy + Business published an article titled, “What a Declining Business Media Means to CEOs.”
While this article was written for CEO’s, I think it’s important to understand what this means for PR professionals. The declining business media is not news to the PR industry, but as we come to terms with this change, we need to be smart on how we can help.
Basically the article argues that as cost cutting narrows the field of business journalism, it has become more difficult to put out a corporate story. And for the journalists at the remaining business publications, they are increasingly unable to offer insightful business coverage. The author goes on to say that there are basically three consequences for business decision makers: business coverage could become more negative toward profit and enterprise than it is today, corporate decision makers have less of a platform to display their company’s strategy and corporate leaders now have fewer opportunities to learn from one another’s experience, or even to know what’s going on in their regions and industries. The article offers suggestions for CEO’s, but I would like to offer a few tips to help PR professionals be effective as possible in this changing landscape.
1 – Continue to make it easy for journalists. We know that as PR professionals we need to offer journalists (especially young, inexperienced ones) all the facts. We need to build the story for them, and make it as easy as possible. Not only do we need to continue doing that, but we need to take it one step further and facilitate from A to Z. If they aren’t going to ask the challenging questions, let’s address them upfront for them. If we know others are going to criticize the company, then lets offer an alternative POV from a third-party. We need to help journalists collect all the facts so that they are able to write well-balanced, insightful stories.
2 – Don’t give up on traditional media. Do not let your CEO give up because he doesn’t understand Twitter. While the business media landscape is definitely getting more challenging and the use of social media mediums are increasing, it is not the death of business media. In this changing environment, there are still opportunities to meet with business reporters and have your story told. We need to work with senior executives to help them tell their story in a way that is relevant to a business media audience and offers a fresh perspective.
3 – Capitalize on existing communications platforms where you control the message. For example, earnings calls. If you know you will already have the attention of a group of reporters, use that time to explain how your company’s performance impacts the industry and world. Work with the CFO or CEO to tell journalists something they don’t already know or can’t get from the press release.
In this declining business media environment, we shouldn’t forget that some of the core, proven media relations tactics can still work, if executed well. However, have the conversation with your CEO and other senior executives sooner rather than later, so they are educated on what is happening. Many of them may not want to believe it or hear it. Let them know it’s a change they need to embrace but that there are ways to work together to address the challenges ahead.
Last week I had the pleasure of representing Ogilvy PR at the Washington Business Journal’s event honoring the fifty fastest growing companies in the Washington, DC area.
While horrified to discover a concoction named the ‘Ogiltini‘ that the organizers had thoughtfully dreamed up, I was truly amazed - and pleased - to discover that the ‘fast 50′ generated $14.15 billion in 2008 revenue and some of them had average annual growth rates in excess of 100%. (Data center company DuPont Fabros Technology, the fastest of the fast, grew a ridiculous 328.44%)
As a long-time tech PR person my attention, naturally, was drawn to how technology companies fared. I expected to see a large number of government contractors on the list and, while I was right, I was surprised at the scale; the federal government was the primary customer of almost half the companies on the list (20 out of 50).
In fact, the dominance of companies selling some sort of technology product or service to the government was so overwhelming that no other industry had more than 3 companies represented on the entire list.
So what does this mean? Well, for starters the government is clearly open for business and companies with an IT services offering should be in a position to do particularly well.
But the government isn’t the only game in town. Companies like DuPont Fabros Technology, Apptix, Vocus, Blackboard and iCore may not address the same market but are all part of the broad technology community and proof that - along with the government-focused IT companies - while we may not be Silicon Valley, tech has home in DC as well.
The media and communications worlds may be in great turmoil and evolution respectively, but a few things remain the same. Media and PR pros both love lists. Lists bring order to things, allow analysts to analyze, and give a platform for brands to say, “see why you should love me”.
This year’s World’s Best Companies list from BusinessWeek ventures to teach our technology PR discipline a little bit more.
Here are a few lessons, some old some new, that jumped out at me.
A.T. Kearney says looking forward they see two important factors that are most likely to drive global economic performance - “leveraging technology and innovation to enhance productivity, and demographic shifts such as graying populations. “
The former bodes well for technology PR pros. Until then, long live the list!
Owned by Kraft, a new recipe of Vegemite was launched a few months back, but without a name. Instead, the name was entrusted to the Australian public as a competition. This week, the winning entry was unveiled and it has been called – iSnack 2.0. Yep, can you believe it? How can you give food a name like that. What is going on?
As you would expect, the public is equally puzzled. As is the modern debate, the social media channels have been on fire with opinions on both sides. The mainstream media has also reported heavily, both here in Australia and overseas, given the iconic status of the Vegemite brand and probably because it’s such an unusual name.
Personally, I have to agree with the negative camp. It is one of the most unusual product names in living memory.
What do you think?
Or, is it going to be remembered as a smart PR stunt to simply get people talking about the product? Would we be at all surprised if the product is re-named in a few weeks, due to the weight of negative consumer feedback? We will find out soon enough.
In the meantime, like it’s famous UK counterpart Marmite, you will either love it or hate it (the iSnack 2.0 name I mean).
Update: Kraft has just announced it has dropped the iSnack 2.0 name and will get the Australian public to vote again.
The State of Cleantech and Sustainability Communications