The Reality of PR & Media Relations; or, addressing the awkward elephant in the room

elephant-in-the-room

So I recently took it upon myself to develop a communications strategy for a company, which shall remain nameless. The project was fully volunteered, but at the same time most illuminating. It really shed some light on the struggle Public Relations professionals are dealing with currently in the media landscape. Some harsh facts and things that are only whispered in closed circles, but you know what…screw it. It’s time things changed and realities were laid on the table.

Are you ready children? Let us begin:

Most content marketing bypasses traditional media entirely, and as such it threatens to further erode journalism’s dwindling advertising revenue…one day soon native advertising may be recalled as a quaint evolutionary step, as brands are increasingly comfortable simply reaching an audience themselves.

-Michael Meyer, Columbia Journalism Review, 2014

Keep that quote in mind as I paint a picture for you:

A few years ago, say last decade or so, a person had a new product offering and wanted to push it out. After the seemingly endless focus tests, beta testing, feedback sessions, A/B testing, and initial announcements of availability, it was truly time to move beyond the advertising and marketing plan to push it out to the general public. The largest step of course would be to engage the media. Editors, journalists, and reviewers of major print and digital publications would be tapped to gain coverage of a product in the media spectrum. A decade ago, the simple act of garnering media coverage was the CORE of marketing efforts because it spread the word about a product to a publication’s respective and large built-in readerships.

Fast-forward to today, and one can see the traditional engine is no longer the case.

I’ll say that again:

THE TRADITIONAL ENGINE IS NO LONGER THE CASE.

Sorry media, but you don’t have the power anymore. I don’t mean that to sound arrogant or rude, it’s a reality. As a former military journalist, it’s hard to see those who I would consider peers suffer in such a manner, but if you refuse to acknowledge the landscape upon which you tread, you risk falling over a cliff.

regulareditor

Ok, jokes aside, I’m really not trying to be a jerk or shoot myself in the foot. There’s a place for us all but we all have to at least ACKNOWLEDGE the reality if we’re going to WORK TOGETHER to navigate it.

Content marketing has empowered brands to take control of their marketing efforts instead of relying on the whims and egos of journalists and reviewers. Smarter journalists recognized this trend as it was happening and have adjusted – some have even left their publications to work for the very brands that used to pitch story ideas to them in order to create content on behalf of those brands. This resurgence of what is known as “brand journalism” made its comeback because of, mainly, social media. More than ever, brands have direct access to their customers. While having the loyalty of journalists working for various publications is a nicety in regards to generating buzz about a product, they’re not needed.

Reiteration number two:

While having the loyalty of journalists working for various publications is a nicety in regards to generating buzz about a product, they’re not needed.

PR specialists can certainly take time pitching content to them about title or product offerings in particular, but measurable success will come more from internal efforts than that of the traditional PR push to media so the recommendation would be to move media engagement to RTQ (respond to query); engage as necessary, but focus efforts in other online communications channels.

And here’s the reality the smarter PR pros have recognized:

You have to do more work. No getting around it, but content marketing, while empowering, also entails more work in the realm of, you guessed it, networking and socializing – two skills that should already exist in the PR skill set. Actually, let me backtrack, it’s not so much more work, just neutralizing what USED to be the norm and refocusing it to where it should be now.

The problem as it currently stands is that PR professionals simply do not realize how much marketing has changed because of social media and the Internet. Still believed is the notion that the media controls what people see, influences how they think and feel about products, and ultimately influences their decisions. That is just not true anymore.

So obviously if the media is no longer in control, it begs the question: who is?

Simple:

The PEOPLE.

This is why companies with active community development teams garnered more success than any other as evidenced by the financial picture painted in the following EEDAR graph that shows the enormity of success the gaming industry had during the 2009-2012 economic recession.

EEDAR_Game Sales Since 1996

On a community team, media is a NOT involved. People connected to the brand are placed in the center of a group of people and engage them front and center, BOTH online and in person. For independent developers, this bodes especially well when the community team is comprised of the very people who made the product (because, well, they can’t afford to hire community team members).

As one can see, the answer for the PR dilemma of how one can generate positive buzz has been right in front of him or her, hiding in plain sight for years.

Think about it…for a properly involved community team (which could be comprised of ANYONE involved with a brand charged with engaging people), what are the tools they are using to do that now? Social media! And what is social media if not a way to take control of your own communications and do your own talking but more importantly…do your own LISTENING from the community.

The question is, PR pros, why, if it is so hard to get media’s attention, are you still engaging them? There are truckloads of online streamers, gamers, and influencers, who are all content starved that WANT you to engage them?

This has been the elephant in the room for the last few years when journalists came to the realization that they were fighting for relevancy.

