Friday, October 23, 2009

Journalism School - The New Higher Education Choice for Emerging Media and Corporate Communicators?

When the recession got particularly bad last February, a friend of mine who had been laid off from her job as a corporate public relations manager told me she was going back to school to earn her master's degree. Happy for her, I asked what she was going to study (thinking it would be some sort of degree in strategic communications or health care since that was her career background). Her answer: journalism.

I didn't understand at the time, but now I see that she wanted a structured program that would give her the practical tools in content production (to include video, audio and online content) as well as insight into the mindset and needs of today's busy journalists and media companies.

I noticed an interview by Fern Siegel with Stephen D. Soloman, associate director, Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at NYU, and Nicholas Lemann, dean of the graduate school of Journalism at Columbia University, discussing the future of journalism schools and journalism jobs. The piece is quite insightful. What struck me most about it was how much the journalism curriculum has changed with the times.

Both esteemed academics point out that journalism schools are evolving and more graduates may find themselves writing for online outlets as opposed to traditional newspapers or magazines. Consequently, more journalism schools have revamped their curriculum to include additional focus on content development for all students (not just those interested in production) as well as focus on specialized topics (e.g. arts and culture; business and economics; local reporting) to further prepare journalism students. What struck me, however, is how the new curriculum and specialized reporting focuses could be leveraged in the corporate, non-profit and government arenas.

While public relations is often viewed as "joining the dark side," by some (not all) in the journalism profession, it seems that journalism schools today are preparing their students for lasting and rewarding careers in the communications industry (outside of traditional journalism jobs). With almost every company and organization becoming its own publication house, demand for experienced and trained professionals who understand journalism practices and can produce content are very much in demand. With the media shrinking, organizations are looking for savvy individuals and agencies that understand the news media and can also produce compelling, informative and creative content to help generate awareness for their brand or cause.

I now understand why my friend chose to return to school for a master's in journalism. When she graduates next year, she will have a wealth of new tools and skills to offer to a new employer. When I ask her if she plans on finding a job in journalism, she smiles and says, "We'll see."

Monday, October 19, 2009

Murdoch's Push to Put The Genie Back in The Bottle

It appears Rupert Murdoch is on a mission to put the genie back in the bottle. Two recent articles caught my attention on how Mr. Murdoch is determined to make media outlets profitable again and that is by reinforcing what many believe to be a contrary Internet business model: charging for content. 

Michael Wolff, founder of the news aggregator Newser, wrote an article in Vanity Fair this month highlighting Murdoch's push to monetize content for some of News Corp's  most prestigious outlets, starting with London's The Sunday Times. Wolff points out that Murdoch's efforts to monetize the news aren't new (he references Time Warner who has tried more online media business models than any other traditional company), and points out that Murdoch seems steadfast and determined to turn the media business model around and MAKE people pay for content.

On the heels of Wolff's article, I noticed a MediaPost Media Daily News article that reports Murdoch announced at a company shareholder meeting that cable and satellite operators should pay News Corp. "a small portion of the profits" they gain from offering the Fox Network. The article points out that CBS and some other station groups have pursued this path, however what may be different here is a structured revenue sharing of profits vs. a straight carriage payment. Murdoch is quoted, "Clearly, the broadcast model is challenged, he said. "Good programming is expensive and can no longer be supported solely by advertising revenue."  The article also states Murdoch believes that successful newspapers in the future will charge for their content and aggregators will largely be excluded.

In the age of diminished ad revenues, shrinking news rooms, and the increased cost of producing some of the more successful entertainment shows, Murdoch's content battle is not new. However, citizen journalism, news aggregators and user content (generated outside a traditional news room) are here to stay. By charging for content, News Corp. seems to be running the risk that so many other media organizations have faced when implementing similar business models: consumers seem to flock to free and in some cases more frequently updated information sources for news and entertainment. Murdoch's ambition to promote news credibility and the long-established "culture of traditional media" seems to be an outdated vision of what the new news business has become: an opportunity for individuals to become, partake, promote and produce their own content. Maybe Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired magazine has it right: maybe the media will be a hobby instead of a job.

I will be watching with great interest if Mr. Murdoch is successful in his efforts to monetize the content of his leading newspapers and to charge fees for the Fox Network. Mr. Murdoch seems to be undertaking a high-risk, high-reward approach to reasserting the traditional media business model in the age of established new media.  The degree to which he will be successful remains to be seen.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

More In-House Communications?

Jennifer Walzer, founder and CEO of Backup My Info!, wrote a great account in today's New York Times' 'You're the Boss' blog of how her business is able to garner and generate its own PR without the aid of an agency. 

Walzer lists tips and resources in the post for how other companies looking to generate press for themselves can go about the process.

What is interesting to me and what I applaud is Walzer and her company have devoted the resources internally to cultivate and execute their own media relations strategy. Many companies and organizations (especially small ones) often don't have the personnel that can take the time to network and develop these relationships. As a result, media relations is often the first and most requested service offered by PR/communications agencies.

