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.
My colleague Sam North, former managing editor of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Sun-Herald in Australia, has responded strongly to Umair Haque’s Nichepaper Manifesto. He doesn’t blog but has given me permission to post his thoughts. A little long for a blog post, but thought I would share it all:
If the Nichepaper Manifesto is some sort of harbinger of the future then God help us all. Unfortunately its broad sweep of generalities, trite statements and ill-informed comments are typical of the newspapers-are-dead lobby. I defy anyone to get their head around such an amalgamation of nonsense. The day the article was sent to me today (Wednesday, August 5), as usual, I read the AFR (a specialist finance and business newspaper and website which seeks - and many say succeeds in doing - to develop a perspective, analytical skills, and storytelling capabilities that are inimitable by rivals . . Nichepaper, anyone?), The Australian, the SMH and the Daily Telegraph. All three strove to impart meaningful, lasting knowledge by extensively educating, enlightening and informing me about many issues, particularly the Ozcar debacle in Canberra and the terrorism arrests in Melbourne.
Far from radically reinventing what news is, both those issues had the previous day been the subject of astonishing news breaks by The Australian, with the paper exclusively revealing that Godwin Gretch had admitted to writing the fake email and – even more astoundingly – revealing that the massive police terror raids were being carried out even as our papers were being delivered.
The SMH and The Australian had sections on local news, world news, arts, sport and business (Nichepapers?) and separate liftout sections on Money (SMH), Higher Education, Wealth and the Australian Literature Review. Both papers have interactive websites with the last figures I saw showing smh.com.au with more than 4.3 million unique browsers each month and theaustralian.com.au with 1.4 million.
The Nichepaper Manifesto says Nichepapers ‘’are different because they have built a profound mastery of a tightly defined domain – finance, politics, even entertainment – and offer audiences deep, unwavering knowledge of it.’’
One would have thought that the SMH, The Australian and the AFR – along with their attendant specialist sections – offer all that, plus something more: eyeballs.
The latest circulation figures show that, far from the sky falling, the top three quality broadsheets in Australia – the SMH, The Age and The Australian – slightly increased circulation over the previous 12 months. And, in fact, the three papers have increased circulation over the past five years. And, while I can’t talk for The Australian, I do know the SMH and The Age remain profitable.
News (of the current definition, not the yet to be disclosed reinvented definition) still sells. The Daily Telegraph in London increased daily circulation by around 100,000 during the recent period when it was drip-feeding stories about the spending habits of British parliamentarians.
It is true that advertising has tanked in newspapers. But my theory is that everyone loves a new toy and the lure of the bright, shiny new media was difficult to resist. But in the light of a post-Christmas hangover sometimes those toys are looked at in a more critical light – they might be trendy, but are they better at doing the job?
Nielsen research released in April showed that more than 60 per cent of Twitter users have stopped using the service a month after joining; the two latest ANZ job advertisements surveys have shown an increase in newspaper job ads in June (0.9%) and a decrease (0.4%) in July, while online ads fell 4.8% in June and 3.6% in July.
What it all means, I’m not sure but I’ll finish with a blog in March from Tim Pethick, the young entrepreneur who successfully launched Nudie drinks, among other products. He told of his product Sultry Sally chips, a low fat brand available in Woolworths. Woolies, which had launched a rival product, told Pethick that he had to engage in mainstream advertising to boost the sales of his chips. Pethick wrote: ‘’to be forced into a position where I have to take a traditional, main media approach is anathema.’’ His fears were multiplied when a partner suggested advertising on 2GB.
‘’My heart sank. Strategically, I couldn’t think of anything worse. We are talking radio; worse, AM radio; worse still, talk-back radio; even worse, a radio station that everyone knows is only listened to by a few old punters – way, way off target and brand for us.’’ Needless to say the product walked off the shelves, with stores emptied of Sultry Sally chips. ‘’It is working like nothing I have seen before,’’ wrote Pethick. ‘’I love the fact that the old ways still count for something; I love the fact that I can still be surprised, be wrong and learn from it.’’
Actually I won’t finish on that, I’ll finish with the Nichepaper Manifesto which writes that ‘’Nichepapers are the future of news because their economies are superior.’’ ‘’What is different about them is that they are finding new paths to growth, and rediscovering the lost art of profitability by awesomeness’’. And what is the lost art of profitability by awesomeness?
