From the rise of transparency to the decline of newsprint, every PR pro needs to remain on top of the ever-changing media landscape.
Portability of video content
"It's an understatement to say that the news media have changed almost cosmically over the past several years," says Laurence Moskowitz, CEO of Medialink. And that change, he adds, is not a result of content or society's appetite, but is instead due to technology.
Indeed, technology is at the root of many current trends in the media landscape. But perhaps one for which it has the power to have the most influence is the portability of video content. It was not long ago that news programs or entertainment TV programs could only be viewed from the comfort of one's living room. Now, with the increasing popularity of video on demand, there is a lot of talk about video content on cell phones, says Lela Cocoros, cofounder and partner of October Strategies, a marketing and communications firm that counts a number of cable content providers as clients.
While such technology is already the norm in Japan and parts of Europe, Cocoros says it will be a reality in the US within the next year.
"Probably the next step is a video version of an iPod," says Steve Lanzano, EVP and GM of Havas-owned media planning and buying firm MPG. He adds that this ties in with the overall trend of consumer control of communication. "They get what they want, how they want it, and where they want it," he says. "Distribution can be anywhere."
Giving video the portability feature that print has always enjoyed makes it the dominant content, adds Moskowitz.
Cocoros says that providers likely will have different programming on cell phones or broadband sites, as well as programming specifically designed for those outlets. For marketers, the key to taking advantage of this rising trend is determining the consumer's preferred mode of communication, Lanzano says.
Moskowitz adds that PR pros must attain fluency with technologies and with the kinds of content that can be communication vehicles for clients. "The PR industry remains far less technically adept than its marketing and advertising brethren," he says. "We need to be minding the traditional processes, but we certainly can't be looking in awe - and only awe - at the new ones."
In the past couple of years, blogs have grown from an outlet for tech-savvy geeks to something that has reached an almost mainstream level. Indeed, corporations and even media outlets are making blogs part of their marketing strategies. They reached news-breaking entity status when a group of bloggers debunked Dan Rather's report on President Bush's National Guard service.
Although they're considered valuable outlets for marketers - especially PR practitioners - to monitor, Lloyd Trufelman, president of Trylon Communications, says blogs will eventually just be integrated into the media mix, rather than remain a standalone entity.
"Now blogging is becoming very simple and very pedestrian," he says. "I don't know how many of these blogs will exist as viable economic [entities]. If a blog is going to exist as a commercial enterprise, it's going to have to track to the same economic rules that govern all other forms of media."
Mark Weiner, CEO of Delahaye, agrees that the excitement over blogs will settle down, although incidents where blogs break mainstream news will cause periodic spikes in interest. But for the most part, blogs' influence over a large segment of the population appears to be limited.
"We see that, except for a small handful of influential, opinion-leading blogs, for the most part bloggers are people who have an interest in something and are speaking to [those] people who share that interest," Weiner says.
Going forward, PR practitioners need to be mindful of the blog's place in a client's communication strategy, says Ray Kerins, EVP and managing director of corporate communications and media relations at GCI Group. "Every client is not appropriate to have blogs," he says.
The rise of celebrity weeklies
Celebrity news and gossip have been part of the American media landscape since the days of Hedda Hopper and Walter Winchell. And People magazine, the modern founder of celebrity-based journalism, has been a bestseller at the newsstand for more than 30 years, selling more than 1 million copies weekly. Yet the past few years have seen the introduction of a new crop of celebrity magazines, especially weeklies, including In Touch, Life & Style, a retooled Us Weekly and Star, and British import OK!
Recent figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations show a remarkable increase in circulation, newsstand sales, and subscriptions for these types of magazines for the first half of this year. Michael Schiferl, SVP and director of media relations for Weber Shandwick, says that part of the fascination with such magazines is that they provide an escape. And their success is due to the fact that they cut across a lot of demographics, he adds.
However, while the public appetite for celebrity news is not likely to disappear altogether, the recent rise of coverage, and the publications that provide it, is bound to plateau. "People will get sick of it," notes Kerins, "and turn more toward lifestyle news. [But] it'll never go away completely."
The trend in celebrity news is linked to one toward feature-driven content in general, says Schiferl. He cites the Chicago Tribune, which now includes a celebrity gossip column in its front section, as an example. And The Wall Street Journal Weekend Edition's Pursuits section adds to the publication's growing feature component.
Steve Cohn, editor of the Media Industry Newsletter, says such adjustments will continue as newspapers and newsmagazines try to attract new readers or keep ones they might be otherwise losing to other media outlets.
It is no secret that traditional media have suffered in credibility and reputation over the past few years. While promises by public editors and apologies by editors-in chief for publications' transgressions have become far too common, some outlets are now considering other ways to regain readers' trust.
Kerins says media companies are more likely to utilize outside PR firms than in previous years.
