Disclaimer: Not an actual representation of the Meet the Tech Media panelists
Yesterday morning I had the chance to attend a “Meet the Technology Media” panel session hosted by Business Wire. I’ll be honest, I went in with some pretty low expectations but was pleased with the information I walked away with – and what I’m sharing with you here.
I’ve been to these sorts of events before and often don’t leave feeling I’ve learned that much other than being reminded, yet again, that there are clearly some PR people out there who are really bad at their job.
Panelists for this session included:
- Andrew Feinberg – a freelance journalist who covers federal and state technology and telecom, largely from a legislative view, and has written for The Hill and Communications Daily. (side note – Andrew and I also have the same alma mater – Go, Badgers!)
- Bill Flook – tech journalist with the Washington Business Journal who focuses on the DC tech scene and start-ups.
- Rob Pegoraro – freelance technology writer who spent 18 years at The Washington Post. Rob writes a weekly Q&A column for USA Today and blogs about gadgets and social media for Discovery News. Super smart and funny, Rob is very consumer focused and not someone I would typically be pitching but someone worth knowing.
- Paul Sherman – the well known editor and publisher of Potomac Tech Wire is very interested in the business side of things – new hires, M&A, contract wins and other big company news
- Nick Wakeman – the long time editor-in-chief of Washington Technology focuses on systems integrators, procurement trends and major contracts.
I was interested in this event because these are my people, these are reporters I’m reaching out to on a regular basis and if they had any tips to offer on what they are looking for this was my chance to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth. I can’t say I walked away with knowing the perfect way to pitch them so my clients get their attention but I do feel I have a better understanding of what they want. For the sake of this blog post, I’m going to focus on Bill, Paul and Nick – reporters who are of very high interest to my clients.
Let’s start with Bill.
Bill is very focused on enterprise and consumer tech and specifically focuses on the DC tech start-up scene. He gathers a lot of information from the DC Tech Facebook group. He’s not all that interested in contractors and if you are going to pitch him on acquisitions or contract wins it needs to somehow be connected to DC tech. While he doesn’t cover products and product announcements, he’s open to having a discussion if you can talk about the macro trends, what you’re seeing in the market that drove the launch of a specific product or changes to a product line-up. Focus too much on your product though and you’re toast.
Next up, Paul.
Potomac Tech Wire is really an aggregator of the day’s top news in the DC area and doesn’t publish longer feature pieces. If you’re hoping to be covered you have to have a connection to DC and if the dateline of your press release is outside the greater Washington, DC, area you need to be sure to spell out quickly and easily what the connection to DC is. Additionally, while Paul and the crew at Potomac Tech Wire are fine with receiving event announcements, they don’t have the resources to cover an event and are much more interested in any findings that come out of an event. Like Bill and the Washington Business Journal, Potomac Tech Wire doesn’t cover products.
Last up, Nick.
First things first, you may have noticed that Washington Technology is no longer a print publication and has recently instituted a pay wall for the content on its website. I’m hoping to have more on that development for you soon. As far as coverage in Washington Technology, Nick is very interested in covering the business side of things – and if you can attach dollar values to your news even better. When writing about selling to the federal government, make sure your story discusses trends and would be of interest to others, and not just promotional for you. While he doesn’t get to check Twitter every day, there are a few hashtags that he specifically follows that would be useful to use – including #govcon and #govIT.
So was the Meet the Media session worth it? This time around, I’d say yes, absolutely!
"Silly rabbit, tricks are for Internet publishing moguls."
In January, I stumbled upon the secret to Google search advertising:
"Google Adwords,” I wrote, “are successful because of a trick; most people don't realize they're just ads designed to look like real Google search results. Google wants display advertising (much more suited to mobile platforms) to take off and find similar success. But there's no way to trick users into thinking that display ads are anything other than ads."
Admittedly, that’s a fairly cynical theory. But I stand by it: Adwords is a scam, and display advertising is on the verge of extinction.
What I was clearly wrong about, however, is Google’s monopoly on advertising trickery; there isn’t one.
A few weeks ago, the Atlantic joined the likes of BuzzFeed (there's your first red flag) in an ominous new scheme to replace display advertising as mobile content's primary revenue source.
Here's how it works: Instead of paying money to Internet publishers to run your company's own ad creative, you'll pay for time with the publisher's editorial staff -- who will then design your "native ad" for you, in the style of the magazine's own journalism.
As usual, the Onion nails it.
Now, how is this different from the classic "advertorial" in Cosmo, you ask.
