MEDIA ROUNDUP: Cell-phone coverage finds new life

It used to be the constantly evolving technology. Today, it's more about lifestyle adaptability. No matter the angle, however, cell phones remain a hot media topic.

It used to be the constantly evolving technology. Today, it's more about lifestyle adaptability. No matter the angle, however, cell phones remain a hot media topic.

With more than 140 million cell phones being used in the US today, according to industry estimates, the novelty is long gone. Yet cell phones continue to be a major media topic, primarily because the manufacturers and marketers have skillfully shifted the focus away from the technology behind the latest handsets and onto what owning a particular brand of phone says about its owner. "We emphasize that the phones are an extension of a user's personality," explains Melissa Elkins, PR manager for LG Mobile Phones. "It has to have the functionality and it has to be a durable technology-focused phone. However, the end users today are looking for phones that are designed in a fashionable manner and fit their style." Part of what's driving this trend of pitching cell phones as a lifestyle accessory is the fact that after years of dramatic improvements, cell phones have reached a short-term technological plateau. Reporting focus shifts to style "In the past, everyone was racing to bring out the latest and greatest," says John Chier, senior manager of corporate communications at Kyocera Wireless. "You could pitch to a reporter that your phone was the first to market with some new feature like data capabilities or short messaging. Now all the technologies are really here, and there won't be that many new changes in the next couple of years. So the focus has become how to combine these features like mp3 players, games, cameras, and messaging into an attractive package for consumers." "It's no longer about simply voice - now it's about fashion and capabilities," adds Valerie Christopherson, account supervisor with Bock Communications, a PR firm specializing in wireless. Chier says there are still many reporters in the trade and personal-technology press who want to know detailed product specifications, as well as whether a new phone is based on a platform CDMA 2000 or GSM. And he notes that positive reviews from key writers such as The Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg or BusinessWeek's Stephen Wildstrom remain important because they drive a lot of b-to-b sales. But on the consumer side, Chier says that much of the industry's messaging has changed. "When you're dealing with, say, a Maxim or FHM, it's not that these reporters and editors don't understand the technology behind the latest cell phones," he says. "It's just that they know their audience doesn't care that much, and they're only interested in whether it looks good and what the features are." That doesn't mean PR pros should simply worry about getting out the right picture and blurb to these lifestyle outlets, Elkins warns. "With a Cosmo Girl! and an InStyle, they may be a bit less likely to do a full-scale review of the product, but they do want to make sure they're covering phones that are meeting all elements," she says. "So we also send demo units to the consumer-end publications, as well as to the dedicated wireless outlets." What's surprising about cell phone coverage is how many lifestyle outlets are getting into it, especially the ones catering to the 12-34 demographic. "There is a huge emphasis on the youth market," notes Christopherson, "It begins with the 'tweens,' so there's a lot of outreach to magazines like Teen and Teen People." Rise in broadcast media interest Elkins notes that this lifestyle-centric focus on cell phones extends into broadcast journalism outlets as well, and not just for the seasonal gift-roundup segments. "There seem to be a lot more customer-oriented features on broadcast," she says. "We recently launched our first VNR for our new VX6000 phone, and this month we had CNN Headline News cover the latest phone that we launched." While most media categories are increasing their coverage of the handset industry, newspapers seem to be cutting back, primarily because many of them have slimmed down their dedicated technology sections. "Dailies aren't often the best forum for a cell-phone story," says Chier. "If it's more of a gadget like the Nokia N-Gage (combination phone and portable game player) you can still make a nice case, but if it's just a standard phone launch, you're not going to get coverage." ----- Pitching...cell phones
  • Although lifestyle outlets tend to focus more on style than technology, they want to make sure that the product works. As such, sending trial versions of the latest phone remains important, regardless of the outlet.
  • Cell-phone makers often partner up with carriers, so make sure that your handset pitch is in sync with what the carriers are saying.
  • When targeting younger demographics, look for celebrity users and then highlight those names in your pitch to editors and producers.

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