10th anniversary: media roundtable

Frank Washkuch held a virtual roundtable in September where he spoke to media experts about trends affecting the industry

Adam Schiff, SVP, DKC
Catherine Frymark, SVP, communications, Discovery Communications
Gina Stikes, director of marketing, MSNBC.com
Jennifer Martin, director of PR, CNN
Lloyd Trufelman, CEO and president, TrylonSMR
Aaron Kwittken, managing partner, Kwittken & Co.

Frank Washkuch (PRWeek): So, to start out, it's somewhat undeniable that the media world has been in a state of flux for the past five years - at least - with the decline of print, social networking, and an increase of importance of Web-based communications. The first question is, "How have these developments affected media PR?"

Martin (CNN): As far as how these developments have affected media PR, I would say first, it's changed the manner in which and speed with which we communicate.

Trufelman (Trylon): They've been very good for media relations - a proliferation of new multi-platform outlets and increased competition between new and MSM outlets for news and content that will attract audiences.

Martin (CNN): Also, it's made us take a step back and not only redefine how we communicate with the media - which now also includes bloggers…And - for some PR organizations - we've even restructured our own departments to take better advantage of the new and social media platforms available to us.

Washkuch (PRWeek): Is it fair to say that there was a heavy learning curve on how companies deal with bloggers, when they were used to working primarily with traditional outlets? For one, is it tougher to 'control the story?'

Schiff (DKC): Web-based communications is key. We're working with several of the top vendors to offer services to clients we weren't able to offer before.

Stikes (MSNBC): Agreed on an earlier point. We now have PR resources that are focused solely on "digital" and their charge is to develop relationships with online journalists who weren't around, even two to three years ago.

Martin (CNN): To effectively communicate with bloggers, I believe it requires a focused, yet slight shift in how you treat those relationships.

Frymark (Discovery Communications): We're also retraining ourselves and our executives here at Discovery to redefine what is that big hit. A piece on Paidcontent.org may get coverage on Washingtonpost.com and other online outlets.

Martin (CNN): So many of us were brought up in agencies and taught "nothing is ever off the record;" but I don't think the case could be more true than in the blogosphere.

Schiff (DKC): Bloggers have changed the game. It is tougher to control the story, however if you have an understanding of how they operate, you can use them to your advantage

Frymark (Discovery Communications): And PR professionals can – unfortunately - become part of the narrative in a blog, whereas previously we were more assured of a background role!

Martin (CNN): [Schiff (DKC)] is absolutely right. We have been able to utilize bloggers to help address misinformation about our brand proliferating on the Internet.

Trufelman (Trylon): There's really no difference anymore between "traditional" and "new" media - look at the Pew [Resource Center] studies - the media diets of consumers and professionals are now a mix of newspapers, blogs, podcasts, e-newsletters online video, and broadcast and cable TV and radio. So the line between "reporters" and "bloggers" have become blurred.

Schiff (DKC): I agree with [Frymark], the "big hit" has been totally redefined…especially with media companies putting such a large emphasis on their Web sites and driving traffic back to them.

Washkuch (PRWeek): Looking forward, would it be fair to say that the emergence, or should I say prominence, of blogging, and the continuing adjustment to working with digital technology will be very important in the next five to 10 years?

Martin (CNN): What's interesting to me is the radical shift over the last two years - here we're beginning to break things on blogs rather than go the more "traditional" PR plan route.

Stikes (MSNBC): Blogs can be very helpful in driving a story, especially if you need to get a message out there and traditional sources are working on longer deadlines.

Schiff (DKC): Often times breaking something on a blog is a way to gain the attention of a more traditional outlet.

Martin (CNN): Frank, I think it's absolutely imperative.

Frymark (Discovery Communications): Or using online outreach as the first tactic in your PR campaign. We're promoting one show on one of our networks now through viral only.

Stikes (MSNBC): And you can quickly quantify how many people are seeing your message.

Frymark (Discovery Communications): To [Schiff's] point about breaking on a blog to get larger attention, it parallels with how we'll use a print TV review to entice electronic media to cover our talent and shows.

Schiff (DKC): Reader's Digest just redesigned [its] Web site. So much of what we do now is geared to driving traffic to the site. They're also embracing the idea of web video.

Martin (CNN): At CNN, we're taking steps to ensure all of PR staff members are effective communicators across multiple digital and social media platforms.

Frymark (Discovery Communications): Same at Discovery. We have a cross-network digital taskforce that hosts brown-bags and brings in the best brains on the latest tools to teach our staff.