I quote: ‘’When you can make awesome stuff, you don’t need to find “better” ways to sell it. The fundamental challenge of the 21st century isn’t selling the same old lame, toxic junk in new ways: its detoxifying and dezombifying it, by learning how to make insanely great stuff in the first place.’’
As you can see, Sam holds a firm view towards the newspaper lobby and its future, perhaps being an ex hack and all that. But he makes his points very vividly and with passion, just as Umair did in his original post.
Of course, plenty to debate here for everyone.
Right about now, the Global Financial Crisis has probably hit most companies marketing budgets, with CEO’s tightening the belt on expenses as their revenue lines come down. Prudently these chief executives seek to bring costs into line with revenues.
A study by the Aberdeen Group, a Harte-Hanks company, found ‘82% of companies have reallocated their planned marketing spend for 2009 to varying degrees on account of the recession.’
The Aberdeen analyst continues with what would seem to be the bleeding obvious: ‘Companies need to ensure that they’re allocating their limited marketing funds in the most productive ways possible … In other cases, companies are actually investing more aggressively in various types of marketing programs, sensing an opportunity to capitalize on the grim economic headlines.’
So for PR managers across the globe this means that marketers are probably beating a direct path to their doorstep looking to leverage ‘free PR’ to augment their dwindling demand generation dollars. This is good news.
It’s good because like the Marines, PR comes to the rescue and to the forefront of marketers’ consciousness. It’s good because PR executed and managed correctly can do enormous good for awareness, consideration and preference. And finally it’s good because social media is the next black and PR as a discipline is primed and ready to take to this new vehicle with a vengeance.
Smart PR managers will be evaluating and prioritizing their core dollars and then looking to see how they can maximize and deliver results on the incremental dollars that some of the marketing folks will bring to the table. The even smarter ones will start to factor into their PR programs effectiveness metrics and will be able to provide a correlation between the campaign or program spend and execution and whatever pre-determined measures were agreed with the marketing folks. That then provides clear accountability and enables PR to talk the marketing talk and walk it at the same time.
Unlike traditional media, social media metrics provide a fantastic opportunity to highlight PR ROI, if done correctly. Linking back a PR-specific program to traffic, or eyeballs or community conversations can be easier (and cheaper) than the more traditional qual and quant analyses of print and broadcast media. There are powerful online tools that allow you to do this and even automate the reporting.
All in all, now is a great time to be in PR.
Last week I posted on the explosion of online video and how video can be incorporated into your traditional PR campaigns. In the post, I listed a number of “tips” for shooting your first video interview, and preparing company spokespersons and subject matter experts for what oftentimes, is their first foray into video. As a natural extension to that post, I thought I would check in with Ogilvy PR’s Moving Media Group–broadcast arm of our Creative Studio that concepts and creates TV Commercials, Radio, PSAs, B-roll, and Industrial products for both broadcast and non-broadcast purposes–to see if they had any additional guidelines for creating video. Here’s what I found:
According to a new book released by the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, journalists face “two years of carnage”.
Titled “A report, Life in the Clickstream: The Future of Journalism”, the book also revealed it’s very possible that the biggest media companies in the US will come crashing down due to cost-cutting and reduced quality, while five in 11 newspapers will vanish in Britain. After all, more than 12,000 journalists around the world lost their jobs this year.
Media Alliance federal secretary Christopher Warren said that usually, journalism has traditionally “thrived on the emergence of disruptive technologies even as economic models have changed”. The Australian newspaper spoke to Christopher and filed a story yesterday.
In the article Warren says: “Like all crises, the challenges journalism faces are rewriting everything we thought we knew about the news media and causing us to question the basis on which the industry has survived and flourished.” Whilst journalists are using technology to find new and progressive ways to keep the public informed, in the report 70 per cent revealed they’re now experiencing increased workloads due to a shrinking of the workforce.
As to the future, 19 per cent said they were excited about the future of journalism, but 35 per cent said they were pessimistic about their prospects.
Just like the PR industry has to modify the rule book in terms of how it uses social media and the Internet to help its clients participate in conversations and reach new influencers outside heritage media; by the same token journalists and publishers face even tougher challenges to retain relevance, especially as audiences continue to fragment the world over and chose multiple sources for information. Add to this the financial crisis now sweeping the world and further cost pressures will only amplify the speed of change.