Well, the principle is the same. But, per usual, interactive media has enabled a creepy new twist.
You see, when the Atlantic sold editorial space to the Church of Scientology (always a great choice for no-fuss, under-the-radar ad engagements), it gave its buyer administrative control over the comments section, as well.
Hence, while every other page of the online magazine had an open comments section, Scientology had an (undisclosed) filter that siphoned out negative commentary, while promoting the illusion of a free dialogue.
So, instead of 400,000 comments about the characteristics of cultish behavior, there were 40-some comments about the relative merits of Jack Reacher.
And that's a win, albeit a grossly dishonest one.
Long-term, however, I'm not quite so sanguine as Joe Coleman, content marketer Contently's co-founder and CEO, who blogged that "[the Atlantic's] misstep was an opportunity to examine the “bright line” that separates quality branded content from sketchy advertorial."
“Branded content is incredibly transparent; readers know exactly who is backing a piece of content, so self-serving content is immediately recognizable. Ignoring this rule is insulting to readers and can seriously damage a brand.”
Sorry, but my eyes aren't nearly muscular enough to produce the kind of extended rolling action that these comments warrant.
Of course content marketing is deceptive! That's not to say it can't also have utility for the reader. But let's not pretend we're out picking rosebuds for sickly orphans.
P.T. Barnum was one of the biggest tricksters in the business, and also one of the most successful marketers in history. Better than most, he understood the contours of our social compact: Advertisers will trick, they will twist, they will stretch and outright deceive.
And, if they're entertaining and innovative enough, we'll forgive them.
So you’ve secured an interview, read our pre-interview checklist
and are confident you know just about everything there is to know to help the reporter write his/her story. Well, there’s a new trait that journalists consider to be very valuable when it comes to their sources.
According to a recent Bliss Integrated Study, A Survey of the Journalists’ World, 79% of journalists say that they find it moderately to highly valuable when a source drives traffic to their stories through various online channels. This could be driven by the fact that 60% of reporters said that clickthroughs and additional media pick-ups are the most important criteria when measuring the impact of their stories.
When you factor in that the majority of news readership is online, the amount of competition amongst online news outlets and journalists being responsible for the promotion of their own articles, having a source that they know will help promote the article can be a major draw.
Obviously, posting articles online should already be part of a company’s promotional plan, but it now has an added benefit! And for PR people with broad networks, they’re looking for you to help promote them too.
I wrote a post a few weeks back about big data's pernicious effect on marketing intelligence. My thesis was: the more data we collect, the more opportunities we have to make false correlations.
I stand by that position. But I've come to realize it's not just big data that cripples intelligence; it's all data.
I submit to you: Communicators were smarter before the Internet.
But let me back-up a little. The impetus for my post today is a blog entry from Wired reporter Spencer Ackerman, who wrote last week about how page view measurement affects journalism (and journalists).
It seems these days, editors mainly look at page view numbers and unique visitors to make decisions about which stories to "print" and which to promote.
But before editors had those page view numbers at the ready, they were forced to make their decisions based on quaint notions like... journalistic quality.
Now I'm not suggesting that editors have entirely abandoned the pursuit of quality. (If so, they'd have been replaced by computer programs that could measure page views and automatically promote the highest performing writers and stories.)
But let's not kid ourselves. Most editors today are a lot more interested in page views and unique visitors (which can be easily monetized) than in subjective determinations of journalistic quality (which can't).
Alas, the two values have very little in common.
Ackerman argues that sites like BuzzFeed are the unholy offspring of these developments. (One of his commenters is quick to recall the old adage: You'll never go broke appealing to the lowest common denominator.)
But here's where it gets complicated: Measurement didn't start with the Internet.
Before the Web, editors measured newspaper circulation (which meant that high-performing stories and low-performing stories were lumped together) and customer focus groups (which... well... don't get me started on the ineffectiveness of focus groups).
The point is, we've always tried to measure data, and it's typically burned us.
And where measurement was difficult and expensive in the past, the Internet has made it cheap and instantaneous. So we're using it more and more, and allowing it to become more and more destructive.
Then again, "destructive" is a subjective viewpoint. If the end goal of journalism is maximizing advertising dollars, then maybe BuzzFeed is a triumph.
We get what we deserve, I suppose.
"Yes, yes, I've seen the movie Catfish."
In case you missed it, the Twitter machine went berserk last week in the wake of a Deadspin exposé on sports betting columnist and probable Internet scam artist "Sarah Phillips."