"You're seeing a much greater convergence of public relations in the news media," he says.
For many media organizations, transparency is a growing trend, says Sam Whitmore, editor of Sam Whitmore's Media Survey, a website that offers analysis of the industry.
"I think media are trying to figure out a good way to involve readers and listeners in their processes without necessarily handing over the keys," he says.
Business Week recently began to offer weekly podcasts about the cover story for that week's issue. The podcasts include interviews with Business Week reporters and editors to offer insight into the story behind the cover story. And in May, The New York Times released an internal panel's recommendations on improving credibility with its readers, including blogs, a speakers bureau, and the posting of reporter's notes on its website.
"[Media outlets are] pretty much trying to be a little bit more intimate and less haughty because the media have always distanced themselves in some ways," Whitmore says, adding that letters to the editor were previously the only way readers could get in touch with media outlets. "You're going to see a lot of media companies and titles experiment with this sort of thing."
Indeed, after its black eye stemming from its inaccurate report on President Bush's National Guard service, CBS launched its Public Eye blog. Its "fundamental mission," according to the site, is to "bring transparency to the editorial operations of CBS News - transparency that is unprecedented for broadcast and online journalism."
The growth of Hispanic media
Look at any newsstand in the US and notice a display of the segmentation of American media: publications aimed at mothers, surfers, golfers, teenagers, health nuts, and celebrity-news junkies, to name just a few.
But across all forms of media, those with a Hispanic focus appear to be growing at a faster pace.
Peter Wengryn, CEO of VMS, says the monitoring company has noticed the trend in the TV content it tracks.
"We have seen an increase in Hispanic stations in the past three to four years," he says. "I see that as a fast-growing segment of the media."
Kerins describes the Hispanic market as a "booming" one. "You cannot look in any top 10 major city and not find a daily Hispanic newspaper," he says. "Any corporation that does not take advantage is missing the boat."
Roxana Lissa, president of RL Public Relations, says that the Hispanic market's largest area of growth has been in print. "We have seen tremendous growth and tremendous opportunities in that area," she says.
The sports category in particular has been very open to Hispanic-targeted publications, including Sports Illustrated Espa?ol and ESPN Deport?s.
Other forms of media, including broadcast and radio, will continue to grow, Lissa says, as Univision and Clear Channel expand their presence. Also, many companies outside the US will try to enter the market, such as Mexico-based TV Azteca and Spanish media company Grupo Prisa.
While the internet is growing in its influence among Hispanics, Lissa says, it has a low penetration in the market compared to other forms of media.
"It will take a few more years to develop to the level of the general market," she says.
For marketers of all types, the growth of such media signals an opportunity. "To be able to understand the cultural sensitivity and harness the power of this segment of the news is a winning proposition," says Kerins.
Business woes for newspapers
With a host of circulation scandals, a series of layoffs at some of its largest companies, and indications that readership is down, the newspaper industry has seen better days. The New York Times Co. and Knight Ridder were the latest to announce layoffs, a significant amount of which will be in editorial operations.
Colby Atwood, VP of media research firm Borrell Associates, says the newspaper industry is in the midst of a long period of transition that will take 10 to 15 years. Such a transition will result in more consolidations and reductions in work forces, as the industry adjusts to playing a smaller role in news distribution and advertising, he adds.
Because smaller work forces will undoubtedly affect a newspaper's ability to gather news, Atwood says, newspapers will have to focus on the news that is most relevant to their readers.
Weiner predicts that newspapers that have had circulation scandals will likely come to terms with their advertisers to survive. "There is such a huge vested interest on the part of the advertiser, as well as the media owner, that they're in it together, "he says.
Atwood agrees that papers will survive, but maintains there will be changes. "In general, newspapers will have to shrink to maintain profitability," he says, adding that they will likely become smaller and more sharply focused.
Digitalization of print media
When The New York Times announced in August that it would merge the operations of its digital and print news, it signified the latest step in the evaporating line between print and online content. Trylon Communication's Trufelman says that such an evolution will likely impact newspapers the most.
"There will be more of an impact on newspapers in [the next] two to five years than has happened in the past 100," he says. "Online news is going to impact the traditional newspaper much quicker and faster."
While online content has served as an adjunct to print for many years now, Trufelman believes that in the future the inverse will be true. Aaron Kwittken, CEO of Euro RSCG Magnet, points to Forbes' recent decision to offer its entire magazine online. MPG's Lanzano predicts that print publications will provide deeper analysis and more editorials than their online counterparts. This is comparable to the way newsweeklies like Time and Newsweek have already coped with the news-breaking qualities of online news sites.
But while chants of "print is dead" have been prevalent since the dawn of TV and radio, Lanzano says, print publications will always survive. "People like to feel, touch, hold [print publications]; it's not going to go away," he says. "They just have to [find] their niche."
