Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Journalists Move from Mainstream to Trade Publications, and Offer New PR Opportunities

IIn the early weeks of the semester in my media relations class, I go over the media landscape for students. College students typically are not well aware of the various media outlets or how and why they cover news. This has been especially interesting in this era of media transformation, where legacy media have apps and multiple digital platforms in addition to traditional formats.

One of the things I always tell my students is to consider small, niche outlets, such as suburban weeklies, minority media, bloggers, digital-only outlets, and trade publications. These media outlets may have smaller reach, but they are more likely reach the audience most appropriate for the content a PR professional has to share. If a trade publication, there is an increased likelihood they will be interested in your industry-specific news release or pitch.

So I was interested to see another local example of a former mainstream media reporter striking out on his own to fill a gap with a new series of trade publications. In this case, it's Rob Kirkbride, formerly a business reporter with the furniture industry as part of his beat, launching several new global publications to cover that industry with greater depth.

He recently launched Bellow Press with two partners, a company that produces "Business of Furniture" and "Workplaces" magazine. Shandra Martinez, business reporter at Kirkbride's former employer Mlive (before that the Grand Rapids Press), offers a nice overview of the new venture, including one industry PR pro's positive reaction to the depth of coverage the trade publications will provide.

It has been interesting to watch what happens to former journalists who have left newsrooms across the country as the digital revolution spreads audience, lowers advertising revenue, and thus shrinks the size of newsroom staff. Many have gone into public relations, some taken to freelancing for newly created media outlets, such as Bridge Magazine in Michigan. Some, like Kirkbride, are getting entrepreneurial and finding a niche subject and market for trade publications.

This matters to PR professionals for several reasons. Primarily, as old media decrease and change, we need to be constantly monitoring the media landscape for new ways to reach audiences. Much of what we do now is owned or shared media, but old fashioned earned media also has new opportunities. We need to think not in mass reach to impress clients and bosses with numbers, but focused, targeted and strategic messaging. Trade publications offer this piece of a media mix. PR professionals in a given industry should watch for more emerging publications in their arena to monitor competition, spot and respond to consumer trends, and position their companies as industry leaders to grow and maintain business-to-business as well as consumer relationships.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Going LIVE! Can Kill Relationships

The new Facebook Live is popular. I know this because my phone is blowing up with notifications that so-and-so is now live.

These live posts are from everyone. There are friends showing their antics at the lake, or an activity at the office. There are self-appointed gurus of advertising, public relations, or something else posting live commentary. The various media outlets I follow have been going live, even the print ones that used to mock TV for going LIVE! for nebulous reasons. And of course various consumer brands and nonprofit organizations are going live at their events and for other reasons.

As I posted recently on my own Facebook account--those who go live too often will soon be dead to me.

Here is the problem with all technology: too many people use it because it is new, because they can, or because others are as opposed to harnessing some discernible value for themselves or others they are hoping to serve. This is now evident again with Facebook Live.

Many people are jumping on the bandwagon, going live because they can, not because there is some merit or reason for real-time proclamation or airing of whatever content they have.

There's a current ad that speaks to this, the one about the lawn mower. "It's not how fast you mow, it's how well you mow fast." The humor in the ad is that this silly statement becomes a meme. But it inspires me to offer a suggestion about live posting, on Facebook Live, Periscope, or other platforms: it's not that you can go live, but why and how you do it.

So let me offer some cautionary commentary to individuals and brands about going live. You can read this right now or later, it's up to you.

  • Everyone is doing it is not an excuse for children or professionals. If you see others doing something, you do not need to also do it. It should not be about how cool you look or keeping up with others. It should be about offering value to whomever you want to or expect to view your content. 
  • Consider the context and environment. Again, if everyone is going live, then your live offering will more likely be seen as an annoyance than a contribution. We quickly cross a line from interesting to intrusive and inundation. 
  • Time-shifting is also a thing. A key motivator in media consumption, particularly TV but other media as well, is the public control of WHEN. We record programs to binge watch later. We stream music playlists more often than listening to radio. We catch up with friends and any brands we follow on social media when we have a moment. So the live movement is contradicting this media convention. 
  • Having something to say is a better motivator than having to say something. Content itself can not be a commodity. There has to be something meaningful there, or it is only noise. How you say things also matters as much as what you say. So Live content must have an urgency or timelines to it that justifies a live notification--another one along with all the others--that justifies it.
In a nutshell, PR and Ad pros responsible for social media management need to be judicious about live content. Try to be interesting and instructive, not merely an interruption. Just as sending news releases daily to a newsroom has a "cry wolf" effect in which you'll soon be ignored, posting too much and too irrelevant live content will get you unfollowed in real-time. Here are a few ideas that might merit going live:

  • Legitimately urgent information. This could be really positive information, your own version of 'breaking news,' that has actual urgent interest to your publics, or it could be an added means of transparency and efficiency in crisis communication.
  • Live events. A nonprofit donor-recognition dinner, a corporate product launch event, a government speech. We can be the media with these and other types of events. Remember to base the decision to go live on viewer interest and not personal or organizational ego.
  • Engagement. Live offers the opportunity for virtual conversations and presentations, a Facebook version of a press conference. Allow people to ask questions via email or some other social platform, and respond on camera in the Facebook Live platform. 
I'd be interested to hear from anyone who has used Facebook Live creatively, if you've measured the response of intended viewers, or other thoughts you have on the topic.

Monday, June 06, 2016

West Michigan Firms Win Awards for 'Good' Advertising and PR

It is interesting to me that a conversation with students about certain professors in other major programs bad-mouthing the ethics of advertising and public relations coincided with news of two local West Michigan firms that earned awards not only for their work, but the fact that it exemplifies socially conscious communications work.

In my spring Fundamentals of Public Relations course, during a discussion of ethics in public relations, several students complained that professors in other courses labeled PR or advertising as nothing short of evil. While it is good to have students consider the negative consequences of some  in the field, it is also paradoxically unethical for someone from outside the field to make such a broad brush stereotype declaration about an occupation. It's what scholars call a synecdoche, in which a part (or one bad example, often of someone not even in PR) serves as representative of the whole profession.

So I was delighted to learn of not one, but two West Michigan firms recently lauded for their ethical and socially aware practice.

First, the Image Shoppe became the first marketing firm in Michigan to be certified as a Benefit Corporation, also called a B Corporation.  Basically, a B Corporation is one that meets rigorous standards we in PR call the "triple bottom line" of sustainability, which includes positive impact on the "3 Es"--economic, equity, and environment (some also use the "3 Ps" of profit, place, people). Learn more about this award in this RapidGrowth article.

Then just last week, Lambert, Edwards and Associates earned a Silver Stevie Award in the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Program of the Year category. The award is part of the annual American Business Awards.  LEA won the award for its 10,000 Scoop Challenge cause marketing program that was created for Denali Flavors, the developers of the legendary Moose Tracks® ice cream. The campaign combined grassroots networking, experiential marketing, media/celebrity engagement, media relations and product sampling into one event. Attendees are encouraged to help eat ice cream for a cause, with every scoop eaten, Denali donates $1 to the local chapter of The Salvation Army, with the goal of raising $10,000 in a four-hour window.

We celebrate creativity and meeting business objectives in our field, and we laud local examples of excellence. It's good to know that we have local firms who are also leaders in terms of not just doing good work, but doing work that does good.