Walzer's post is particularly striking to me because there appears to be a resurgence of in-house communication departments in wake of the recent recession. Over the last year, I have spoken to several senior agency PR executives who have lamented and/or celebrated the fact that clients have hired away mid-level or even experienced junior account executives to head up media relations or communications in-house. What's even more interesting to me is that half of the senior level agency executives I spoke with said this has not had the huge impact on their business and revenue as they thought. No longer doing day-to-day media relations in some cases allowed agencies to focus on helping their clients develop and execute more long-term strategies to help grow their business. In other cases, however, clients reduced or completely cut their agency budgets to bring communication operations in-house.

When I first started this blog, I noticed a trend towards companies restaffing or bringing media relations and even entire communications divisions back under the corporate umbrella (usually under marketing. I viewed it as a resurgence in corporate communications). While I don't think this trend is widespread nor do I believe that all or even a majority of businesses and organizations will bring all executable communication initiatives in-house, it is interesting to see that more companies are doing more for themselves in regards to their communication plans. All communication strategies come down to experienced and available resources that can be devoted to developing, executing, and measuring the agreed upon communication tactics, resources and time to be devoted to a particular campaign. I believe the majority of companies will continue to rely upon agencies to serve as strategic advisers as well as tactical executors to help them achieve their business goals.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Time for Another "Buy Me That" Food Edition

Yesterday, I noticed an article in MediaPost's Marketing Daily about the Federal Trade Commission's new Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection David Vladeck announcing that the FTC plans to launch a campaign to teach kids and tweens how to recognize and analyze advertising.

According the article:
The multimedia ad campaign, directed at kids ages 8 to 12, will include a Web site featuring a game that teaches core ad literacy concepts. The game will also be on mobile devices. In-school curricula developed with Scholastic magazine will deal with why, where, and how commercial messages are constructed and placed, per Vladeck.
Vladeck says the campaign will put a substantial focus on food marketing to children and adults as well as cover Internet selling techniques, endorsements and testimonials, green marketing and privacy matters. 
Vladeck says the reasons to address marketing to kids -- particularly around food -- are more compelling now because of the rising number of incidences of obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.'
"Progress has been made because of self-regulatory initiative from the Council for Better Business Bureaus (of which the NAD is part) but more needs to be done," he said. Two weeks ago, he said, the FTC served notice to get approval from the Office of Management and Budget to do a major food marketing study that will allow a direct comparison of marketing spend, profile data and market data between the new study and one done two years ago.
I applaud Vladeck and the FTC taking a strong look at how food advertisers are targeting kids. Reading this article reminded me of a series of HBO specials I saw as a kid called "Buy Me That!" which focused on how commercial producers got toys to fly, talk, or even made us want to eat certain products (does anyone else remember this?)

I was able to find part 1 of the "Buy Me That 3" video on YouTube that focused on marketing foods to kids and adults. Sounds like it's time for another HBO & Consumer Reports special!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Striking the Balance - Tipping Towards Integrated Measurement

"If a man empties his purse into his head, no man can take it away from him. An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest." --Benjamin Franklin

Traditional media vs. New media.
Counting impressions vs. Measuring engagement.
Measuring share-of-voice vs. Overall return on investment.

Lately I've been reading a lot of articles, blog posts and even Twitter conversations that seem to focus on the dichotomy of balancing the traditional model of communications/PR with the established social media and digital practices that are increasingly popular. Everything I read points out that there must be a balance or strategic approach to all activities (traditional or new) that justifies the cost and spend of any communication investment. 

What strikes me now is that I see a tipping point where agencies, companies and government entities are starting to look beyond the traditional communication metrics and take a more encompassing integrated approach to evaluating and gathering information about their outreach activities. I see less emphasis on the estimated number of impressions and more on the engagement and conversion rates to measure the success of or if necessary, tweak the direction of a communications campaign. 

Integrated measurement of communication tactics is not new. It's just a happy trend that I see becoming increasingly popular as private and public organizations seek to integrate social and digital communications into their traditional marketing and awareness campaigns.

Last week, Commentz pointed me to Olivier Blanchard (@TheBrandBuilder) presenting The Definitive Social Media ROI Presentation. It is the first time I have come across a presentation that articulates how companies should approach and measure the effectiveness of their social media and traditional marketing communication activities. Engaging as well as informative, Blanchard's presentation is the first one I've seen to talk about the non-financial impact (the focus of most social metrics initially) and mapping those to overall business metrics/analytics that accounts for and tracks real dollars and cents. I highly recommend viewing Blanchard's presentation. It struck me as the most articulate and accurate way to discuss the real business value (not just awareness and frequency) with C-Suite executives.

I also came across this article in today's Advertising Age which articulates how MS&L, Weber Shandwick, and Porter Novelli are tweaking their PR metrics to measure not just the effectiveness of their communication campaigns, but how their communication strategy can be mapped back to sales and conversions for their clients. While this is not new (a lot of IMC agencies have been doing this for years), it is exciting to see that "PR" firms are taking the lead on measurement and are not just using the data to evaluate the campaigns effectiveness, but are gathering information to tweak campaigns and raise client's situational awareness to address issues and engage in real time. 

"PR" is becoming less about controlling the message and more about collecting, analyzing and acting upon intelligence from all stakeholders. Are you seeing more agencies, companies, and organizations moving towards a more integrated approach to measuring ROI? Are more resources (monetary or other) being devoted to listen and get actionable intelligence?