This weekend, I read the newspaper. What I mean by that is I read the physical newspaper, which is something that I have not done regularly in a nearly a decade. While reading, I remembered how skimming through the physical newspaper lends itself to inadvertently reading about different subjects.
For example, in the past, I would read the newspaper’s content by skimming through some stories, skipping some sections and for the most part taking in the entire paper. What could begin with reading a front page story about a national issue could easily lead to a back page story about Somali insurgents, or Central Asian politics.
I traded in this experience, as have many of my generation, for the customized, editor-free approach to reading the news that Google Reader and RSS feeds have enabled. Now, my news feeds are tailored to my interests, political leanings and professional focus. While my Reader and RSS feed give me greater depth of knowledge into the subjects I am interested in, it seems to come at the expense of less knowledge in a wider range of subjects.
With these changes in content delivery in mind, I became very interested in two new products that attempt to address how our news is formatted – Time Inc.’s new line of digital magazines and a new iPad application called Flipboard.
In attempt to reconnect digital readers to the old print layout of magazines, Sports Illustrated (SI) and publisher Time Inc. (magazine publishers in general, for that matter) are taking their layouts and content and, in the words of Peter Kafka, “porting their printed product to digital form, adding some audio and video, as well as selected links to the Web.” (Read more here).
On the other hand, the much-buzzed about Flipboard, (here) assembles your social media content on the iPad in a way that is similar to reading physical publications – by creating an interface that is similar to that of a magazine.
In presenting readers with digital content laid out like a magazine, Time is fighting an uphill battle against news consumption trends, particularly among young customers who didn’t grow up reading in the magazine format. Conversely, the repackaging of social media content into a magazine layout is like stuffing an MP3 player into the body of a turntable and misses the real reason why magazine/print media readers still choose the actual physical copy of publications.
How do you weigh in on this subject? Does Time Inc. have the solution to sagging sales? Will Flipboard speed the traditional media’s demise?
There’s no doubt that 2009 was a year that (further) changed our job as PR professionals. As I’m sure you’ve heard a million times, it’s an all new, ever changing world and we need to learn, move and adapt quickly. But, in concrete terms, what does that mean?
From my point of view (mostly from the agency side) I thought I’d list out the priorities for a tech PR practitioner in 2010. I think they stand for both experienced professionals and people just getting into PR.
One thing is for sure: our job is indeed getting more and more complex, challenging, and fascinating. All three qualities that have kept me in the same business for so many years.
1. Becoming a Content Creator. Technologies and the media environment are making it possible for companies to reach out to their stakeholders directly. PR must lead content creation. Cisco has done that very well for quite some time now, with News@Cisco. IBM is now following with the recent hire of Steve Hamm. I am sure many others will follow. A content strategy is pivotal in any good public relations plan.
2. Telling Stories Visually. As PR professionals we need to become better visual storytellers. Read The Back of the Napkin for inspiration – you can get the new companion workbook to put Roam’s principles into practice on Amazon. Perfect way to start the new year!
3. Learn how to use multimedia tools. Now that you’ve put Content and Visual Storytelling at the center, learn how to make news using all the multimedia tools available and how to develop and manage an editorial calendar (or hire people who do it well.) We will see more journalists getting in-house to do precisely this. Steve Hamm at IBM won’t be the only one.
4. Get a Room! I mean a media room. Nowadays it is so much easier to have a studio close to your executives or your clients so you can easily shoot video without taking away a lot of their time. This can be very handy in times of crisis where you want a quick response. In this post you can find specific suggestions on my favorite equipment.
5. Become a social media expert (if you are not one already.) Social Media is integrated in everything we do. PR professionals that are not at least proficient in Social Media, are going to be obsolete before the end of the year. So, don’t rely only on “experts”. Become an expert.
6. Think 360. Talking about integration, don’t stop at social media. Think about all the communication disciplines. Clients and companies face communication or reputation (or both) challenges. Rarely can something be solved by one communication discipline. PR, AR Marketing, IR, HR (Internal Communication), and in some instances Sales and Customer Service needs to work together in a more integrated way than ever before.
7. Develop new services and become more efficient. More for less is here to stay. Now that companies have learned (by necessity) to do and demand from their agency partners to get more for less, why would they go back to getting less for more? For agencies that means providing higher-value services and be more efficient in providing traditional support.
8. Identify the right measurement criteria for your needs. If #7 is true (and believe me, it is), ROI is going to be even more important than before. Flexible measurement solutions, that cost less than 10% of the total investment, will become critical for the success of a Corporate Communication department and for the agency.
9. Integrate your customers in your PR planning. As consumers are co-brand managers, really playing a major role in shaping global brands like Google, Apple and Ford, B2B companies need to work closely with their customers so they can become co-brand managers too. What they say, think or write about will affect your reputation and brand building. A hint? It’s not just about developing and pitching case studies.
10. Understand where influence begins and how it works. Too often I hear that PR is going to die (yawn) because social media is changing the media landscape so there is less and less traditional media. The reality is that PR is not only media relations. The big opportunity for PR professionals is to understand the new “influencer” landscape to a greater detail than before. Understand the ecosystem where your company or client belongs to, and how to engage those influencers and the people who influence them.
My best wishes to a wonderful 2010.
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.
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.
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.
It’s been really interesting to see how the terrorist attacks in India, Mumbai, have played out using social media - Twitter and blogging in particular. In fact, I am led to believe that social media even beat traditional media to the punch with the announcement of this news.
Some Twitter users used the micro-blogging platform to send out calls for blood donors to make their way to Mumbai hospital where existing and anticipated casualties were being sent. It was also used to get news out fast on those that had been injured and killed and information regarding support numbers for those that had friends and family involved in the attacks were also posted on Twitter.
Although this has been a great tool to get information out on what those on the ground were experiencing in instantaneous nature, it has also fuelled a rumour-mill. There are accounts of Twitter users publishing posts exaggerating the number of casualties and generally sensationalising the situation of the attacks.
CNN reported in the article I cite above: “What is clear that although Twitter remains a useful tool for mobilizing efforts and gaining eyewitness accounts during a disaster, the sourcing of most of the news cannot be trusted.”
People caught up in the Mumbai attacks, including the hotel hostages, were also using their blogs as a news medium to disseminate information on the situation on the ground in India. Bloggers posted their accounts of the tragedy when it unfolded, as it unfolded.
This is indeed a strong reminder of how powerful social media can be as a disseminator of news - whether this news is entirely factually correct or not. Social media has the power to beat traditional media to the punch due to its instantaneous nature and a force to be reckoned with. It’s an online tour de force for distributing instant information to the masses.
I’m interested to get your thoughts on this. Do you think social media played too large a part to play in telling the stories surrounding these tragic circumstances? Do you think it levels the playing field between traditional media and citizen journalists and social media? Feel free to contribute other parts of the discussion that are missing in this post.
David Carlson: Social Media and Traditional PR