The fight for relevancy in the online realm and sometimes the physical one began when:

  • Any person with a camera phone could land the front page of a paper or be published above the fold on a news website
  • Any person with a webcam could make their own review show about video games
  • Any person with a blog and an itch to write could speak their opinion and influence people
  • Any person screaming horribly while playing a horror-themed video game could amass a following that rivals a news aggregate and have the same sphere of influence

Now I’m not going to say everyone in journalism has chosen to remain ignorant, some go out of their way to try and hire the top homegrown online talent to manage their online content, particularly in the video realm because they recognized the power of social media. But the entities that have incorporated this thinking are few and far between so essentially it’s up to the brands themselves to do the work, which is where that power should have resided all along.

The power didn’t escape the media it simply went home to where it belongs, with the brands themselves and the PR pros charged with deriving and communicating the messages.

But I do communicate on social media, where is the engagement?

A viable question for PR to ask.

So I have a few questions myself when I get asked that question:

  • What content are you actually sharing online?
  • Are you budgeting for sponsored ads? If so, are you optimizing your posts with those paid/sponsored posts?
  • Are you contributing blog content to major bloggers who would love to have such content?
  • Are you blogging on your own web properties and sharing it?
  • Are you communicating on the right channels? – More on this one in a sec…
  • Are you responding to people who DO engage you?

The point is there are a number of ways to generate buzz about an offering and no two products are alike, as such, no to methods are alike.

But one thing is for sure, to understand the social media landscape, you have to pay attention to the companies who release studies and statistics about where people are active if you’re going to use it successfully in your strategy and bypass the initial traditional media push.

For example the following few facts come from GlobalWebIndex Social as published by TechCrunch:

Source: GlobalWebIndex Social
Source: GlobalWebIndex Social via TechCrunch
  • Teenagers all have Facebook, but ignore it almost completely. They prefer channels with consumable video content, and messaging services that emphasize anonymity like YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram, etc.…
  • Women all have Facebook, but prefer scrapbooking and imaging channels like Pinterest and Instagram, two channels that have seen PHENOMENAL growth but are largely ignored by brands, especially in the video game industry

Hard to believe that anything in the digital realm is “traditional,” but the traditional trifecta of Facebook-Twitter-YouTube is no longer valid. Each product has a different formula and you need to know to whom you are targeting and where they are talking to each other.

On almost every social channel there are people who have taken advantage of the medium and have become well known. Knowing who these people are will make it easier to engage them and pitch content to the THEM rather than media.

Just knowing these things will maximize reach and empower content marketing derived by the brand itself to ignore media completely.

In case one hasn’t noticed, I’m not just talking about the video game industry. I speak openly about businesses in general. Before the Internet, it was on television, radio and in newspapers where others influenced people. As the Internet became more mainstream, that remained the case, just that MORE people could be influenced at any one time.

But all that died once the social media variable entered the equation. The way it is, it’s the people taking control of how they share and receive news, opinions and ideas. Some have risen to what could be considered “fame” by doing as such, but for the most part, traditional, credible media entities are being left behind.

Here are two examples of what it means to be left behind and what it means to get ahead when you embrace the power of online content marketing:

  • Chicago-Sun Times – the home of the late great film critic, Roger Ebert – a man who won a PULITZER for critical review – is laying off more people (technically trying to buy out contracts first) and looks as though it might solely go online. This is one of MANY print publications that have been slow to the draw in online content and as such, is forced to change a business strategy that retains those who managed to jump on board with online content long ago
  • CNN, in an effort to no longer be outscooped by an average Joe with a smartphone, created iReport in which it could encourage frontline participants of an event to share the story almost immediately and CNN would own the content and spread it to its other online properties. This harkens to my earlier point of smarter entities recognizing the power of online social sharing and incorporating it into their communications strategies.

TL;DR

The Internet and social media have changed how we communicate with each other. So much so that traditional media outlets are struggling to stay ahead and some have outright fallen behind or disappeared. If AOL’s closure of its gaming publications was proof of anything it’s that people want more community based publications (as evidence by the massively successful Patreon drive for Blizzard Watch, an enthusiast site raised from the ashes of the AOL-owned and closed down WoW Insider). Take control of the content, seek out the influencers, engage media (as necessary, but not largely or solely) and dive into the community. The tools are there…use them.

Further interesting reading

Journalism’s perspective on content marketing (quoted earlier): “Should journalism worry about content marketing?” by Michael Meyer from Columbia Journalism Review.

The power of corporate blogging: “10 Stats On The Awesome Power Of Corporate Blogging” by Katrina Pfannkuch from The Content Marketeer.

Massive amount of gaming industry data: “Awesome Video Game Data 2014” by Geoffrey Zatkin from EEDAR.

 

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