What if Buzzfeed Wanted to Interview Your CEO and Asked for Some GIFs From the Offsite


Buzzfeed calling for your CEO may be a reach today…but it is soon a possibility. This lengthy post first takes a look at changes to the media landscape and then tries to draw some general thoughts about implications for the practice of public relations, specifically media relations…and at the end we will see what happened with the theoretical call from Buzzfeed.

Part 1: The Changing Media Landscape

With the 27 million pieces of content being shared daily, businesses are competing not just with other like-minded businesses, but with the media, blogs, and anyone who publishes an article, a photo, or comments across the Web. The social Web not only puts publishing tools in the hands of anyone, it also offers nearly friction-free distribution. It has changed the media landscape and continues to change what and who we once considered “media.”

But the fact also remains, there are “media” outlets (new and old), organizations that are making it their business to report stories.  That third-party reporting offers a level of “credibility” and objectivity – that’s why we call it “earned” media.  Some argue earned media is still the most trusted kind of media story and the most trusted way of having your company stories told.  But lets start with a look at the media landscape

“New” media continue to make moves taking these young companies, often Web-based, from being “fringe” into what we consider more “mainstream” media: high profile journalists depart “traditional” media outlets for “new” media outlets, such Jim Roberts formerly of Reuters and the New York Times joining Mashable.  New media outlets are garnering increasing readership, such as PandoDaily reporting that BusinessInsider broke 30 million uniques in the last month.  Buzzfeed hired Pulitzer winner, Mark Schoofs, to head up their new “investigative unit”Vice media expands its news room hiring 60 journalists over the last 2 months to cover everything from the Middle East to health-care reform.  It also plans to spend $50 million over three years building out its news operations.  The Huffington Post continues to expand its international footprint, most recently in Korea and Germany.  BusinessInsider has begun investing in more long-form journalism such as the Nicholas Carlson’s epic piece on Yahoo, which was both well-regarded but also well-read, clocking over a million views.

And, if you are wondering about Buzzfeed as a new media source, it is important to understand that some call it the media industry’s worst nightmare: profitable, growing and investing in news.  Buzzfeed, some say, understands the Internet and is applying that knowledge to news (versus the traditional media coming at it the other way around).  As the New York Magazine noted, “Beneath BuzzFeed’s cheery gloss lies a data-driven apparatus designed to figure out what makes you click. Peretti is aware that if he really has divined that secret—if he can reliably manufacture, at mass scale, content you will want to share—he will have developed an asset of immense value.” Source: New York Magazine., PaidContent.

The “traditional/mainstream media” is facing disruption of both their business and publishing model, as advertising revenues decline, by over 40 billion dollars in a few years.   The loss of revenue forces news media to change or die.  The New York Times has seen further growth in subscriptions, but its overall revenue barely budged, and much of that lack of movement was due to continued decline in the paper’s advertising revenue.  Jeff Bezos bought the Washington post from the storied Graham family after they admit they don’t have the answers for moving forward in this new era.   Bezos on the record is not sure what the answers are either.  An online only media venture, Andrew Sullivan’s “The Dish” hit more than 30,000 subscriptions and nearly $800,000.00 in revenue through subscriptions.  For a good read on the possibilities around future “media models” check out “Rebuilding Mass Media: Do we Really want another Time Inc.”.  For a chart on new media dwarfs old media in market value see this.

Traditional media’s news model and how news is reported is also being disrupted. “Random acts of journalism” can replace traditional reporting.  Input from readers and feedback through social data (shares etc) are upending traditional thoughts of journalism and how journalists report and define news.  Aggregation of stories and broad accessibility to content on the Web also undermines the “protection” of those big traditional media scoops from other media outlets.  Our media consumption habits are also having an impact as we choose to read a story here and another story somewhere else impacting the traditional reliance on a few publications or news outlets that offered readers/viewers a complete package.

