Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

The Future Of PR When Every Company Is Now A Media Company...

Posted by Tom Foremski - April 24, 2009

[On my recent trip to Portland I caught up with Kathleen Mazzocco from Clear PR. I mentioned one of my old posts (April, 2006) that every company is a media company. Every company has to learn how to publish using the new (two-way) media technologies, to reach their customers, their employees, partners, local communities, etc. And one role of PR is to help companies become media companies and help them tell their stories. Here is more on this theme.]

By Kathleen Mazzocco, Clear PR

I wanted to continue the conversation we'd started regarding the future of PR. It may seem passe at this point to talk about the need for companies to give up the old PR model and innovate on communications. But the reality is that many, perhaps the majority, of companies still want PR budgets focused to land them big stories in leading print publications. But this is a short term game that doesn't even yield the same results as it once did.

Let me continue by recreating a conversation I've had lately with clients:

"It's time. No more quibbling, no more dawdling. In this age of crumbling paradigms, it is time for you to think about how to become a media company.

Here's why: your favorite print media brands are under siege and quite a few will succumb. We have reached the proverbial tipping point in terms of Internet over print as a source of news. For the first time in a Pew Research survey, more people say they rely mostly on the Internet for news than cite newspapers (35%).

The latest recession has merely accelerated a trend that was already well underway and cannot be reversed even after the economy bounces back. Think of the changes this way: your college age children will never read a print newspaper or magazine. The fact is, information consumption habits have permanently changed: news is consumed in small bites 24/7 from a variety of sites and not always as text.   

Instead of media brands, it is now brand-agnostic Google that mediates access to information.

Media guru Michael Wolf recently stated that 80% of newspapers will disappear in 18 months. That is one (expert) opinion, but you don't have to be a seer to know that most newspapers won't survive, at least in their present print form, and that many magazines will disappear, shrink or decline in relevance as audiences shift, fragment. The pressure on editors and reporters to remain relevant, competitive and simply hold on to their jobs is intensifying. The news hole is very small, with simply less paper available for stories and fewer, more overworked reporters left to write them. (There is a certain tech reporter who, after recent layoffs at his paper, was assigned a second beat: dining. Is that demoralizing or what.) If your story does make it to the New York Times or Business Week, chances are it will be shorter than you think it deserves to be, or not even in print but in one of the newspaper's blogs.

It is becoming very difficult for traditional PR to predict which stories will get picked up in print, even among very good ones. As a way of illustrating the current situation, here's what I heard from two different reporters when I pitched what I knew to be great stories last week:

that two years ago their editors would have jumped on the story, and flown the journalists across the world to report on it, but now they are not even sure who to approach about it. And here's an incident that happened to me and really hurt: an editor preparing to assign a story I pitched months ago was suddenly gone from the publication.

And the impact of print coverage is not what it used to be. Have you noticed the huge number of hits you get on your web site when popular online publications write about you, compared to what happens when traditional print publications do?

At best, this is a transitional period in which publications evolve their models as they make the inevitable move online, and companies and the PR industry adapt. Certainly some print media brands will make the transition successfully, and may co-exist in print and online for some time. What is not in doubt is that the public's appetite for news, information and great stories will always exist, and therefore so will media brands. So while we wait for the new media model to evolve and consolidate, why not turn crisis into opportunity and use Internet tools to speak directly to your communities by publishing original content on your web site?

Now this might sound risky and scary. So ask yourself, then, 'What is the alternative?'

Luckily, there are many high impact options available now that are proving to be very successful in helping companies with their PR and marketing goals. Many of these are low cost, but do require a shift in priorities and in rethinking the way PR is done within an organization. It may seem scary because of the thought of everything that is involved with essentially creating a new model for PR within your organization. It is indeed a greater risk to have direct conversations than indirect ones through third parties. However, you don't have to bite off the whole enchilada at once. A company blog might be the right first step, or a Twitter account if you are a service company. You might want to create an iPhone app if you sell consumer goods.   

Incidentally, just because you embrace content marketing does not mean you are competing with the print media. There is great content most companies can create that is valuable to their specific communities, but not right for less differentiated publications such as Fast Company or Fortune.

You won't be re-inventing everything as the new PR leverages the skills of the old. PR can help you identify your story, influentials, communities, editorial content and formats. PR tools now include Yahoo pipes and advanced RSS to stay on top of conversations about your brand and market. Instead of contact lists of names from print publications and their online affiliations, they now feature bloggers, academics and other influentials from the online world. PR will help determine which influentials and which events require your direct participation. Back in the day, PR people would stay in close touch with top editors covering their business by regularly checking in by phone or email. Today they build relationships with influentials who are online by faithfully reading their blogs and commenting when they have a valuable point to make.

No doubt some influentials will want direct relationships with you. Some don't believe in the role the dreaded "intermediary" can play. But others understand that a PR professional who knows your company and your market and who has the trust of the company executives can make their job of reporting much easier, regardless the format.

Whatever you do, however, do it in the context of a strategy that incorporates knowledge of your brand and audience. As in the past, the new PR will be most effective when tied to your business strategy.

Yes, it is a shame that good stories go untold in the media, but companies can also see this as a time of enormous opportunity. For the first time ever, companies have the opportunity to become their own media and, by being strategic and targeted, be as effective as the most popular magazine or newspaper in getting the word out. The debate over the decline of the daily newspaper and how it endangers democracy is a valid one. But there is no going back to the 20th century. So if you want to wisely invest in PR, make sure it fits the new paradigm. "

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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