Nicole and I are both graduates of Santa Clara University and we went back to campus on Monday, as one of our former professors was helping the Business School’s MarComm Network host an event called “The Public Relations Paradigm”, which turned out to be a fascinating discussion about how the changing media landscape has evolved the public relations industry, and what impact social media tools are having in today’s business world.
The featured speaker—Luca Penati, Director of Ogilvy’s Technology Strategy in San Francisco—grabbed our attention quickly, likening our changing world to a first date ☺ in that we don’t know what to expect; there’s a mix of anxiety and excitement all around. His stats were telling: 525 magazines closed in the United States last year, and ad pages for the top three publication houses (IDG, CMP and ZD) are down 50% since 2005. The next day I caught a tweet about an article chronicling newspaper layoffs so far in 2009; we’re sadly approaching 9,000 after the first four months. The figure is not surprising; when Luca asked how many of the audience got our news from a morning print paper, only two of us raised our hands.
So how does that affect those of us in tech PR? Luca noted that pages covering our industry have been shrinking to the tune of 30% less articles per day, as measured in the WSJ between 2006 and 2009. So we have fewer reporters with more jobs to do, and less real estate in any given outlet to get our message across. PR peeps used to fight for coverage in print or broadcast, but now it’s more of a mashup, with bloggers, podcasters and the like successfully competing with those traditional reporters for news (just think about how you first heard about the swine flu when news broke last week). In fact, Luca suggested that for the first time, reporters are being measured on how many clicks each story receives and it’s changing the way they write; he said they’re essentially SEO’ing their own article as they pander for clicks.
This shift in story telling is seen throughout the Web 2.0 movement, where we’re constantly jumping on breaking news and not finding time for in-depth feature stories. The viral nature of the medium is making content king, so the channel doesn’t matter anymore. Luca’s description of what he calls the rise of “socialized” media estimates 1/3 of content is what we know to be editorial, 1/3 is now user-generated and 1/3 is vendor-generated… as today’s new tools have empowered companies to reach, and engage, stakeholders directly; they’re essentially becoming publishers in their own right. We’ve seen how multi-media has become key to any successful vendor pressroom, as well as how one traditional business magazine understands the importance of engaging its readers further in an online community.
In a world where we get info all of the time, a two-min. video is a much more compelling way to present info than a 20-page white paper. But aren’t we—as trained PR professionals—always writing pitches, press releases and contributed articles? How do we maintain our value in a world where we’re not the primary distributor of content? The answer lies in how deeply we are entrenched in this movement and are able to navigate the growing complexity of today’s environment. Luca suggests the anatomy of a PR professional must adjust so that we become visual storytellers. If we tap into our childhood—when we looked at complex things in a simple way and then drew them out—today we have still and video cameras at our disposal, but the theory is the same… social media is a new tool that we can use to grab stakeholders’ attention through great content. Think of the old saying "a picture is worth 1,000 words"... as Luca emphasized during Q&A that “it’s always been about storytelling”, but we need to adjust around this pivotal paradigm to take advantage of how these social media-related tools can help our clients reach their business objectives.