Traditional news enties, like the New York Times, are stuck between catering to what media theorist Douglas Rushkoff calls “the flow” of the real-time news stream in social media and their more traditional status as gatekeepers or storehouses of knowledge. Follow someone like Mathew Ingram to get an ongoing perspective on media changes or read and view his recent presentation at Canada’s Third Tuesday

Paid (advertising, sponsored) and earned (news stories reported by third party) media are converging — blurring the lines of distinction in some situations. Many refer to the emerging paid media as “native advertising.” However, while blurring may be occurring in some media outlets, for many agencies and companies the lines are not blurred and silos exist. This blurring also raises questions of consumer knowledge and ultimately trust of reporting. Here are some great links on the issues around native advertising: Altimeter Report on convergence: http://www.altimetergroup.com/research/reports/how-brands-must-combine-paid-owned-and-earned-media; Inside PR podcast where Gini Dietrich, Martin Waxman Joe Thornely talk about what news to trust: http://propr.ca/2013/inside-pr-where-do-you-place-your-trust/#.UoURiHCsi-1; PandoDaily on “native advertising” http://pandodaily.com/2013/11/13/native-advertising-is-trolling-us-all/ and Geoff Livingston on the inevitable downfall of the current excitement about Native advertising: http://geofflivingston.com/2013/10/30/the-inevitable-downfall-of-native-advertising/

Some attempts have been made to map today’s complicated news and information systems to identify which news organizations have central or peripheral positions as it relates to their role — as a way of thinking about the approach to news and journalism.  In conjunction with the mapping, this post at Journalismthatmatters also makes an attempt to lay out the roles, functions and connections in the overarching news and information ecosystem.news functions in ecosystem

Perhaps most importantly the consumer of news is making big changes. Fostered by the Web, mobile devices and apps, individuals are no longer wedded to just the morning paper or the 6 o’clock television national news.  People get their news when and  how they want it, and much of it can be attained “free” and they get it from a range of places and or media outlets.

One new competitor adding fuel to these fires is the emergence of personalized “news filters” offering specialized news aggregation based on your interests and stories being shared by your friends.  For example, Get Prismatic – the newspaper for the digital age, dishes up what you want, and it learns based on what you do. Flipboard and its competitors would be another one of these types of new media sources.

News-consumption-at social sites varies widelyPEW Research just released a new report looking at news consumption habits across various social sites.  One key finding 65% get their news on one social site and 26% get news from two social sites.  “The proportions who get news, combined with the total reach of a site, show how many U.S. adults are learning about events and issues through each social networking site. Facebook is by far the largest social networking site among U.S. adults, and with half of its users getting news there, is also the largest among U.S. adults when it comes to getting news.

In summary, the media landscape looks like this:

“The fact that Vice, whose reporting many have dismissed as a joke — or at least not anything like “serious journalism” — is expanding when so many other outlets are shrinking is more evidence that, as venture investor Chris Dixon once said in a paraphrase of disruption guru Clay Christensen: “The next big thing always starts out looking like a toy.” Until suddenly it isn’t any more. Blogs and Twitter also arguably fall into much the same category.

These new-media ventures follow a typical pattern, one that Clay Christensen has described with respect to car makers: they start out looking cheap and irrelevant, or at least uncompetitive, like the early Honda and Hyundai cars did. Then, they move upscale and add more features, in the same way that The Huffington Post started hiring traditional journalists and then won a Pulitzer Prize, or the way BuzzFeed and Vice are hiring journalists now.

The problem for traditional media outlets isn’t just that these new players are hiring away their existing and future journalists — it’s that they didn’t even notice they were becoming serious competitors until it was too late.”

