'WSJ' payment play could alter pitching strategy

After 'The Wall Street Journal' editor Robert Thomson told the 'Financial Times' that WSJ.com will institute "a sophisticated micropayments service" this fall and focus on urban areas, communications pros began considering how to adjust their strategies for pitching the influential outlet accordingly.

After The Wall Street Journal editor Robert Thomson told the Financial Times that WSJ.com will institute “a sophisticated micropayments service” this fall and focus on urban areas, communications pros began considering how to adjust their strategies for pitching the influential outlet accordingly.

Although details so far are scarce, many expect that the Web site's audience will change as the fee structure is implemented. Bill Zucker, MD in the media practice at Burson-Marsteller, says that readers who pay on the spot for specific articles will be more invested in the topic and not just “casual readers.”

“Those eyeballs are truly reading the story and the message is getting out… to an audience that is more carefully reading and understanding the story that is being written about my client,” he says.

Thomson also announced that the Journal was planning to “move in on each of the big cities,” taking advantage of weakness among outlets in metropolitan areas like San Francisco and Detroit. Communications strategists will also have to analyze that change in demographics, says Vickee Adams, SVP and US director of media relations for Hill & Knowlton.

“I think it gives PR professionals an opportunity to think somewhat more strategically and creatively about how to target WSJ.com editors and writers,” she says. The publication's plan to take on major metropolitan areas will allow agencies to “think of not only national angles, but [also] potentially local angles,” Adams adds.

Agencies and clients will also have to alter pitches to be more focused on specific groups and less tailored for broad demographics, says Mike Fernandez, VP of public affairs for State Farm.

“For us, it's a matter of tracking where the readership is, where those eyeballs are going, what information they are trusting, and what kind of value they [place] on publications, whether it is online or in print,” he says. “I think that's good and healthy and, in some respects, many of us should have been there a lot sooner.”

Jeff Zelkowitz, SVP at APCO's New York office and head of the agency's financial practice group, says that the micropayment plan has the potential to affect not only WSJ.com coverage, but also the proliferation of the outlet's articles throughout the blogosphere. Yet, he warns that agencies and their clients will have to see the changes for themselves before adjusting strategies.

“It will take a while to see how it actually works and how that impacts what stories they actually cover,” he says.

A Journal spokesperson declined comment.

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