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News Corp: a lot of life in print yet

Print media remains utterly viable and a cheap way to reach large audiences.

That might seem like the type of statement which was made in the middle of the last decade, with froth rising about the growth of social media and editorial eyebrows being raised about the rapid shift online.

Yet it was the view of one of News Corp’s most senior executives when we met to talk about the future of media and the changing commercial models of the big publishers last week. Raju Narisetti, Vice President and Deputy Head of Strategy for the new News Corp, which was spun off as the publishing arm of the media and entertainment giant this summer, told how online unique visitors numbers were continuing to grow. But print remains a substantial portion of publisher revenue – and remains king for weekend titles.

He may be too humble to admit it, but Narisetti is one of world journalism’s heavy-hitters. His career has included spells as editor of The Wall Street Journal Digital Network, deputy managing editor of The Wall Street Journal and managing editor of the Washington Post.

In his view, there have never been more people consuming journalism, so regardless of format there is surging appetite for editorial output. I could write thousands of words about the fascinating insight into the top end of media change that he gave and you can follow him @rajunarisetti on Twitter for more, but here’s a quick blog-friendly summary:

  • Online news journalism remains highly attractive for readers: the Wall Street Journal Digital Network has 58 million unique visitors in August 2013 as an example
  • Print isn’t going away anytime soon, because in many cases it remains the cheapest platform for publishers and advertisers alike to reach mass audiences
  • The drive to create hyperlocal digital content has largely failed
  • The competitive advantage of news content can now be measured in seconds
  • Between 60 and 80 per cent of most newspaper publishers’ revenues remain print-based
  • Of that revenue, around 60 cent is derived from weekend publications, when the majority of readers still like to take extra time to pour over print
  • The Wall Street Journal now produces more video than any other publisher, but unlike its copy it doesn’t place it behind a paywall
  • Mobile may be a huge focus for media companies as formats evolve, but remains of limited use as a platform for investigative journalism. However, more people are reading and viewing journalistic content on multiple platforms
  • Paywalls will succeed if they’re seen as one more source of revenue
  • Journalism has become a conversation not just a ‘destination’ for content
  • Newsrooms need to do more to keep pace with the ways news consumption platforms are changing: the culture of newsrooms and shifting advertising revenue are the two biggest challenges facing publishers

Above all, the notion that digital advertising will supplant print advertising is now dead – it may have been the focus of concern in the past, but now the landscape is far more complex. It’s just not that simple.

I write this from a desk littered with a laptop, smartphone, piles of magazines, some newspapers and a tablet. It seems in the evolving multi-format, multi-platform editorial world, there’s plenty of life left in print yet.

 

#brandvandals and the internet’s darker side

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How would you write a blog post about a book you’ve just co-written and avoid shameless self-promotion?

It’s a challenge isn’t it? Let’s see how I do.

The sweeping changes, driven by the reshaping of media, that have impacted the public relations industry in recent years have been the subject of several books intended to help people to get to grips with new techniques and new possibilities. But all have steered clear of perhaps the darkest side of all this progress – the people who deliberately set out to trash reputations.

Which is why #brandvandals (yes the title is a hashtag, yes that’s probably a world-first, yes that should capture all the online conversation about it) is a book that was waiting to be written.

When Stephen Waddington and I penned Brand Anarchy last year, the question many readers asked was how bad could it get? That’s what #brandvandals (correct, #brandvandals) aims to tackle. The really dirty stuff. The working title was Brand Vandalism, but we shortened it.

I got my hands on the first print copies this morning, hot off the press. There’s a social book club on the internet for people wanting to review it ahead of its general sale date of Hallowe’en. I know, spooky.

The first half of #brandvandals explores examples of deliberate brand sabotage and aims to give readers a glimpse inside the minds of the people who set out to ruin reputations. The second half looks at how to build better brand defences, how to see around corners and how best to upgrade communications functions to be better prepared. It is not meant to be a comedy.

Huge thanks to the people at Bloomsbury who’ve made the book possible, particularly Richard Charkin for his faith in the project. And gratitude too to the countless people who’ve contributed comments and wisdom.

Invitations to a launch party will go out in due course. The book is available for pre-order. Reviews are pending.

Let’s just hope it’s better than my attempt to avoid blatant self-promotion.

Agencies, families and one small story

Many of us who have children waved them off to school last week when the new academic year began. For most people I’ve talked to briefly about it, there were the usual mixed emotions: the part-relief that the holidays were over and despite the protests it was back to the classroom, coupled with the humbling realisation that another year is beginning, and we’re all getting older.

For those of us with kids who need a little or a lot of extra help with learning, this time brings added complications. Juggling work and family life, particularly in the hectic PR world where the constant forces of change force us to keep on our game, is rarely easy. For those who have children with special learning needs or disabilities that mean they need extra care, there’s even more to deal with.

