Archive | May, 2008

Influencer Marketing and PR’s future — Courtesy of Media Blather

7 May

I used to start new client conversations — particularly with technology companies — with a discussion of what we then called “the cascade of influence” — that set of influencers from tech gurus, industry analysts, conferences, trade shows, and journalists who influence corporate reputation and buying decisions for customers and prospects.  Influence, we thought, would flow down a neat little staircase to the customer. 

Today, it’s no longer a neat cascade (if it ever was), but more of a web of influence, one that connects to our sphere of professional life among friends, colleagues, professional media, bloggers, websites, experts and others. 

Paul Gillin and David Strom of Media Blather — a weekly-ish podcast that’s worth a listen — spoke to Nick Hayes last week, the co-author of a book called Influencer Marketing, that offers a compelling and, perhaps, controversial take on how to move people toward buying decisions.

Hayes’s thesis is that the influence of the broad range of non-profits, management consultants, integrators, associations, regulators, user groups, etc.  makes up 50% of the buying influence on any given purchase — or more.  These new influencers aren’t necessarily publishing anything, they aren’t journalists or analysts, and often “prefer to be under the radar.”

Hayes advocates that PR people be deployed to go out to broader organizations beyond the journalists and analysts — moving PR from “press relations” back to “public” relations.  It’s a practice that takes a whole new set of skills, but builds on the ones we have today — building one-to-one, personal relationships, personal relationships; the ability to identify the needs of an audience, and communicate a compelling story with them.  

The answer to ‘influencing the influencer’ in this world, in other words, isn’t just a focus on media relations, analyst relations, or blogger relations.  It’s understanding the environment in which customers make their decisions. It’s giving marketers and PR professionals the mandate and responsibility to build relationships with a wide range of people and organizations who are important to the company’s sales success.

Hayes’ advice: PR should go back to its roots — find out how customers make their decisions.  From there, it’s relatively easy to discern the web of influence that will impact customer decisions.

Listen here and tell me what you think.


Media Romp

5 May

This morning, let’s take a drive through the sticky business of The Newspaper, shall we?

Our tour today takes us to my hometown StarTribune newspaper, one with a fine jouranlistic tradition, one of late put in the service of an advertising strategy and debt payoff — never a great combination.

Today, the StarTribune’s investor-owners are in their own media hotseat , fending off a New York Post story that claimed the paper wasn’t paying its debts, and claiming that the paper on the brink of bankruptcy.  Their response:  No, but we’ve hired the Blackstone Group to look at our options.

The problem for the StarTribune is simple:  Advertising is going elsewhere. In a media environment rapidly moving online and to search, newspapers are stuck with a business model that is just not working.

The recent State of the News Media 2008 report by the Project for Excellence in Journalism is telling.  On advertising, the report quotes a major media buyer:

“We used to be in the trucking business. We used to take ads and commercials and deliver them,” says Charlie Rutman, CEO of North American Operations at MPG, which controls over $3 billion in U.S. ad spending annually.

While ad executives know that trucking analogy is no longer accurate, they aren’t really sure what is replacing it.

Craig’s List, online ad sales and employment websites have decimated the the classified market.  And according to the report, newspapers’ print versus online ad ratio still lingers at around 90 percvent versus 10 percent.

The StarTribune is in the same trouble — according to today’s article, as of March 31, circulation dropped 6.7 percent from the previous six months, annual revenue dropped $75 million between early 2005 and early 2007, and classified ads were half the level they were at in 2000.

The question to me isn’t so much one of how their ads are going to make up for the loss, but how their going to continue supporting continuation of a tradition of good journalism in this community — and every other community that has enjoyed the benefits of having good a good paper in town.

The StarTribune’s most recent change in strategy was to create localized sections for various suburban regions.  That strategy seems to be sagging.  While there seems to be strong coverage lately of Edina parents complaining about families wanting to transfer into their great schools, my Twin Cities West section today has these front page stories:

> Someone in Rice County won the lottery.

> Committees talking about tackling Downtown Minneapolis crime.

> A Hopkins school teacher winning teacher of the year (nice, but should have been on page 1 — maybe in place of the ‘what kids are reading’ list from the Washington Post).

> A story on teens in Hudson, Wisc. putting photos of themselves unclothed online, based on no discernable news hook.

I’d be shocked if these are the kinds of must-read, hyper-local stories that will hook readers and draw ad dollars (and I promise to read this section the rest of the week and eat my words if I must).

The StarTribune has continued to try addition by subtraction — the number of excellent journalists no longer working at our local papers could make for a great news operation.  As we’ve seen across multiple industries, you thrive and grow not just by cutting back, but in doing so, concentrating on your core — doing what you do best and doing it better than anyone else.  It may require the painful process of starting over — recasting the organization not around generating double-digit profit margins but on how, if you were starting today, would you create a sustainable organization to support excellent locally based journalistm.

