In a New Media World, the Best PR Is to Be Your Own Media

For PR people, media conglomeration has only made the ability to garner press coverage of your product, be it a entertainment, consumer items or causes, based on its own merits more difficult.
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All the talk of restructuring the banking and real estate markets and Burson-Marsteller CEO Mark Penn's WSJ piece on the service economy recession started me thinking about the future of the advertising, marketing and PR businesses.

With hiring freezes and layoffs at many of the largest firms, many in my industry (PR) would find it interesting to hear that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that:

Employment of public relations specialists is expected to grow by 18 percent from 2006 to 2016, faster than average for all occupations...

Until recently, the route to effective consumer public relations was to influence the media that the public consumes. A news feature, television or radio appearances were the tools. The media was the objective middle-man, the arbiter of what was in and what you SHOULD know. To influence the influential, PR truly is a business built on relationships and reputation.

We all know TV, radio and print publications are losing their audience. That audience is increasingly, living in their own information/entertainment silos that don't resemble the traditional age, gender and racial demographics the communications industry has come to know. We no longer thumb through magazines, sit through commercials or absorb the chat on the radio passively absorbing. We actively choose what influences reach us.

Now we must target the new media and innovate the old communications corporate structures.

Yahoo's Carol Bartz, certainly "new" media if ever there was one, is on to something when she says she does not want to ever use the word "silo" again to describe how their business units operate. Her businesses must work together to collectively reach the same audience that has segmented itself. That's the challenge!

For PR people, media conglomeration has only made the ability to garner press coverage of your product, be it a entertainment, consumer items or causes, based on its own merits more difficult. Given the choice of covering your product or a product in a corporate family as vast as Disney, GE, Viacom, Time Warner or News Corp or their major advertisers, there is no real choice. You don't have a chance.

In fact, in the entertainment field one can find very little support for trying to spend promotional dollars outside of the corporate structure at all.

There is a bright spot that speaks to the truly creative brands, traditional media is in love with the new media. Try to get what remains of the traditional news media to cover your product and you don't stand a chance. Create a viral video or experiential marketing concept that tells your story, in your way, with your message and media will clamor to cover it.

News of news is now news.

In this new world, the innovative clients, corporate marketing structures and the communications firms are breaking down their silos between the marketing, advertising and public relations disciplines? After all, to penetrate the protective coating around consumers, the most effective strategies use all the tools in the new media reality -- creating media for the silos to absorb and pass along to like-minded consumers (in the truest sense of the word).

Since mass media are losing their mass audiences, the traditional entry point for influencing consumers, this presents unique challenges to public relations firms, large and small, to create influence by attracting an audience to influence. As usual, showing this new reality is MTV. Not content to wait for musical talent to develop, MTV creates its own from the Making the Band bands to Ashlee Simpson -- often owning a piece of the action.

Now try to get your product any time on that network without paying for it.

When that wasn't enough, they manufactured reality and reality celebrities like The Hills, so popular, they grace magazine covers and have spun off their own shows, though no one believes in this soft-scripted reality. MTV has created a reality of its own; a commercial reality that teens think is cool, because it's on TV. If the reality is cool, the products in it are cool.

Many think they can do this simply by employing buzz words. Social Networking! Communities! Tribes!

It's not enough to Twitter and tweet and call your commercial a viral video. If those tribes smell a hint of commercialism a community or blog audience will shut you out of their social network. Worse, your product becomes un-cool. Groucho Marx would be proud that no modern consumer wants to buy a product that would try to sell to them.

But traditional marketers still want to see their products front and center in traditional ways, creating content that centers on the product. More importantly, their bosses want to see their products. The new consumer wants to see a lifestyle with which they relate, then develop an affinity for the product that's included.

This has given tremendous power to anyone who has their own audience. Celebrities not only sell their own entertainment products, they can attract attention to any other product with which they are associated in a non-overtly, commercial context.

You don't even have to start out as a celebrity. Perez Hilton not only sells products by writing advertorial content without identifying it as such, he blatantly and shamelessly plugs products and personalities for his own financial and personal well-being usually by re-packing content created and culled from traditional media sources. In February 2009, his site attracted 13.9 million page views.

Given all this, that USBLS finding seems quite prescient:

Opportunities should be best for college graduates who combine a degree in journalism, public relations, advertising, or another communications-related field with a public relations internship or other related work experience.

This multi-disciplined approach is the best strategy in this landscape of segmented marketplace. My advice to clients is to be your own media; blogs, video, social networking, product integration, experiential marketing as part of a comprehensive brand strategy. Big brands do this, but in silos so their client firms remain in silos.

Recently, Heineken has also been doing an outstanding job of producing engaging advertising while integrating their products into entertainment environments that enhance the product image like key plot points in shows like Mad Men. And, much of this entertainment work comes out of a boutique shop.

It's riskier and return is far less quantifiable than the usual circulation and viewer ratings information for advertising or paid placements. But when it works, its works at a deeper, emotional level that makes traditional advertising and sponsorship activities more effective.

This is, ultimately, good news to the true creative community: creativity is the single best tool. Not repetition. Not placement. The audiences are ready. Let's hope the clients and communications companies adapt quickly. Then, make a media product the target market really wants to consume and they will not only consume it, they will pass it on and on and on.

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