As I type this I’m about to set off for school with my youngest son, aged four, whose first day at school is today, a week after the rest of his class started. He has autism, meaning he needs one-to-one care at a regular school, and getting the right kind of support in place has meant a year of paperwork, assessments, meetings, waiting and uncertainty.

This morning though, it was into the new uniform for the first time (not without a battle) and many years of school and work to come. Lucky him!

ivan

I write this not to draw attention to the fact that some parents and their children have to deal with these types of situations, but to thank the people at work who’ve helped me by understanding, cutting me some slack and being happy just to talk about things. We’re often critical of the extent to which PR employers offer family-friendly policies, but I think we’re actually a pretty progressive industry on the whole now, and have made strides in supporting parents with balancing home and work pressures, particularly where there are extra considerations.

So after a dawn start today to get into the workload, I can now share his first day at school with him, knowing my colleagues will cover for an hour or so. A big thanks to all the people I’ve worked with over the past few years who have been supportive, even the little conversations mean a lot.

And now, it’s school run time.

 

Do we really know what a story is?

Are you sitting comfortably?

Then I’ll begin.

We’ve always created stories in PR. Well, we called them stories: news, analysis or commentary served up to journalists in order to get a publicity hit or generate sustained media interest. Or both. But they’ve typically been short-term stories.

Brand narratives have long been the long-term, joined-up, strategic framework for stitching those individual pieces together to link the pages into chapters, and the chapters into books. Media change has also made many of us focus far more on brand storytelling, and think more expansively – normally with a planner front and centre – about how to make that more potent. How to not just engage the reader, but add fascination.

But do we really understand what makes a good overall story, beyond being good at delivering the individual ‘pages’ along the way? Many of us would say we are, but in my estimation successful sustained storytelling these days is about far more than effective planning.

These are all thoughts that went through my mind in putting together a presentation for the annual Silicon Beach conference, which starts in Bournemouth (hey, it has a beach doesn’t it?) tomorrow.

What I’ll be trying to cover amounts to a short story about storytelling: how stories have been told through all kinds of media since the infancy of PR, and how digital innovation has changed the scope and nature of storytelling.

I won’t go into all of that here, but in thinking about it, the thing that really jumped out at me is that the same rules apply to progressive PR today as do to other forms of storytelling – novels, horror tales, children’s books, whatever. These for me are the 10 classic points to consider:

  1. It’s the audience that matters: sounds obvious, often overlooked
  2. You won’t see the story until you get to the finish: a challenges for PRs, but how can we signpost without knowing something about the destination
  3. Structure and signposting: per the above
  4. Simplify, focus, and mix it up. Avoid overcomplicating: we often can do simply, but then worry about ‘mixing it up’. We should be more adventurous
  5. Challenge your ‘characters’ with polar opposites: move beyond comfort zones to add intrigue and challenge preconceptions
  6. When stuck, figure out what wouldn’t happen next: I love this. Thing of recent examples of when brands have done the utterly unexpected
  7. Pull apart stories you like and figure out why: invaluable, yet rarely done. We typically look at parallel competitive stories, not those from other sectors
  8. Give your characters opinions: it’ll be difficult to engage people otherwise
  9. Give the reader a reason to root for you/them: again, understanding the audience but be empathetic and then take a stand
  10. What is the story essence, or central truth?: because you’re going to need to be clear on it

Where PR measurement meets HRH the Prince of Cambridge

As so many people have tried to interject themselves into this week’s dominant royal baby news agenda, I thought I should have a go myself.

And on the sexy topic of PR measurement. Any excuse eh?

Amidst the furore of public relations-driven and birth-driven editorial that enveloped the UK yesterday, one that caught my eye was on the likely brand value to the (whole) royal family of the arrival of HRH the Prince of Cambridge on Monday afternoon. Not only is he a little prince, he’s apparently a big brand asset.

The comments from asset valuation agency Brand Finance included a reference to the PR value, a standout point in my mind against the generally-accepted backdrop of Buckingham Palace having done some very smart PR in recent years, fuelled by some sound advice. Media assessment of communications around the royal birth also called out how social media was used to engage with the public.

So what is the new prince worth to the royal family’s brand, from a PR perspective? There are no calculations yet of course, nor will there probably ever be any official ones. But at time when some doubters believe the value of PR will never be measured in commercial terms, as the industry continues to pursue very sensible steps towards achieving just that, you’ve got to admire the general acceptance that the royal family has a tangible and commercial brand value, that public relations plays a central role in achieving that value and that the baby news has made an undeniable contribution towards it.

It all certainly points towards a day when, providing we can make sense of all the data while attaching an element of unseen or perceived value to it, some public relations activity can generate outcomes that are measured in pounds and pence.