Schiff (DKC): The most challenging part in all of this seems to be how quickly the key online "influentials" seem to change. You've got to really stay on top of it.

Frymark (Discovery Communications): That is one of the biggest challenges. Considering we all know how long it takes to forge and nurture media relationships in a traditional sense.

Washkuch (PRWeek): So, are you finding that arming employees with intricate knowledge of the blogosphere is challenging? Especially for some of the more 'old school' employees who conduct media outreach?

Frymark (Discovery Communications): Old school is definitely tough. But if our millenial staffers had their way, they'd never even pick up the phone.

Stikes (MSNBC): To Adam's point, staying in touch with the ever-changing list of influencers is key. At MSNBC.com, we're hosting an online video summit so we can hear from the best minds (internally and externally) on what's working and what's next.

Martin (CNN): I don't think it's difficult to bring the more "old school" folks along - I think it requires patience on both sides of the equation, though.

Frymark (Discovery Communications): We definitely learn from our junior staffers. Most of us now have friended journos on Facebook and LinkedIn, though, and that interaction is replaced what's lost over the phone.

Washkuch (PRWeek): Hi everyone, Aaron Kwittken of Kwittken & Co. has also joined us. Please continue.

Stikes (MSNBC): Building relationships takes a mix of online, in person and phone contact. Some of the people on different ends of the spectrum tend to rely on one or the other, without using a combination of all three.

Martin (CNN): Agreed - and just the other day, I was able to chase down a New York Times reporter on Twitter.

Schiff (DKC): Our younger staffers have some "built-in" knowledge of how this works, but like anything else, you need to take the time to explain the rules and make sure they know how to handle this world.

Martin (CNN): He wasn't responding to my e-mails, but he got my tweet. And we ended up in the story the following day.

Schiff (DKC): That's interesting, Jennifer. I often wonder if that's crossing the line...

Kwittken (Kwittken & Co): All good points, but nothing will ever replace having a strong, trust based relationship with any influencer, bloggers or old school reporters -- and regular face to face contact still trumpets everything.

Schiff (DKC): But it really depends on the individual.

Martin (CNN): Adam, how do you mean crossing the line?...The reporter was one of my followers on Twitter. And the reporter is relatively active on the platform, so I directly tweeted him, and he immediately responded.

Schiff (DKC): Yes, I think that's fine

Washkuch (PRWeek): But communicating with media and bloggers via social networking tools has some disadvantages as well, correct?

Martin (CNN): It's certainly not my contact mechanism of choice! I prefer face to face.

Frymark (Discovery Communications): It does. You have less control or influence in sculpting a story.

Schiff (DKC): I sometimes wonder if reporters want PR professionals reaching out to them via social networking sites

Martin (CNN): I wait until they reach out to me on the social networking platform - and of course the reason they do that is the strong relationship that exists already

Stikes (MSNBC): We just launched a page for Chris Hansen of Dateline NBC on Twitter. He tells people where he is and what investigative story he has coming up next. It's another medium to connect with people where they are. He does the actual updates himself.

Martin (CNN): Many of you may have seen CNN's Rick Sanchez utilize Twitter, Facebook and MySpace during CNN Newsroom at 3 pm.

Frymark (Discovery Communications): We have Animal Planet's large cat expert Dave Salmoni vlogging from Namibia. It's a great added way to connect with fans, hear feedback on the show and earn buzz.

Kwittken (Kwittken & Co): Jim Cramer has a huge following on Facebook as well

Martin (CNN): [Sanchez] has received extremely positive responses in a short period of time, and he's exploring ways to improve how he's using it with the viewers directly.

Kwittken (Kwittken & Co): Doesn't Anderson Cooper use it too?

Stikes (MSNBC): Like every tool, if you use it in an authentic and strategic way, you can connect with a new audience and extend your brand.

Martin (CNN): I know we're not really supposed to ask the questions here, but I'm curious if any of you have begun crafting more non-traditional press releases that utilize digital elements?

Washkuch (PRWeek): Not a problem at all, Jennifer.

Frymark (Discovery Communications): SEO you mean? Definitely. We optimize our releases.

Martin (CNN): Twitter has been used on [Cooper's] show, but [Sanchez] is using it everyday.

Martin (CNN): Not SEO, but replacing the written release with more interactive elements - like video, interactive explainers and demos, etc.

Schiff (DKC): We just launched Michael Eisner's new Web series called "Back on Topps" and embedded video directly onto it.

