Monday, June 15, 2009

Why You Can't Rely on Outreach for Coverage

Journalists have always been forced to perform under intense pressures.

No matter how much time pressure or stress I have ever felt while working in PR, nothing compared to writing and producing live television. Knowing that at 5pm or 6pm the anchors start the show and your stuff better be done, it better be good and it better be accurate gave quite an adrenaline high.

Of course, working under that pressure every day gets pretty old.

I can't imagine the stresses felt by today's reporters, who not only need to "feed the beast" that is the news hole, but need to do more stories, as there are fewer people, and do it for less money. Add to that even more deadlines thanks to the deadline-every-second attitude of online news and you have a pretty volatile situation.

Lylah Alphonse compares her 23 percent wage cut at the Boston Globe (which goes into effect today) to being "tossed... a white-hot anvil." Of course, she still has a job, unlike the 8 percent at IDG who were handed walking papers.

It's obvious that this has an impact on media relations, but the details are much more difficult to understand.

Let's assume you produce refrigerator magnets. For a long time there was probably a reporter at a weekly refrigerator trade publication whose job it was to cover magnets and for years you enjoyed some good, regular coverage. Then, as things got tight, that reporter started covering magnets as well as refrigerator handles.

Well, now things have gotten worse. That same reporter is carrying more of the load, meaning that instead of covering just magnets and handles, they're covering everything having to do with the refrigerator door. Instead of producing a couple of stories a week they're now producing two or three shorter stories a DAY about all things on the door (inside and out) of all the refrigerators on the market. To go one step further, their content is probably syndicated through the parent organization to all sorts of appliance magazines, so they'll occasionally report on commercial fridge doors as well as doors for dishwashers, ovens and even washers and dryers.

What does this mean for your magnet company? It means that instead of getting coverage for a lot of your news, you'll probably get one story every 6 months written about the entire magnet industry, and it'll be a roundup. When you hold a user conference the reporters who used to come won't show up. It's not that they don't care, it's that their beats are so much broader that to send them to a single user conference for two or three days on a single company in a single market is not cost-effective.

So, how can you make sure your magnet company still reaches its audience?

  • Start your own publication -- Your website is a great place to start writing about the industry. This can be as simple as a blog written by your own people, or something more complex like a destination site written by journalists. You know all those journalists who used to cover your industry who were laid off? Most are looking for full time or freelance work. Why shouldn't they work for you?
  • Start your own multimedia project -- If you're in the tech world take advantage of your internal developer talent as well as the APIs associated with Web 2.0 to create new and interseting ways to aggregate information about your industry.
  • Bring the news to them -- No matter how much you produce on your own there is still a need to be in the major publications covering your industry. But instead of demanding that reporters travel to your site or user conference, bring the information to them through streaming video or even webinars. Hubspot TV is a great example of a how a company can put out good information that reporters want to use.
Of course, with all of these concepts you need guidance. Just as having Word on your laptop doesn't make you a novelist, having the tools to produce content doesn't mean you and your company have the skills to do it right.

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