If a day-old child can start to get it right, there must be a way.

 

Away with words: can PRs really go on holiday?

I have a holiday coming up. Southern Italy actually, although with three young children it may be more of a trip than a holiday.

But if the conversations I’ve had with others in our line of work recently are anything to go by, I should be expecting a couple of weeks of having to catch up with work while I’m away: checking emails, taking calls, working on documents and feeling that balls must continue to be juggled when on holiday all seem to be becoming an accepted part of a PR career these days

Which is wrong surely? We may sharing the same stress burdens as airline pilots, those on an enemy frontline or people trading in billions each day, but the majority of us work extremely hard and risk not being at our best for clients and agencies if we don’t take the breaks that we surely deserve.

So how did it come to this? Mobile communication gadgets have of course enabled an ‘always on’ capability for those who want or are required to do it, but economic pressures and general working culture today surely play a part too.

I’m not unrealistic, I hope. Sometimes work will have to cut across downtime when your job is to implement or manage communications. That’s unavoidable.

Equally, and hopefully without telling people to suck eggs, there are some steps that can be taken to reduce the chance of having to work when you ideally shouldn’t be:

- Plan resources: work out who will take on your work while you’re away (someone has to) and plan that.

- Set expectations: tell people when you can and can’t be contacted

- Warm down and warm up: by that I mean manage projects and other commitments so that you don’t have lots of people awaiting an important decision from you two minutes before you’re supposed to board a plane

- Hand over: pull together a list of what you need to park with people, the details, deadline and who should do what

- Book well in advance: ideally, book trips well in advance so people have time to plan. Most holiday policies require this anyway, but forewarned is forearmed

- Hold decisions: if decisions can wait that then require you to take action while you’re away, consider holding them, providing the consequences don’t cause problems. Amazing how many people don’t do this, then wonder why their phone buzzes on the beach with questions

- Engage the team: let people know you’re going off, not to revel in it per se, but so it has sunk in

- Be self-confident: being able to delegate work effectively is part of the job, and it’s part of your role to enable things to go on without you for a few days while you need a break that will help you continue to do your job well. Be self-confident in that, rather than worrying about needing to show people what they’re missing

- Above all, communicate: a clear out of office message for starters

 

You’ll have to put in the extra hours to make sure you can go away with relative peace of mind, but I find it’s well worth it.

(Written from the Victoria Line, in haste, on an iPhone, between conference calls, on a Friday night, and at about 30,000ft above the English Channel, in a haze).

Blend, mash and mix: cookery lessons in storytelling

Shall I tell you a little story about storytelling?

Well once upon a time, PR people mostly worked to help journalists tell stories that helped their clients in many different ways. There was rarely a dull moment, but we largely knew what we were working with. And largely, that was stories.

Then along came a big change that winded many as they tried to work out its implications. It was revolutionary, it was disruptive, it was built for military purposes and it began an unconscious (largely) onslaught on traditional media models. It was called the internet.

Since then the story of PR and the people who work in it has raced by, and while the opportunities created by media fragmentation and digitisation are manifold, they can be daunting too. It’s a brave new world.

And at the heart of it for many now is storytelling. The ability to not only tell a good yarn but sustain it, take it in different directions and keep an audience captivated should give us renewed swagger versus certain other marketing disciplines I could mention. But storytelling is hardly new is it? As PR pioneers like Bernays, or Houdini for that matter, demonstrated nearly 100 years ago.

This was all going through my mind, forming yet more parts of this story, when I tripped across this piece from journalism.co.uk on 10 tips for digital storytelling. Some wise words, but also good insight into how journalists at the New York Times, Washington Post and others are also experimenting and puzzling over how they can be better storytellers with the content, platforms and other potential editorial assets they now have at their disposal.

It raised a few points for me.

Firstly, the demand for more expansive storytelling shouldn’t come as a surprise to us. We’ve been working with it since the dawn of the profession, even if traditional media became our proxy for many decades. The best PR people have always been good storytellers, so we should take the blinkers off.

Secondly, digital media and the way in which journalism is changing give us scope for more sustained and engaging storytelling, which should make value easier to measure. It is an understatement to call this a good thing.

Next, we need to be confident and stand up for ourselves at this time of change in what we do, and remember that journalists are feeling many of the same pressures. Take some heart, we’re in it together, mostly. We just need to stay relevant and valuable in the editorial process.

As journalists seem to have been finding out, we need to have a transmedia mindset and ensure we innovate in how we blend, mash and mix content and techniques in order to tell stories.

Because the best stories have many ingredients, and the best story chefs will need to know how to make good use of them.

