Fighting Like Cats and Dogs: PR Agencies, The Media & Clients

PR Agencies and the media have not been so much chasing one another as fighting over how to get their clients stories published since the internet has changed the role of the former and cannibalized the business of the latter. To stop the clawing, EASTWEST PR called together a roundtable on Wednesday, 7th April 2010 in Singapore. Bringing together a publisher, a freelance journalist, a blogger and a couple of Singaporean businessmen, the group discussed the business case for content, the decline in journalism quality and the role of social media channels in “PR without journalists.” “We want to address important issues arising from the impact of the internet on the relationship between the publisher, the agency and the client. And how the economics of what we do has changed because of the internet” said Jim James, Founder and CEO of EASTWEST, in his opening statement. How has social media changed the economics of publishing?From the point of view of a publisher who is concerned about circulation figures, advertisement sales and overall profitability of their publications, selecting the best articles to publish becomes their top priority and challenge. “If a request comes in, I decide whether it goes to print or online. Generally, a request from a company wanting to get into your publication would mean that the news value is not good enough to be there in the first place. At the end of the day, news that is being fed to you is not going to be that riveting. So almost everything that comes in from a company or agency, immediately gets categorised into online news.” said Tim Charlton, publisher of Singapore Business Review. As we all know, the role of a PR agency is to help clients connect with their public. This is traditionally done through engaging publishers and journalists, who are the mean to reach specific target markets. With the current decline of print and rise of online media, it is fast becoming too expensive for a publisher to cover stories that are not very interesting or even plain boring (in Web parlance, they won’t get many hits.) “When somebody says ‘Tim, my CEO is in town, come down and cover this guy’, I immediately know how much that story is worth. Based on the number of estimated reads I’ll get, the story is worth $5 or at the most $50 dollars if it is a great story. Furthermore, I have to pay my journalist to cover the story and it will cost me $400. The question then, is whether the story getting published is worth $395 to you. If it is, then you should be paying for the journalist.” Tim adds. This simply means that the majority of press releases are not going to get published and end-up as junk mail or spam in a publisher’s inbox. So what does an agency need to do in order to get coverage for its clients? “Firstly we need to think about the target audience that they want to reach in order to generate more revenue. What we do is called public relations, not publisher relations. We engage publishers and journalists because they are a channel to reach a desired public. Though we need to keep in mind that what we proposed to them has to interest their readers first. Anything less and we’ll fail.” says Frederic Moraillon, Managing Director at EASTWEST. “If, for example, 5 CIOs read my posting, and they are my target market, it is much more valuable, from a client’s perspective, than to reach 10,000 people with no interest in what the clients sell. So if publishers are not going to give me that coverage, I’ll have to find an alternative and upload the content to Slideshare or Youtube, or even use traditional marketing techniques to reach the target audience. Remember, PR is but a part of a marketing mix, though an important one. ” Frederic adds. One of the critical challenges for PR agencies is to convince clients on the value of uploading content on social media sites. “It is apparent that clients still value and prioritise media coverage in mainstream publications and newspapers. When we tell clients that the media scene is not the same anymore, their response is that we are not competent enough to get the job done.” says Jim. “What agencies are doing today is to create the content themselves, post them on Slideshare, Facebook or linkedIn, resulting in the dis-intermediation of the traditional media because such info is not worth their time. The agency still has to do what it used to do, create relevant content, but now it needs to create even more and broadcast through the entire Internet supply chain.” he adds. What does all that chatter mean for bloggers? Bloggers are increasingly becoming important influencers of pub lic opinion and there is concern over the deteriorating standards of quality writing. “Everybody claims to be a writer nowadays. The question to ask is who are the ones who can really write good quality stories and get the news out there? We are talking about adding value to the readers who want to read quality opinions.” says freelance writer Patricia Lee. “There are those who blog about everything they wish to blog about and use profanity and poorly structured sentences in their online journals. But there are also many bloggers who write good quality articles. They may even be employees of major corporations and have direct access to company news before the media.” Says Nicholas Aaron Khoo, blogger at CNet. “Speaking from the end-user point of view, information that comes out in the newspaper, may be a bit stretched from the truth. But when you get bloggers coming in, you read their opinion with a bit more interest, be it true or false. They ask questions that everyone thinks about, and they are willing to take the risk to put their opinions in public.” Chris Ong, local businessman. It is obvious that the economics of journalism, and PR, is changing and that the public sees more and more value in bloggers. This influences the way publishers pick and choose their stories as the public is always hungry for interesting news, not boring press releases. The media dynamics are shifting away from the traditional linear flow of information to become intermingled into a web of online sources. PR agencies need to convince their clients to change their mindset about how they can get noticed and who their most valuable target audiences are. Reaching out to them directly, instead of going through the traditional media, is the new value-adding work agencies must provide. The next roundtable entitled “Content is King” will be held on Wednesday, 5 May 2010, please email jeremy@eastwestpr.com for more information.

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