Friday, March 03, 2006

The Shifting Media Landscape

Much was written on PR blogs following last week's announcements by Dow Jones Co. that it would merge its print and online operations. In its announcement, Dow Jones said it was making the move to essentially become a platform agnostic content messenger; in other words, the company would not favor one venue over another in the delivery of its content.

Following the announcement, many respected PR bloggers -- among them Richard Edelman, CEO of the largest independently-held shop in the business -- penned an article on his blog that examined whether this announcement would hasten the death of the traditional media model. He concluded, after speaking with representatives of Forbes and other media outlets, that while it will have more of an impact on daily outlets, like The Wall Street Journal than bi-weeklies, PR pros will have to adjust their approach to one that takes into account all available outlets, be it a traditional newspaper or PDA/cell phone screen.

While I certainly won't attempt to argue with the essence of his assertion, I don't know that we'll see a sea change from this. The main reason is because traditional outlets like The Journal have a reputation that other outlets have yet to achieve. That makes what they publish, and opine on their editorial pages, by extension, more valuable. Even in the heydey of the "dot-com boom," when Internet messaging boards like The Raging Bull got lots of coverage, no media offering could move markets more than a Barron's cover story.

All this is basically comes down to the fact that the age-old saying "the more things change, the more they stay the same." While I was one of a relative few who were downloading digital content from The WSJ via a custom software product and a dial-up modem some 10 years ago, Dow Jones' electronic offerings didn't take off until the launch of its Web-based edition.

What does that have to do with changes in PR? It means that, just as WSJ subscribers haven't abandoned the newspaper product, it's doubtful that clients of PR firms will abandon their quest to appear in top-tier media, even if appearing in a well-read trade would be better for their business. The PR business itself is responsible for this in large part, because everyone promises this kind of coverage in sales pitches for new accounts. So, if it doesn't take hold, to a degree, we only have ourselves to blame.

Debunking a Continual PR Myth

I was listening to a well-known technology pundit’s Web cast today when the subject of achieving publicity came up. The host indicated that press releases were the primary way that a company communicated news regarding its products to journalists and that basically all it took to achieve news coverage was putting out a media release.

For better or worse, this is one of the most widely-held beliefs related to a public relations campaign. Basically, many people believe that all it takes to achieve coverage is putting out a press release and, by extension, most anybody can steer a public relations campaign. However, anyone who’s actually been involved in a campaign can tell you first hand how nothing could be farther from the truth.

For starters, there are literally hundreds of press releases that cross BusinessWire and PRNewswire every day. There’s absolutely no way that a major journalist has time to read them all and cover the breaking news of the day. That’s one of the main reasons that I advise clients to use press releases sparingly. They’re a great fit for certain types of news, including executive appointments and announcements about a new round of funding. But in the vast majority of cases, a press release is going to be a poor way to communicate to journalists just what makes your news worthy of their attention.
In those cases, nothing is better than a simple, short, well-written pitch that quickly tells a journalist who your client is, what they have to say and why it merits their attention. It’s quick, simple and to the point. Better yet, there are no cumbersome attachments to bother with and journalists will love the fact that they don’t get any of those annoying “Did you get my press release?” phone calls.

It surprised me that someone whose supposedly on the other end of PR pitches would think there’s all there is to it, because I assure you that as someone who was on the receiving end of pitches for years, there’s lots more to getting good coverage than meets the eye.

Is Money the Way To Silence Annoying Messages?

By now, many of you have probably seen reports that America Online and Yahoo! have jointly discussed enacting a new “postage-based” system for Internet e-mail that would allow trusted messengers to be assured their e-mail arrives at its destination.

On the face of it, this sounds great. All of us have “in-boxes” that are swamped with spam and would love to have less of it. A technological solution is obviously appealing, because it eliminates the time-consuming chore of going through each message and deciding how to handle it.

While there will be considerable debate on this issue and how to best handle it, it brings up a broader point related to marketing messages. Companies like AOL and Yahoo, who both depend on the messages marketing and advertising generate for a large chunk of their revenue, risk devaluing those messages by charging, not for better or more costly content or other services, but for the right to exist without those messages.