Time to get off our high horses over paid media

I read a pithy comment from talented and very experienced PR lady Judy Wilks in response to the Holmes Report’s Aarti Shah this morning that we have to get off our high horses over paid media and embrace it.

Emotive terms always quicken the pulse of course, but I think she’s spot on. One big factor that may encumber the readiness of PR agencies to integrate paid media into their editorial (alright, call it content then..) planning is that they’re simply conditioned to turn their noses up at it.

Why?

In the past, in the days when conventional media was the primary proxy for influence, PR firms were largely intermediaries between clients and the press. So we had to understand how the press works, and build services that reflected – in part – those of mechanics. That meant content which generated news coverage, content for features, contibuted articles, newsjacking comments, arranging interviews and much more. We stayed on the editorial side of the fence probably not because that’s what media businesses were actually like, but because that’s what we knew. And there was plenty going on to keep us occupied.

Media businesses aren’t just about editorial though. While it may rile a grizzled hack, the reality is that editorial and advertising have always been compatriots in media businesses and increasingly the lines are blurred. Go back 21 years (in a couple of weeks..) to my first week as a junior news reporter on a local newspaper when print was still dominant, and here’s the content I produced:

- A bunch of short news stories (most of them parochial and very strange)

- Two lengthy features

- Copy for a paid advertorial

- Three short pieces for a paid supplement: editorial content, but to sit alongside advertorial to give balance to the supplement

- There was even some direct engagement, even if that was mailing badges to new Kids’ Club recruits and answering the postbag for the Women’s Page

Editorial and advertising were different disciplines, and yes it was easy to spot the journalist versus the ad guy by their clothes, car and banter, but we worked together closely on producing the product of print pages and the newspaper’s related brand-led activity. We didn’t just co-exist, we collaborated. Even if it meant the newbie got the short straw of judging the Best Dressed Little Alien competition at the local McDonald’s.

In PR we’ve historially been guilty of seeing paid as somehow beneath us, or impinging on the purity of earned editorial. But earned is a commercial venture of course, so somewhere, somehow, it’s all paid. That ‘free’ content is there, in it myriad of modern forms, to give balance, purpose or intrigue for products that have, typically, purely commercial intentions.

So while we’re at a relatively early stage with paid media, we must innovate. We’ve got to push the boundaries of conventional approaches, experiment a little and find new ways of this all fitting together, to give more advantageous ways of creating influence and to cut through the clutter of a fragmented media landscape.

You might think you get a better view from a high horse, but it’s time to tackle integrated media planning – and in particular the integration of paid media – at street level.

Millennial women are challenging the definition of ambition

 As Steve Earl is on holiday this week, I’ve been invited to post as a guest.

Emma Barnett did an interesting piece for her column last week in response to Maria Miller’s taskforce to tackle the lack of women in senior management positions. She concludes it’s about making leadership appealing to women and showing you don’t need to commit every second of your life to your career in order to reach the top.

Zeno Group announced some research yesterday into the attitudes of Millennial women in the workplace. It finds that Millennial women have little interest or desire to assume a top leadership position with only fifteen percent of 1,000 Millennial women saying they would want to be the number one leader of a large or prominent organisation. The reason given by nearly 50 percent is that too much personal sacrifice is at stake.

The research shows that this generation seems to be challenging the very definition of what ambition is. Blazing new trails is not for everyone and what people most care about is doing great, rewarding and interesting work but not about leading others. It seems that Millennial women can lead but are unsure of whether they should lead. In other words, capability is not the issue – fear of judgment for “doing it all” and even greater fear of failure at one or more aspects of life can be an enormous barrier for today’s Millennial women. All we can do is keep pushing for change and encourage career development that fosters balance, confidence and overall well-being. Although the research focuses on women in the workplace, last week Business Week ran a headline that men need family time too so perhaps work/ life balance in general is the wider business trend here.

Our company promotes ‘fearless’ in its culture. Fearless, not in a rampaging bull kind of way but in a way that encourages us to take charge of our careers and make it work for ourselves, too. Adopting flexible working practices plays a huge part in enabling that to happen.

Sasha Manners, Zeno Group

ZenoGroup-Millennial-Women-Infographic

PR’s men of steel (and a bit of carbon)

PR has many secrets.

One of them is something of a secret society. Actually it’s not even that secret really: it’s just that the thought of a bunch of middle-aged male PR people in lycra sweating around mountainous parts of Europe for one week every summer can have limited further appeal.

Les Veloistes Gentils is an extended group of friends who each year go on a bike ride founded by Metia’s new arrival Mark ‘Pinny’ Pinsent after he and his family moved to France. Each year, a dozen or more riders, usually about half of them in PR, head off together for a gruelling week of tough cycling and tougher banter.

I could continue to wax lyrical, but we could stray into lycra territory. And anyway, you can follow our frolics here.

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