Source: Mathew Ingram, Vice Magazine and Disruption in Media”

Part 2: Ten Implications for Public Relations/Media Relations In the New Media Environment

For public relations professionals who have long been the masters and owners of “media relations,” this swirling change means we too must adopt to a new environment — and frankly the adjustments may be ongoing, as the pace and size of change to the media landscape appears to be ongoing and cause more turmoil for the next several years. However, there may be some general things that make the practice of media relations a little bit easier given this context of constant change. Here are 10 things that might help media relations practitioners as they work through the messy marketplace.  Of course, fundamentally, and at its very core, the media relations practitioner has a good, even compelling, story to place — that doesnt change.

  1. Who or what is media is has changed.

The media” is no longer simply those traditional news and trade publications, radio or television programs.   The media is now a spectrum that ranges from an individual blogger who may have several hundred readers, a podcaster, or the “new” and emerging media outlets like a Buzzfeed or Vice.   Some are highly specialized and sectoral (for the tech industry new media sites like Giga Om or The Next Web).  Some may be industry thought leaders publishing on their own, like Jeff Jarvis or Jay Rosen, two others who may also help you get your head around “what is going on in the media landscape”

This expansion of “media” because of the access to publishing tools and broad distribution across the Web does create the demand for more news.  Just as with the advent of cable news when there was a need for more stories to be told and airtime to fill, today there are more outlets looking to report more information resulting in more “specialized” news opportunities (i.e. Business news stories or Legal news or travel and food programs etc).

Through the connectivity of the Web, many of these specialized online “publications” and/or influencer blogs also have traction with the larger mainstream media — or even links between them.  These “news-linked relationships” can take a business story from what we once considered a trade publication directly into the Web version of BusinessWeek or the New York Times online.  Today, the specialized niche news can more easily find its way into a broader circulation than we previously contemplated.

For the media relations professionals, the breadth of opportunities to tell your story and achieve “media” coverage includes a broad set of new “reporters” — some very specialized and highly targeted towards niche audiences – although that niche audience could be a perfect match for reaching your customers, potential customers or other targeted stakeholders.  Expanding how you think about the business stories you want to tell and what or who those “media” outlets are is a field of opportunity. In fact, some of those “niche” bloggers and smaller media outlets may result in more and longer attention than the traditional media story that you are used to thinking about.  Their links to traditional media outlets may also generate additional coverage you were not counting on.

Media outlets (new and old) are increasingly using social data to inform their “reporting.”  Your media relations efforts can also be informed by “social data” to underscore the value and importance of the business story you are trying to tell.  For example, your own social listening and monitoring efforts may track industry-wide issues.  Using that data to support your business story may be just what a reporter needs to hear and understand.  In addition to the data, those links may be helpful too.

These changes to the media market, courtesy of a Global World Wide Web may also be an opportunity for many media relations professionals to re-think the global approach to media markets and media relations.  National borders are shrinking and a 24×7 connected world and connected media may mean there are reasons to change how your business approaches “global” media efforts.

2.  The distinction between Print and Broadcast is no longer.   Traditional print media not only produce an online “print” version but almost all of them have expanded into visuals and video.  Traditional broadcasters now offer online video, but support their stories with print.  Most media stories (wherever you access them) include print, video, additional visuals and/or links to other websites/related information or other stories.

For the media relations professional, as you seek to tell a story be prepared to offer the full spectrum of supporting material including visuals, assistance with video, infographics or other collateral material. Links to websites (other than your own) further the “storytelling” and add context to support the overall story.  And, by the way, don’t be surprised when that traditional “print” reporter pulls out the phone video camera to get a little bonus video interview – they need it for their website.

Many media relations professionals have traditionally focused on the “fact-based” or announcement story.  As we all know, the narrative, the story-telling, continues to grow in overall significance, as do our story telling abilities (more in a subsequent post).

Related:  Your online corporate newsroom is likely due for an update. Sally Falkow, noted at the recent Society for New Communications Research symposium 51% of top 100 brands failed to provide images of sufficient quality in their online news room and 30% of the top 100 brands fail to provide even the most basic of image libraries; 12% of video libraries were closed off to anyone that was not registered as a member of the press.