The model of one media entity owning outlets across multiple platforms is one that is not new to the industry. And it's likely to be something that will continue in the future. Conglomerates like Gannett, Clear Channel, and Time Warner hold a large stake in many forms of communication that Americans use on a daily basis.
Kerins says the trend of media conglomerates is one that shows no signs of slowing down. "Unless [the government] legislates it and regulates it, you'll never see a reversal," he says. "If anything, it's going to continue to drive in the same direction."
But Trufelman says that society has a way of getting past the negative effects of such media consolidations. He points to the rampant consolidation in radio, which resulted in standardized radio stations. Such a climate created a need for the current phenomenon of satellite radio, which was made possible by technology, he says.
"In an absence of government regulation on media industry consolidation, the only [form of] checks and balances is technology because it impacts the marketplace," he says. Such developments could follow in other forms of media, such as print and radio.
The merging of technology and the 24-hour news cycle has only increased the amount of news available to consumers. And some believe that the abundance of information will only decrease the importance of traditional media.
Magnet's Kwittken says the average consumer doesn't care where he gets his information. "Media credibility is at an all-time low," he adds. "People are less concerned about source and more concerned about content."
In such an environment, Kwittken says, wire services, including newswires, are going to be much more important going forward. "The average consumer ...can no longer discern the difference between the press release and press story, especially on the web," he says.
In fact, with many wires distributing releases to sites like Yahoo News, many PR pros report that some clients consider such placement an actual media hit. Weiner says that the blurring of lines between what is journalistic coverage and what's not presents an opportunity for PR practitioners. "When a regular consumer can read a Business Wire story as if it's news from a bona fide objective journal, that's actually a short-term victory for the PR person," he says.
Kwittken says consumers are still concerned with authenticity of information, but will not rely on traditional media as much in the future.
Refining media measurement
The issue of media measurement has always been a tricky one: How relevant is the impressions figure when referring to print placements? Are Nielsen ratings really measuring a good cross-section of the population? Will there be an equivalent to Arbitron ratings in satellite radio?
"There have to be new metrics," says Lanzano, adding that there has been some discussion of measuring engagement, as well, although no one has cracked the code. "We're all grappling with this right now."
Although Nielsen has faced its share of opposition from media companies with its new Local People Meters, Weiner says that traditional audience measurement companies will never go away. "You have a 200-year-old juggernaut that represents hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars in spending each year that would have to be derailed to come up with a new system," he points out. "What we'll see is incremental adjustments."
Issues with Nielsen in particular, he says, have been around for decades and are not likely to cause a major overhaul. "There's just too much momentum in the current method to cause a revolution like that," he says. "They improve the Nielsen services to adjust to [the current media environment]."
The insider's view - Jon Friedman
Jon Friedman writes the Media Web column for Market Watch, addressing topics including Federal Communications Commission regulation, industry layoffs, and media credibility. He spoke with PRWeek about the biggest trends in the media right now and what they mean for the PR industry.
PRWeek: What is the most significant media trend right now?
Friedman: The most profound trend right now in the entire media business is the attention being paid to the web. I think, for better or worse, companies are realizing that their best path to increased and sustained advertising revenue is on the web. Corporations seem to be shying away from increasing their spending in the so-called mainstream media of all kinds, and yet web advertising spending seems to be soaring.
PRWeek: What does this mean for traditional media?
Friedman: The internet is playing a very large and influential role in forming public tastes. The public likes what it gets on the internet: the convenience, the speed, hopefully the reliability of the news and commentary. And now you have blogs entering the picture in a forceful way, changing everything. Now anyone can be a publisher or journalist. As a result, these pretty stodgy magazines and newspapers that have relied for a century on the same formula have to hit themselves in the backside and get it together and adapt.
PRWeek: Are there any current trends that you see as more short-lived?
Friedman: Blogs, to a degree, will have a shakeout, just as any burgeoning field of communications [would]. People will pick the wheat from the chaff. If you have thousands of blogs today, maybe you'll have hundreds in two or three years because people simply won't be reading all the blogs out there. The best ones will survive, and the weak ones will go away.
PRWeek: Are there any trends that present a challenge in terms of reaching audiences?
Friedman: Network television and weekly news magazines have the biggest challenges of all. Time, Newsweek, US News & World Report, their circulations haven't grown much in 30 years. They're having a very hard time gathering advertising, simply because of the page counts. It used to be that 100 pages were the minimum; now it's 75.
PRWeek: How will those two industries survive in the future?
Friedman: They will have to adapt to the changes the web has brought and make their offerings more web-like in terms of the appearance of immediacy, the appearance of irreverence, and experimentation with layouts. All these factors will go into the presentation of their products. Anything you can see, you are going to see them all adapting to the web. They have to or else they are gone.