Deadspin's investigation covers a series of cons, most of which involve Sarah's falsified association with ESPN.com.
But then the story takes an odd turn, when Sarah becomes... actually employed by ESPN.com.
In other words, ESPN hasn't been this thoroughly grifted since they picked up Keith Olbermann's last limousine tab.
But here's what I find truly amazing: Ignoring all of Sarah's extortion attempts, her ascendency as a journalist was actually fairly legitimate -- albeit absurd.
She begins as a frequent commenter (as in, the comments section of a website) at a sports betting page called Covers.com.
Plucked from the comment threads, she's given a weekly column at Covers.com, and from there she's offered a weekly column at ESPN's Page 2.
So the line between gambling website commenter and David Halberstam has now been officially demolished. Journalism is -- for the record, even at prestigious outlets like ESPN -- now entirely a game of page views.
What a precedent! But maybe fitting for a world in which actual reporting is marginalized, and a few snappy headlines can garner Pulitzer consideration. Or, as Barack Obama recently said to the Huffington Post:
"There’s no one else out there linking to the kinds of hard-hitting journalism that [you're] linking to every single day."
The media industry is changing at a break-neck pace. How do we keep up? Where is it headed? How does it affect advertising?
Find out the answers to these questions and more as I recap The Changing Media Landscape panel from the MAM Summit.
This pannel, moderated by Cary Hatch of MDB Communications, features Donna Spurrier (President of Spurrier Media Group), Alan Reisberg (President of Capital Media), Peter Cherukuri (VP/GM of the DC Bureau of The Huffington Post) and Shashi Bellamkonda (Social Media Swami at Network Solutions/Web.com).
What is the perfect balance of media - print, online, television, radio? How do you determine this?
- As media planners we have to prioritize based on budget. Always start with the consumer, don't just go for the shiny object. You have to have a great understanding of how the consumer gets thier media.
- Think of it like having multiple children. You have one, you focus on it and you're doing well, but then you have another. That doesn't mean you ignore the first one now. You have to balance and handle all of the balls in the air.
- media planners spend a lot of time teaching clients that they need to plan, how to plan and how to decide what is most relevant to them. Media landscape is getting smaller so planning becomes all that much more important.
How has reprting changed?
- The reporting function is evolving to include publishing. In the past, newsrooms had a pyramid to them that relates to the value chain of content - byline at the top, reader comments at the bottom. The reporter never had to think about distribution, they just wrote and other people handled the publishing. Now, the reporter has to think about distribution, search and social, they have to be aware of how the story will be seen and how it gets out there.
- Media is not disappearing. It has just gone online. Imagine a day when you have a netflix like experience but with a newspaper - that's where we're going. You can read the paper version in the morning then pick up where you left off online when you get to work.
How has the changing landscape affected advertising?
- Advertising models are changing because circulation numbers don't easily match up with unique visitors.
- It's really easy to understand the pay per click model but is it still accurate? people see the ad and don't have to click to be influenced but can't measure how that works. It creates awareness and positive perception even if it's not clicked.
- Trying to navigate advertising in this new world as a small business can be very daunting. Everyone has to engage on multiple levels. Small businesses should be able to narrow down geographically to a place where it's effective and not cost prohibitive.
What will the advertising world look like in 5-7 years?
- We'll possibly see brand ambassadors instead of advertising. We'll be hearing about new products via text messages from people we follow (or friends).
- Because of commoditization, brands will look for collective buys to deliver their message to specific demographics/audiences. As an online media outlet, protecting (and monetizing) your audience will become increasingly important.
- Shared information is quadrupling the value of advertising. Word of mouth, whether out loud or online will be the most influential form of advertising.
Yes, tech product PR has been around for a while. No, Steve didn't invent it.
Just saw this interesting take by Tom Foremski of ZDNet on why tech PR is so hot these days. In a nutshell, Foremski writes that companies are putting more money towards PR to promote their products due to public relations’ efficacy over advertising. He argues that this is a recent shift that has been dictated by consumers’ desire to analyze just about every tech product that comes down the pike. This is driven by an insatiable thirst for product specs, benchmarks, and more, driven by the seemingly unending stream of cool technology that seems to make an appearance, on average, once or twice a week.
“Over the past two decades tech companies have been steadily shifting their substantial marketing funds into public relations, with the express goal to have news stories published about them and their products.
The reason is simple: Advertising is only one-third as effective as a news story about a company or product.
PR is much more efficient than advertising, you get far more marketing bang.”