3. Stories that live on the Internet have strange lifecycles that are both shorter and longer at the same time.  Given the huge “news appetite” online and the need to refresh news websites, your story may be on the front page of BusinessInsider or the New York Times at 9am, but it is likely gone by 2pm.

On the other hand, because it’s on the Web the story stays there.  So watch out – good stories and bad stories resurface, days weeks and months after you thought they were gone.  At Dell, some stories on the Web that were complete fabrications lived on and would re-emerge every year, because all of sudden they had traffic and popped back into google somehow somewhere.

For PR pros the other interesting aspect of this is that not every media outlet feels compelled to tell your “big” announcement story the day you announce.  The emergence of more, and online, news coverage means your announcement has a longer lifecycle.  Often it can last several days or a week beyond the big announcement day.  PR pros are sometimes surprised when a week after a big event a blogger or niche online publication wants to do a deeper or more contextual story about your announcement.  You may think that announcement/story was over and done.  Not so.

4. The days of the go-to industry expert reporter everyone depended upon are over — or soon will be.  Fragmentation of media, the volume of information and ability of expert individuals to offer perspectives means the days of the “all-knowing” industry pundit reporter (ala David Poque or Walt Mossberg) are over, or will be soon.  As a personal example, I depend on Lionel Menchaca for my tech insight and geek reviews.

Media relations professionals have an opportunity to rethink their game plans from a much broader perspective given both the fragmentation of the media, the “expansion” of abilities to publish and the surfacing of influencers and their connections to their communities.

Those broader influencer relationships and/or how the PR team wants to handle “direct” relationships with stakeholders who are relevant to the business and active online (versus always going the traditional “media” route) open up whole new avenues for how we think about what constitutes media relations. It is an opportunity to think bigger (see also #1)

5. A recent report notes that 59% of journalists use social media to find stories and 56% use social media to find sources. Sally Falkow points this out in the deck related to your corporate news room (above).  Also see #4.  Traditionally you pitched that story to a reporter you have worked with, calls and background done, executive interviews, offer up some third parties…you know the rest.   But today, the reporter is busy on Twitter (its part of their job now) and they can find their own sources through simple crowd sourcing.  In fact, reporters can crowd source the third party commentary they want or need for a story, they don’t need their or your rolodex.

Many news stories today can come from the bottom up, they don’t have to be sourced as “top down.”  Part of your media relations efforts might well include seeding those stories in various ways across social media so they are found.  Also see #10 and #4

6. Achieving that story in the media used to be the accomplishment.  Job done.  Today, that media story is just the beginning because it is now being shared across a broad number of social media networks — and its not only being shared, but people are adding their own commentary.  The black and white static print version is gone.  Not every story goes viral, but all stories get shared and they spread.

Being prepared for the sharing of media coverage is critical– The sharing will occur both by the media outlet, as well as by its readers (Go back and read the section about Buzzfeed).  Sharing is a holy grail in the new media game.  The links to that media coverage you attained will also garner additional “stories” as well as personal accounts and perspectives – good and bad.  Media relations planning has to now include social media monitoring to determine where that media coverage goes and the context that the story is given by others in their sharing of it.  In fact, you may need to be prepared to engage with a range of advocates and/or detractors.

In the highly competitive media market that is now the online news media, you might also want to give thought to how you can support some of the follow on stories in other publications/media outlets –perhaps with additional background or photos or other supporting material that offers context or new angles not covered by the original reporting.

Media relations folks will also want to determine how to report and measure the sharing and additional commentary, both good and bad.

By the way, a late breaking item I found about sharing news:  NPR just examined some of their reports that are shared on Facebook.  They found that serious stories were just as shareable as fun stories: “The percentage of people who liked, shared, or commented was the same for both serious and fun stories – about 1 percent of those who saw the posts interacted with them. In the Local Stories Project, we’ve found that any post over 0.7 percent leads to dozens or hundreds of likes, shares, and comments…Top serious stories were shared just as much as top fun stories: You’d think that fun stories would garner far more engagement, but that wasn’t the case. When looking at the top 50 stories, the percentage of people who liked, shared, or commented was 3 percent — the same for both serious and fun stories.”

