Sunday, April 19, 2009

Who do we pitch to when there's no one left to pitch to?

Had an interesting, albeit short conversation with my friend and PR colleague, Ryan Mathre, on the golf course the other day. His question: "Who will we pitch to when there's no one left to pitch to?"

Of course, this question is based on the premise that the traditional media channels as we know them are slipping away. Newspapers are shuttering their doors. Others are laying off staff or offering furloughs. One way or another, the traditional newspaper model as we know it today will change. Eventually.

So, then what? Basically, that was Ryan's question.

My thought: Organizations will simply do what they've done for years--just in a different way. They'll tell their story. Only in the future, with new media channels in place and with people consuming news and information in different ways, organizations will have the opportunity to tell their stories directly to their customers. Heck, some are doing it now.

Look at the strategy Domino's employed last week in addressing its crisis. Sure, they most likely issued a news release with their official response in an effort to tell their story through traditional media channels. But, they also recorded Patrick Doyle, CEO, telling their story firsthand to customers and key stakeholders on YouTube in a more human, visceral way. Domino's didn't pitch anyone. Didn't pick up a phone. Didn't send an email. They simply produced a video, posted it to YouTube and hit "upload." And boom--their message is instantly available to millions of potential Domino's customers and influencers.

The game is changing. And right now, we're in this limbo state. Traditional media channels are very much still in play. Think the New York Times or CNN has no clout? Better think again. But, new media channels are offering organizations a very different way to tell their story. Sometimes it's direct-to-consumers (YouTube videos) other times it's more indirect (monitoring and commenting on key blogs in your niche market).

What do you think? What will happen when we don't have anyone to pitch to?


Amy said...

We definitely cannot abandon traditional media as many still read newspapers or watch television. These media also have greater credibility than many blogs and social media chatter. Sometimes we need the hit in the newspaper simply because clients still value traditional media and seeing their name in print.

But as you said, we can't be solely focused on traditional media anymore. I think the opportunity to tell our stories directly to our audiences rather than having reporters and editors filter company messages is one of the biggest advantages of social media. I think this will encourage some clients to put their toe in the social media water, particularly considering the economics of using social media channels.

Deanna said...

I think this will unquestionably be a slow adjustment but PR folks will embrace the change and the challenges in getting our messages out in different ways using social media. I think where the challenge will come in is convincing some of our more traditional, and perhaps rigid, bosses to realize that this can be an extremely effective way to reach our audiences. I think that it will take a very long time before many truly realize the effectiveness of social media when done properly and will continue to drive the point that Amy made that people are still reading newspapers and watching TV.

Though I know you aren't saying that there will eventually be so few journalists that there won't actually be anyone to pitch to, this did make me worry a little about the negative effect this could have on sites like Twitter. I would hate to see my homepage filled with PR people constantly trying to get "coverage" (for lack of a better term right now) for their stories from their contacts rather than contributing interesting posts like yours :)

Arik C. Hanson, APR said...

Amy--You nailed it. The economics behind telling your story directly to customers--paired with your ability to manage the message more effectively--make it very attractive.

Deanna--It's definitely still a balancing act. We need to reach people in the proper channels. But, you can't deny the influx of folks who are using these new tools to communicate and interact. Twitter's growth is 1300% year over year. That's staggering. We're nearly at the point where organizations just can't afford to ignore their online reputation any longer. The Domino's crisis is a perfect example.

Allan said...

My question back to you is how are you even going to pitch when you're golfing all the time? ;-)

I will add to Amy's comment. I think this is great opportunity for the profession to showcase that public relations does not equal media relations. Yes, it is a part of the our responsibilities, but only one part. And traditional media is not going away. Will there be fewer sources? Yes, in the short term. There will always be a need for news and neutral, unbiased media. We can look at this now as opportunity to expand our audiences to include customers, economists, academics, partners, bloggers, etc. as part of our communication mix. By the way, I think the other concept here is that the media is no longer a conduit to get to our audiences -- they are a target audience. This notion that reporters cannot be target audiences is gone. But more on that for a later post.

RockstarJen said...

A little late to the table, but I get a yucky little feeling when I hear that question. If the main concern is who you are going to "pitch" your story to, you may want to change professions.

Even if the majority of your day is spent conducting traditional media relations, I hope you're doing more than pitching.

There will always be an audience, whether it be a newspaper, blog, customer, TV station, grandmother. If you have no audience, you have a problem way beyond finding someone to pitch.

amymengel said...

I think Jen is right - it is less about finding reporters to pitch to and more about how to find your audience. If traditional newspaper journalism continues to decline, then PR professionals will need to just figure out new ways of telling stories to their target audience - whether that audience is reading blogs, on Facebook, YouTube...wherever. It will be tricky as we're used to the standards and editorial checks and neutrality that come with traditional journalism that are often lacking in new media channels.

A big key will be how to define success in this new era (as Amy said) such that we can still make the case to those who pay the PR bills that there is true value in reaching out beyond traditional media outlets.

LukeR said...

I think it's just a different game is all. Social media, in my estimation, is probably quicker to get out a message than anything else.
Emails get rejected and addresses can be wrong. Who wants to spend the time and effort to pen a letter; then spend hundreds of dollars to mail it out to everyone? Or, who wants to pay the newspaper for a full-page ad?
Your question confused me a little. If there's no one to pitch to, the game is over for our industry, isn't it?