The Australian article looks at what might evolve if mainstream news organisations collapse, citing research from the City University of New York. That says an organic news organisation could evolve - based on bloggers, video shooters and photographers, it would be augmented by community managers, program developers artists and run by just a handful of editors, all on an annual budget of $2.1 million.
On a brighter note, and to update on my last post about PC Magazine’s decision to cull its print title, Roy Morgan has just released circulation figures in Australia for the last 12 months. The good news is that PC magazines did remarkably well. PC User’s readership climbed from 281,000 to 313,000 while APC went up from 275,000 to 280,000. PC Authority went up from 154,000 to 158,000, and PC Powerplay up from 111,000 to 115,000. Netguide was the only tech title to record a fall, dipping from 106,000 to 99,000. For even more analysis, check out last year’s results to compare.
Some good news to end on.
I have mentioned the benefits of using social bookmarking sites before but I think it’s beneficial to mention it again - mainly people seem to be more receptive to using online Web 2.0 tools these days. And more and more, we are seeing people use these tools in a professional sense.
For example, PR practitioners and journalists in Australia are now frequenting Twitter as part of their daily grind. Journalists are using Twitter to put a shout out for spokespeople for stories they are writing. PR practitioners are shouting out news announcements and interview opportunities in a bid to get media interest.
I’m a great fan of Digg. For those newbies out there, a ‘digg’ is similar to a favourite.
The content on Digg is submitted by the consumer and is voted on by other consumers. The more ‘diggs’ you get on content that you have uploaded, the higher up it climbs in the Digg ranks. If you’re content is absolutely fabulous and many people are ‘digging’ it, it can even be promoted to the front site page for millions of site visitors to see.
Digg is a fantastic example and proof point of a successful online community!
Leveraging these sites as a PR professional or a journalist
If you receive a fantastic piece of online media coverage for a client of yours, you can upload it to Digg. You will then be asked to submit the content along with a title, description and a tag that is suitable for the content.
What are the benefits? More journalists today are using social bookmarking sites to research specific categories. And It’s a tool you can use to try and generate additional media coverage for a client.
If you aren’t already doing so, I would suggest that you join Digg. Upload your published online content to the site. By submitting stories here you are extending your reach to a truly global audience. You can even build a cult following in Digg - those that will get to know and love your stories, read them and share them on with others.
Bloggers are using Digg as part of their daily beat as well. Increasingly, we are seeing instances of where bloggers or journalists pick up others news stories from Digg and reference it in their blogs - increasing the popularity of the story and the site origination.
I encourage you all to set up a Digg account and start experimenting. I’d love to hear your thoughts on social bookmarking sites? Can it really work to leverage stories? Can you really generate additional media coverage by submitting content to the site?
This may be a slightly controversial post with many different opinions floating around. Let me know what you think and whether this is a global trend.
Nick Davies, an investigative journalist of 30 years’ standing who works mainly for England’s Guardian newspaper, has put the spotlight rather savagely on his own industry and questioned what he sees as a deeply disturbing decline in journalistic standards. He also cites PR as a contributor. These assertions were recently aired in a TV interview in Australia on the ABC.
Davies says that journalistic standards are declining the world over as cost cutting and government pressures take toll on the industry. In his book, Flat Earth News, which focuses mainly on the state of UK quality newspapers, he argues that the combination of manipulation by government and the PR industry on a media industry under endless cost-cutting pressures and an expanding workload is a pattern repeated the world over. An irony of timing with big staff cuts just announced at Australia’s oldest newspaper group, Fairfax Media.
In the interview Davies says, “Big corporations have taken over newspapers, which used to be owned by small family firms, and injected the logic of commercialism into newsrooms and that logic has overwhelmed the logic of journalism.
“The big structural sign of that is that all across the developed world these new corporate owners of the newsrooms have cut editorial staff at the same time as they’ve increased the output of those staff. And the result of that is, crudely put… in the UK we did a big calculation on this, your average Fleet Street reporter now has only a third of the time to spend on each story that he or she used to have 20 years ago. If you take away time from reporters, you are taking away their most important working asset. So they can’t do their jobs properly any more.
“In this commercialised world, you have journalists who instead of being active gatherers of news - going out and finding stories and making contacts and doing funny old-fashioned things like checking facts, they’ve become instead passive processors of second-hand information, stuff that come up on the wire Reuters or AP, stuff that comes from the PR industry. And they churn it out. I use this word “churnalism” instead of journalism.”