7. How many times have you ever said there is no such thing as “off the record.”  Whether it is crack smoking Toronto mayor or Mitch Romney’s other 47% , you have to believe this is even more true today. Period. There is video camera, a voice recorder in every phone.  Even just a “throw off” comment that someone heard can be on Twitter any minute. Enough said.

8. The Social Web is about personalization not mass.  Personalization should be the foundation of the media strategy and it should inform everything you do.  No more blast emails to irrelevant reporters and bloggers hoping that the blast sticks on a wish and a prayer.  Target and personalize media relations like never before, including through your personalized connections on Twitter – even if you don’t know the reporter or blogger, follow them and learn.  Its not hard to know what they like and report on and it should be used to inform all you do.

9. Crisis “management” is not a workable option in the new real time media environment where there is a much broader set of media players and reporters (including people like you or me, let alone the reporters working for a media company).  Many are working 24×7 and in real time.  They have stories on their website that need constant and continual updates – added information and context.  If you don’t deliver that information, the reporter will get it elsewhere, a source on Twitter or through a Facebook friend. Think only in terms of rapid and continual crisis “response” — immediate, and then ongoing and updated, and very broad — using every tool at your disposal.  Altimeter notes a best practice of running a social media crisis fire drill.  When did you last run yours?

10. The current social and market characteristics related to paid/native advertising combined with traditional earned/news content + the issue of your “owned” content (your blog, Facebook posts and tweets) merits at least “coordination” or awareness across company functions.  For example, that positive (earned) story in the New York Times merits consideration from the marketing team to become a promoted post or being supported with some paid support on Facebook.  Maybe your company blog or corporate Twitter stream should be giving that New York Times story even more oomph with a post from your company.  Maybe it is also time to roll out a related Infographic to keep the story going and being shared. And, by the way, do that in the afternoon or next day, to extend the “news cycle” and sharing opportunities beyond those that saw it the first time around. The door is wide open for your creative thinking. Todd Defren also has great ideas.

Your beat reporters and/or the marketing reporters may already be paying attention to your “owned” content in the world of social media.  That content may well be focused on customers, pain points and it may be created by the marketing team, potentially divorced from the media relations team.  Best that the media relations team be aware of the content strategy, in case it does lead to the media inquiry ( See #4 and #5 above) or a reporter looking around at options for story ideas.

Conclusion:  The practice of media relations still depends on the fundamentals — a great story that has value in being told. What changes is the myriad of opportunities to tell those stories in very focused and targeted ways that also reach key stakeholders.  They may not all be “mainstream media” as we once thought about them.  However, they may still be powerful ways to connect and reach the people that are important to your business.  There is a real value of “earned” media, that of a trusted and credible third party, telling your story in the larger marketplace where native advertising and company owned content is washing over everything.

And about that call from Buzzfeed: You called Buzzfeed back, the CEO talked to them (after you explained to the CEO why on earth this made any sense).  You also found the GIF of the leadership team giving out employee awards — awesome!  The Buzzfeed story is about the unique ways your CEO and the company approach this (and it was featured against a backdrop of the 12 stupidest things companies do).  The story spoke to a passionate CEO and passionate employees who are connected. Because of the unique aspects of your CEO and his personal recognition of employees (and because Buzzfeed knows how to make people click and share) the story has been shared virtually everywhere. Other media, bloggers, influencers are not just talking about it, some have created and shared their own inforgraphics.  Other companies want to come and share best practices. Fortune magazine decided to feature you as the only best place to work this year.  Your company is a model for the “new workplace”.

I would love to hear from you about additional thoughts on the practice of media relations in light of the rapid and ongoing changes to “the media”.  What have we missed?  any thoughts?