I’m not going to argue with him, of course. I do think you get more “marketing bang” out of a well-planned, strategic PR campaign that can truly educate people, through journalists, about products and services (then again, I guess I am a bit biased!).
I don’t necessarily agree, however, that this is necessarily something new. After all, technology companies have been pitching products – everything from laptops to databases and beyond – for years. And PR firms have offered full-fledged product review programs for years as well.
I do think, though, that in our spec-obsessed world PR has become increasingly important when it comes to product marketing. Think of the latest Android device; it’s awful hard to get across the concept of the (at least perceived) importance of dual-core processors and Tegra 2 chips in an ad. Just doesn’t work. But many people do care about these things. The place to publicize them – perhaps the only really effective place – is through an article or review.
So while I think product PR has certainly accelerated, I don’t think it’s necessarily because tech companies are putting more ammunition behind it. It’s something that has been caused by consumers’ need for detailed information.
In other words, the market is demanding more and more information; product PR is stepping up to the plate to provide it.
- Pete Larmey
Unless you’re really interested in media relations you may have missed the New York Times article about companies paying Chinese journalists to write flattering articles about them. It turns out that in China, for about $20,000 a page, you can have your CEO profiled in Esquire. For $4,000 a minute your top executive could be interviewed on a news program on state-run China Central Television. And, according to the article, China’s not alone. This practice of paying for a flattering news piece by a reputable news outlet is also common in Europe, Japan, Latin America and yes, even here in the U.S.
For large companies with vast amounts of money this may seem like the Holy Grail – just pay to have your CEO profiled and it’s win-win for everyone. I, however, have two issues with this practice.
First, it totally devalues what I do for a living. Rarely, if ever, are these sorts of news pieces accompanied by the disclaimer that they were paid for. So that means that if you, as my client, see your competition profiled in one of these outlets you immediately wonder what I, as your PR rep, am doing wrong that I didn’t get you there. Suddenly it seems like a no brainer – your CEO should be profiled too because your company is totally and completely more awesome and the whole world should know it. Sadly, if your competition paid for that article – which we may never know if they did – your chances of being profiled are zero unless you’re also willing to hand over fistfuls of cash to make it happen.
So what’s my second issue? The handing over of fistfuls of cash to secure a favorable news piece about your company. In my opinion the last remaining shreds of integrity that the news media has goes out the window the second they accept money from you. Not to mention that the general public’s view of your organization may falter if they realize you paid for that news article instead of earning it. My job requires me to stay on top of what’s happening in the world – be it mobile application development or cloud computing – and if journalists and publications are happily accepting money for a favorable article I, and everyone else, no longer know what’s real journalism and what’s been bought.
I’m smart enough to not trust everything I read and to look at a variety of sources for information but let’s not kid ourselves, not everyone does that. And, I’ll be honest, I’ve worked with clients before who were not above paying for a positive article. Were they happy with the outcome? Yes, they were. But personally, I like the satisfaction that comes with scoring a big win for my clients – knowing that my hard work paid off and I helped them land that coveted interview or cover story. Paying someone to write that story just doesn’t leave me with same warm and fuzzy feeling as knowing I did my job well.
"Why don't I have people for this?"
My lovely and estimable colleague Kathryn is a digital native. That is to say, she was born after the advent of graphical Internet browsers (circa 1993) and has no first-hand experience with an analog, technologically humble universe.
When Kathryn wants a cup of coffee, she orders one from Amazon.com. When she's feeling warm, she sets her iPhone to "cool." And when she wants the news, she checks Twitter for the latest TwitPics and infographics.
Yes, Kathryn is a monster. But she's a monster we created. The physical embodiment of our high fructose corn syrup YouTube attention span society.
But is the damage irreversable?
San Francisco-based Kickstarter darling Matter thinks maybe not. And it's raised $100,000 to prove that long-form science and technology journalism still has a place in Kathryn's America.
“We have tapped into frustration with the way the internet has promoted quick and cheap journalism and bashed longer-quality stuff, or at least undermined the business model that used to support that sort of thing,” said Matter co-founder Jim Giles.
"[Matter will have] no cheap reviews, no snarky opinion pieces, no top ten lists. Just one unmissable story [after another]."
Hmmm... a grassroots initiative to turn the tide of journalistic integrity, without infographics, puppies, or reality TV? Sounds intriguing.
But will digital natives really buy it? To find out, I'd better go to the oracle herself:
"You know I think I'm good, but thanks for checking."
Sorry, Matter. The Kaplan has spoken.