Schiff (DKC): Yes. Instead of sending press releases about our video stories, we send the video links to bloggers so they can actually embed our video player on their sites. It's been wildly successful.

Frymark (Discovery Communications): Got it. We've embedded digital elements, video Q&As to e-kits we've been sending out for our shows and posting to our press Web site.

Kwittken (Kwittken & Co): What about installing links alongside the release to Digg, Facebook, etc., so people can download the release onto their profile?

Martin (CNN): We've experimented with the same types of things at CNN, as well - and I agree it's been effective. Among my PR colleagues - inside and outside CNN - I keep hearing a debate about whether the traditional press release is dying...

Schiff (DKC): There are still some old-school reporters, though, who request traditional press releases.

Washkuch (PRWeek): Speaking of traditional - How has the decline of newspapers, and other print media, affected all of you? It's a big story for us because there are increasingly fewer people to pitch, whether TV critics or media reporters? Is that a major concern of yours?

Frymark (Discovery Communications):
I hear the same debate, but in some cases, I think it's got new life (optimized ones, of course). With so many content creators, releases can help ensure pickup by news engines as well as blogs and communities we haven't made relationships with.

Schiff (DKC): The market is tough now, which has many of our media clients rethinking their strategy and wanting to extend their brand in new ways

Frymark (Discovery Communications): It's a concern. Our beat reporters have increasingly more cable and broadcast nets to cover, but more demands on their time. They have to write their print column, then blog and vlog about it.

Stikes (MSNBC): And they have to cover multiple beats.

Washkuch (PRWeek): Are many of the trusted contacts switching careers or considering buyouts?

Kwittken (Kwittken & Co): It depends really. Many of the casualties on the print side are the editors, not the reporters (Wall Street Journal as an example). And some of the old-line New York Times guard were ready to go, making way for freelancers who are less wed to the establishment and more open to new ideas. I would also argue that the weaning may distill better stories.

Martin (CNN): In Atlanta, we've seen quite a bit of long-time reporters at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution take buyouts…and of course the beats shift, change, and in some cases, bundle.

Kwittken (Kwittken & Co): And there are opportunities to form new relationships...

Washkuch (PRWeek): Looking at the current state of PR, what issues are PR professionals who work for media brands, or media-focused agencies, facing that the rest of the industry doesn't have to worry about?

Schiff (DKC): What becomes the challenge is having reporters switch onto to the media beat and have to learn as they go.

Stikes (MSNBC): I've definitely worked with more freelancers who write for multiple publications now. Some of them used to work on the print side.

Martin (CNN): I think non-media companies have to worry less about the impact of employees blogging and engaging on social media platforms when they may not be authorized to do so on behalf of the company.

Kwittken (Kwittken & Co): Great question, Frank. I think it is sometimes tough to convince reporters that "doing PR" is part of their journalistic service ethic and does not mean they are selling out to help the parent company grow or keep the audience…You are also starting to see journos now want to become their own brands and view their media company or employer as just a platform. Everyone is a free agent.

Trufelman (Trylon): As PR practitioners representing the media industry, hopefully we are interested in upholding higher standards of accuracy and transparency than if we were representing, say, Halliburton or Wal-Mart.

Washkuch (PRWeek): Great answers, all. We have room for one more question. Anyone care to make a media-related PR prediction for the next five to 10 years?

Martin (CNN): While I can't fully imagine a day when TV would "go away," I do think in five to 10 years, the most resources of media company PR staffs will be focused on digital networks and platforms.

Stikes (MSNBC): To answer your previous question, I think media companies will have to constantly balance where their brands should appear and how best to engage consumers on new platforms. Just because it's there doesn't necessarily mean it's the best place for the brand.

Martin (CNN): That may seem like a no brainer to some, but even CNN started a dedicated digital PR just team three years ago.

Frymark (Discovery Communications): We'll, we won't be pasting together clip books with print impressions.

Stikes (MSNBC): I think there's still more growth in mobile, and PR can have a major impact there.

Kwittken (Kwittken & Co): The term media may cease to exist because everything will be considered media!

Trufelman (Trylon): Everything is converging into digital. And in 10 years, the digital networks will probably start to be replaced by neural networks...

Kwittken (Kwittken & Co): Rupert Murdoch may be the owner of Haymarket Media :)

Frymark (Discovery Communications): But not Zell?... :-)

Stikes (MSNBC): At MSNBC.com, we use the word "asymmetric" to describe our branding and PR. I think a lot of other brands will take the approach in the future because "traditional" will be outdated.

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