And this is a time when the values of professional journalism — of professional news gathering organizations — have never been more needed.  We need folks who can ‘comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.’ Who can question authority and call out those in power when their abusing them.  And, frankly, we need journalists who are professionals — who can cover local news with more commitment and perspective than your typical citizen journalist.  Whatever their many faults, professional news organizations are structured to cover news, get answers, check facts and most always get their stories right.

Call me old fashioned, but there’s a need for this.  There may not be a need for trees to fall, factories to belch smoke and waste and trucks to roll hither and yon just so a folded sheaf of smelly ink and newsprint can land in my mailbox every morning, but there’s more need than ever for the content and commitment it represents.

Tech Media Trends

2 May

If you’re a small company just trying to get your story told by the old “big four” of IT media — Computerworld, eWeek, InformationWeek and  InfoWorld, it can be a bit bewildering. First, it’s not just reporters — it’s editors, reporters, contributing writers (freelancers and consultants), bloggers and columnists.  Second, their websites are a complex interwoven mix of news and opinion addressing every conceivable information technology topic — Computerworld lists 13 “knowledge centers,” 10 “Shark Bait” reader forums, 20 columnists, 15 blog topics, and 38 email newsletters

The point is not to say this is bad. I was talking with my friend Chris Murphy on this — a real tech media expert at my former agency.  I noted to him that in the old days, you’d find that one person to contact — and if you were smart, you’d avoid making multiple contacts at once for fear of stepping on editorial toes.  But these media today are set up to let online readers choose a very narrow selection interest areas — the home pages themselves are nearly unreadable.  Readers aren’t starting with the home page or the print magazine. They’re starting with the newsletters.

Here’s Chris’ take:  

“Their readers are online and mostly interested in very specific topics, be it security, storage, enterprise software, servers, etc.  And they want to get this news through email newsletters, or be able to find it quickly by going to a specific section on their site.” 

I’d add RSS and search to the mix and I think we’re there. The increasingly skinny print editions are where readers can skim cross industry news.  

The point we can take away from this is that we should look at these tech journals — and most B2B focused trade media in general — as online homes for some 40+ media outlets.  For any given company, there may be a half-dozen contacts — a beat reporter, columnists, bloggers, section editors and user forums.  This doesn’t mean blanketing press releases to the entire editorial staff.  What it means is that the contacts you identify as interested in your field and speaking to your audience — each represent an opportunity, and require their own evaluation, approach and ongoing relationship. 

It also means re-evaluating the results of your efforts — the biggest “hit” should be an online story that is pushed out in the appropriate newsletter.  The next biggest should be a positive story that ranks high on search engines…or a link that generates more interest by outside media.

Having a great strategy — and a commitment to building these relationships — is key.  That, and a little luck doesn’t hurt either.

Who Do You Trust?

1 May

Matt at Techno//Marketer linked to this Forrester “trust study”  the other day, and asked some tough, relevant questions that deserve airing before this chart gets much more exposure online.  And it does seem to be getting a lot of pick up — not suprising since it reports that a “blogger’s review online” is trusted by only 30% of respondents.  A  call to arms!

The study looks at what “North American consumers” trust for information about products and services — respondents rate friends’ recommendations and TV, radio or newspaper reviews and the manufacturers’ websites as the most trustworthy on new products.  

Matt presents a nice list of questions:

  • What are the demographics of the survey respondents? Marketers are going to take this research at face value without knowing if this research might scale from generation to generation.
  • Does the category “known expert” include or exclude bloggers? For example, if you’re 18 and looking for product reviews of technology chances are good that Engadget and Gizmodo are very high on the list.
  • With the 30% trust of bloggers, is that for unknown bloggers who may come up in a random search or it is generalized to all bloggers? Does that differ from an unknown opinion site vs. a known opinion site?
  • As the tail quickly falls from short to long for the majority of product categories, mass media coverage drops out of the picture. Does this take into account long tail, niche categories or are you talking about things like refrigerators and vacuums vs. left handed Cuban cigars or organic dog biscuits?
  • Finally, I found this information through Twitter and blogs. Do I need to wait until somebody I knows calls me or I see it on TV to trust it?
  • I’d also note the fine print that says that the study was from Q3 2006 — nearly 2 years ago.  Might attitudes be changing?  Or levels of trust among different types of consumers — or people shopping for different types of products — be splintering? 

    Or, perhaps the questions are just irrelevant.  If asked you whether you trusted product information you received over the telephone, you’d probably say that it depends on who’s on the other end of the line.  Same deal:  No media — online, print or broadcast — is so uniform that you can answer the question without consideration for who’s putting the message into the media.

    This kind of study is the reason that the standards of professional news organizations need to expand rather than shrink — and they are shrinking.  Every first-year journalism student learns to be skeptical of research — and to ask basic questions about how it was produced (it doesn’t mean they always use that knowledge, but it’s out there). 

    Every corporate communications and marketing professional needs to ask the same questions as we push more content into the marketplace of products and ideas — not just “does it work for us” but also “is it true, is it real, and can we back it up independently?” That’s how we’ll keep earning that trust.

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