Journalist Q&A: Stuart Elliott, 'The New York Times'

Stuart Elliott has been covering advertising and marketing at The New York Times since 1991.

Name: Stuart Elliott

Title: Reporter

Outlet: The New York Times

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Stuart Elliott has been covering advertising and marketing at The New York Times since 1991. He talks to Alexandra Bruell about the evolving role of PR in the marketing industry and a shift in the Times' criteria for covering a campaign.

PRWeek: How has the integration of different types of marketing impacted your coverage?

Everything we do now is so different because we used to say we'd only write about a campaign if there was a certain amount of spending involved or if it had a certain amount of scope or purpose, whereas now with new media, the most innovative interesting campaigns could cost $43. A lot of these things are very efficient spending-wise, and as a result we've changed a lot of the criteria for covering stories. What's newsworthy is completely different from what was newsworthy a year or two ago.

All of the efforts marketers are making are changing so dramatically that we have to scramble to keep up with it. For a while, it was the big marketers that were having trouble wrapping their arms around new and social media, but a lot of them are embracing it now. It's still the early days in terms of what works and what doesn't and what's effective and what isn't, but that makes it more interesting to talk about.

PRWeek: You've seen the industry grow and evolve. It's evident that social media has blurred the line between marketing disciplines. What's your take on that?

Looking back, it's flabbergasting how over the course of a couple of decades everything has changed so dramatically, but at the same time the basic purpose of everything is still the same. Everybody is still trying to sell people stuff, and there are a lot more tools to make that process much more targeted and to make the messages you're putting in front of people more tailored to that actual consumer.

So through social media and other new forms of media, there is the amazing ability to gut out that irritation factor that's annoyed people so much – the saying goes, people don't like bad ads so much as they don't like ads that are irrelevant to them.

PRWeek: You've been writing a lot of stories about nontraditional advertising and new media. How much of your coverage would you say incorporates some element of PR?

The amount of attention that PR is getting as part of overall marketing is increasing. Certainly the whole concept of buzz marketing and viral marketing is really PR dressed up in the new century to a degree. You can look at some of the stunts and silly things press agents did 50 years ago and see a lot of the roots of what's now called viral marketing.

PRWeek: What's your best method for finding stories?

I listen to people. I read. I get pitched by e-mail, by phone, by carrier pigeon, by packages, by all sorts of things. I read all the trade pubs. I try to keep up with what's on TV. I read a lot of newspapers and magazines to see what's happening. Editors here have ideas. Other reporters have ideas. People in the industry are always suggesting things to cover. It's everything and everywhere.

*Correction: An earlier version of this interview misspelled Stuart Elliott's last name, leaving off one "t". The correct spelling is "Elliott" not "Elliot."

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