Davies clearly feels journalists are led along, particularly by the PR industry. His examples are not so much in the technology sector, although he does talk about the millennium bug, but more mainstream. He also notes a pattern of many journalists who have lost their job moving across to PR.
Davies says the impact of electronic technology is very complex on this whole problem.
Whilst he admits journalists can do more research from the desktop and stories remain online permanently, the second implication is that they’ve lost their deadlines. He says the pressure is immense, always there five minutes ahead of your nose every day. Not only that, but journalists now have to write the story, do an audio version, a vodcast, a podcast, and so it goes on. The end result is the quality of the work is going down even though the amount and the variation of the product is increasing.
And his thoughts on bloggers is also quite depressing.
“I don’t agree with the view that we will be saved by the operation of citizen journalists and bloggers…..an awful lot of what bloggers put out is false, is crazy ideas and crazy facts, to the extent that bloggers have reliable information very often that’s because they’re feeding off the small extent to which the mainstream media are coming up with reliable information. If the mainstream is going to carry on getting weaker, as I fear, then the proportion of reliable information which the bloggers come up with will also decline,” he says.
And his prognosis for TV and radio is no different. “It’s in the same kind of mess that the print media are in. There’s no difference, I’m afraid, because news is expensive and unless we find a new financial model we won’t be able to deliver it and I don’t quite see where that new financial model is coming from and I don’t know any media proprietor who can see it either. They’re all very worried.”
Personally, whilst there are some points in this article that I concur with, I think the accusation of PR being a big contributor to the quality of journalism is a bit of a stretch. Like many industries in this modern era, publishers have to change their business models and this will impact their operations. This is changing the way in which journalists spend their working day. But technology can also help and I don’t think Davies looks at that side much either in this interview. I haven’t read the book, but my hunch is that it will be overlooked.
I think the technology press are adapting well, blending online and print, or dropping print and going totally online. We have seen the size of editorial teams decline and technology journalists are getting younger. But the young ones seem very adaptable, taking content for print, shooting a video and posting fast. Many of them are also generalists rather than specialists. But despite those circumstances, they are smart, savvy people and it is no different trying to get a story up with them now than it was three years ago. In fact, with some smaller books due to the decline in advertising spend, in many instances it is getting harder.
So I’ve been toying around with Twitter a lot more these days. So much so, I have been abandoning my blog. I think more and more we will start to see the quality of blog posts decline with the emergence of microblogging - thanks to Web 2.0 tools such as Twitter. Twitter gives you the option to update your network/ neighbourhood on what you are doing in a mere 140 characters.
The instantaneous nature of this means that you can easily update those that are following you on what you are up to and track what others are up to as well. I was originally critical of Twitter but I am starting to find it more useful in a professional work sense. In fact, in my perception it is taking over Facebook as one of the most valuable social networking sites.
The interesting thing here for me is that you can apply it to every day work. My Twitter neighbourhood, albeit small, is a circle of PR people and journalists. The aim = to expand my small neighbourhood! Anyway, I digress…
Although many of the posts that we upload don’t necessarily provide too much insight - I find out when people need to go to the bathroom, what they had for breakfast and when they are on the train but on several occasions it can really useful. You can pick up a lead on a story that a journalist is working on, what topics he/ she covers, when he/ she is going overseas, find out what they think of products they are reviewing and reporting on, what topics light a fire under them and so forth. It’s a great way to keep your finger on the pulse and stay in contact. Now that I think about it more, I would actually compare this to LinkedIn - it seems to be quite valuable as a professional networking tool.
I’d be surprised if blog subscriptions weren’t in decline due to the rise in Twitter feeds. This has strong implications for mobiles as well. These days, new and emerging technologies are mirroring the lifestyle trends of today’s consumers’. As people want to access to real-time information from friends, access to news, entertainment, and be able to communicate from anywhere at anytime - we are finding that today’s technologies such as mobile phones and web 2.0 tools such as Twitter are accommodating these needs.
Feel free to pipe up if you have some answers because I haven’t done all my homework in this area. Are we seeing a trend now - as people become more time poor are we seeing blog posts getting shorter? Rather than well-researched, quality blog posts - are these increasingly becoming short excerpts and randon bursts of one’s thoughts?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this…
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