MEDIA ROUNDUP: Boomers, not youth, drive trends in audio coverage

The rise of the mp3 has pulled away much of the young audience, shifting coverage of audio to older consumers interested in home theater. So attracting press involves pitching style over specs

The rise of the mp3 has pulled away much of the young audience, shifting coverage of audio to older consumers interested in home theater. So attracting press involves pitching style over specs

There's an interesting battle going on right now in the audio world. Product manufacturers keep trying to educate their audiences on new high-end technologies - such as Super Audio CD and DVD Audio - that promise to take the quality of the listening experience to the next level. But consumers have thus far proved less than enthusiastic, and instead are flocking to mp3, a format that lets them download, store, and replay music at will, even if the sound quality is considered a step down from even traditional compact discs. As a result, while youth certainly drives a lot of music trends, they currently aren't driving a lot of audio trends. "The younger generation doesn't spend the money on stereo systems the way the baby-boomer generation does, because they're listening to their music through their computers," notes Terry Shea, GM of corporate communications at JVC. This has had a significant impact on how the media covers audio. Fifteen years ago, this space was devoted to speakers, receivers, and the occasional CD-versus-vinyl debate, with much of it aimed at the young music listener. But it's now far more likely to be aimed at older audiences and focused on home theater, as consumers seem more interested in recreating the audio of the moviegoing experience rather than the trip to the concert hall. "A lot of our efforts are really focused on the home-theater pitch," says Brian Shaffer, account supervisor with LA-based Roher Public Relations, which represents Kenwood. "The hot category that the media seems to be interested in is home theater in a box." The other major change in coverage is that, at least in the mainstream press, the dedicated audio correspondent has become a bit of an endangered species. "There are still some dedicated audio guys like Ivan Berger, who contributes to The New York Times, but there aren't many of those guys at consumer magazines like a Maxim or an FHM," says Annie Heckenberger, management supervisor at Marina Maher Communications, which represents Audiovox. "Generally, audio is now being handled by the tech reporter, who is now covering everything from PCs to consumer electronics," adds Shea. That, in turn, has changed the PR strategy for pitching audio products away from a focus on technical specifics such as watts per channel and distortion levels. "If you're talking to a Sound & Vision, they'll definitely be interested in the audio specifics. But in general, it's usually a combination of factors that attract the media, including the price point and aesthetics," Heckenberger says. "If you're talking to an Entertainment Weekly, they're first looking for a product that is sexy to the eye." Trend stories require good timing Russell Rowland, EVP with New York-based HWH Public Relations, which represents Samsung, adds that timing has become important when pitching speaker, receiver, or other audio-related stories to the mainstream press. "A lot of newspapers, for instance, may do their one trend story a year, and outside of that it becomes a matter of making something a hot product," he says. "For example, a few years ago subwoofers suddenly became hot as part of the effort to make more realistic sound, so you could get coverage that way. "The key is to stress that these are not stratospheric products that the average reader can't afford, because that's when you usually get knocked out of the box with most reporters," Rowland continues. "Most newspapers and magazines are not going to be reviewing a $20,000 turntable." Some PR people also note that holiday gift guides are also a good chance to get your latest products showcased at a time when consumers are heading into stores. Heckenberger also recommends looking for opportunities outside of the traditional tech and personal technology pages, noting that the food section of the New York Daily News, for instance, recently did a story on audio and television products for the kitchen in its food section. Ann Boutcher, Audiovox VP of marketing, says the key is always to position your products - and your company - at the forefront of what new audio technology is coming out. "As long as you bring out products that are considered cutting-edge and are not perceived by the press as also-rans, you'll get coverage," she says. Cars give audio sector a boost While it's always been covered as a separate category, audio is benefiting from the automakers' interest in recreating movie-like sound systems in cars. "That opened up a whole category of coverage for us with women's magazine reporters, who are looking to do stories on the new systems that can entertain the kids," says Shaffer. "With those outlets, you talk about lifestyle and what you can do to manage the family in the car." But Shaffer adds that, with satellite radio, car audio companies have also been able to attract coverage. "Satellite radio is something everyone can grasp because they're familiar with satellite TV," he says, adding that it's also a compelling story for the business press in that there are two well-funded, publicly traded companies - XM and Sirius - fighting for position in the market. As far as the tools of the trade go, PR people recommend sending out demonstration units. If that's not possible, the next best thing is to get the reporter to come to them. "A lot of reporters initially think why should they care if they can get surround sound in their car," says Shaffer. "But when we actually do get them to sit in a car and listen, they always end up saying, 'Wow, this is how I always should be able to listen to music in my car.'" Aaron Levine, PR specialist with Pioneer Electronics, also recommends that PR people offer themselves up as quick and easy information resources to journalists doing audio stories, even if it doesn't result in an immediate story. "You want to be the one the journalist calls up whenever they have a question," he says, citing as a recent example a Time magazine reporter who ended up quoting Pioneer in a story on how to figure out where your speakers should be positioned in a home-theater setup. There are also opportunities to get audio-themed stories on TV and radio, although Shaffer notes, "You have to pursue them aggressively. There are some automotive-type radio programs out there that are looking for different topics of discussion, so you can get the occasional story on satellite radio." Television opportunities range from TechTV to Regis & Kelly, but are primarily centered around either pitching the resident "gadget guru" or positioning your audio component as an ideal gift item. As for the internet, there are some specialty sites like AudioVideoRevolution.com and Hometheaterhifi.com, but Heckenberger suggests a better bet for coverage may be the more general-interest tech sites. "A great resource for people who really know their stuff in terms of audio is CNET," she says. ----- Where to go Newspapers The New York Times; The Wall Street Journal; The Boston Globe; USA Today; San Francisco Chronicle; San Jose Mercury News Magazines Sound & Vision; Stereophile; Audio Video Interiors; Electronic House; Home Theater; Rolling Stone; Maxim; FHM; Stuff; Forbes; Fortune; Entertainment Weekly; InStyle; Esquire; Playboy; Worth; Mobile Entertainment; Car Audio & Electronics; Car Sound & Performance; Motortrend; Automobile; Time; Newsweek Trade outlets Consumer Electronics Daily; Satellite Week; 12 Volt; TWICE TV & Radio TechTV; NBC's Today; Live with Regis & Kelly; various regional lifestyle shows Internet Time.com (Gadget of the Week section); Hometheaterhifi.com; AudioVideoRevolution.com; CNET

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