Many agencies are still stuck in pushy mode. Don't be so quick to deny it, I get dozens of poorly targeted press releases a day - and from big name agencies, too.
Those that set up listening posts and target the outreach still fail in coming through with the follow up.
They either never get back to you when you show interest - probably, and this is a guess, because their client doesn't have the bandwidth to follow up on your request if it deviates from the prepared materials - or come back days or weeks later with a sanitized statement.
It seems to me that mainstream media companies are wrestling with the same or a similar issue. While quick sound bites and short posts are attention getting, the money is in the original and in depth reporting, which is where the value is and the resources allocated are scarce.
Success with a story means that the outlet will try to exploit it as much as possible in its form - going deeper is expensive and many news organizations are backed into the commodity corner.
After analyzing media coverage of the economy during the first half of 2009, the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism found that mainstream media focused on a relatively small number of major story lines, mostly generating from Washington, DC, and New York City. Citizens may be the primary victims of the downturn, but they have not been not the primary actors in the media depiction of it.
I look at the charts and I see a pretty passive press. What do you see?
News is flat
With the intent of creating social currency, new media has exploded the horizontal news - many blogs and sites reporting on the same story. Yet, even as there are different angles and opinions in the reporting, there is rarely any depth or variety of points of view and data. We crave for both.
Frankly, I'm amazed that what is so well known in business - that the brand needs to be differentiated and cultivated through relationships and experience and that data analysis yields insights - is not developed better in mainstream media.
In an environment where attention is scarce, pushing the same content out continues to be on the begging side of things. Do media companies have an SEO strategy? If they did, they'd know that their lack of differentiation put them all in the same spot with search. Many bloggers do - and you can tell.
On the PR side of things, unless your story fits the main news stories, which rotates around a very narrow number of topics, you are left with trade and online media where there's a constant need to fill assets with fresh content.
But even if mainstream media has blogs, too, your story may become just a sentence of a short quote in their story. You may not get the chance to develop the full story in the 24/7 publishing cycle. You're begging to get in, but are not getting full attention.
Circulation is dynamic
There is opportunity here both for PR and media to step up their game and go from begging for to earning attention. Both groups worry about circulation, in different ways. What is circulation online? Does it include mechanisms like share with a friend and retweet?
When we talked about advertising, PR, and saving newspapers, we observed that online especially, circulation is split between direct and indirect. The way a story spreads is much more in the hands of those who think it adds value than in the distribution control of those who publish it.
Think Digg, Reddit, Stumble Upon, Twitter, Facebook - these are all news distribution services readers use to create their own social currency by sharing what they find helpful or interesting. In my very unscientific method of observation as an online participant, I found that the stories that get attention vary wildly.
One way to get consistent distribution results is to publish data analysis, trend reports, in depth stories and yes, the unusual - results may vary by distribution network and user base, of course. The other way is to publish yourself. Starting your own channel or platform involves a lot of work to set up, build a content pipeline, a roster of contributors, and you worry about sustaining it.
Done properly, however, this is a really good way for you to not just have your story told, but to build relationships within your niche and customer/influencer base. If your story resonates with people, the media will find it and amplify it further. They need differentiation and are under a lot of pressure to show results.
A starting point
The relationship between PR and media needs to evolve. Here are some things to start thinking about:
- people/who - have objectives in mind - when you try to be all things to all people, you fall for everything - what action are you going for? Yes, even news is about action. If we knew more about how we can influence an outcome, many more would choose to participate to the process.
- manner/how and where - consider the preferences of the people you're trying to reach - is email easier for them? Then, don't push for a call. Is digital and mobile where you're headed? Then, also take a look at your site usability with a BlackBerry or an iPhone.
- outreach/when - think relationships and respect - are you sincere in your desire to make a connection, or is this just about what you're pushing? Are you prepared for when you make that connection, or all you have is the one news release or story line?
- content/why - think helpful - would your stuff be a good use of your time if you came across it? Also think dimensional and pass along value. Is it going to make the reader smarter and more interesting in addition to interested?
What else would you suggest to help PR and media go from begging for to earning your attention?
[images from the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism study]
© 2006-2009 Valeria Maltoni. All rights reserved.