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Changing the PR Channel

Changing the PR Channel

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As I have told my stunned teenage children, we only had four television channels when I was a kid.  Back in the day (and by this I mean before anyone ever said “back in the day”), before cable television, before the Internet, and way-before a full-season of House of Cards dropped in one day, we had four TV options: the local affiliate stations for ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS.  Television channels were broadcast over the airwaves (not Wi-Fi), and some TVs only showed footage in “black and white.”  Our viewing choices and channels were very limited, but we didn’t know any better.  Oh yeah, there was an informal fifth channel which I will call the “Shut-Off the TV and Go Play Outside Channel,” but the details of that one are best left to another post.

I have been thinking about channels a lot lately but mainly communications and distribution channels for our marketing messages.  We need to seek them out, manage them, sometimes pay for them and often create our own.

My last post focused on how storytelling needs to return to marketing, but we also need to develop our distribution channels so our story is widely consumed by our target audience.  How do you do it?  As always, a few tips:

Find a partner.  In the public relations business back in the day (there it is again), we would write press releases and distribute them to reporters at dailies, weeklies and those four television stations.  We used (cue gasp) postal mail and later faxes and then e-mail.  Our “partners” were media outlets and reporters and editors who worked for them.  We wanted our so-called partners to write or broadcast stories about our clients.  But as the media industry becomes more fragmented and news staffs thin, “partner” relationships are much harder to come by.  But all is not lost.  These outlets, and many new ones, still want our information, but we have to package it differently.  We have more opportunities than ever to write articles and posts for bona fide news outlets.  For example, we have secured blogging slots for clients on sites like The Huffington Post and Forbes.com.  But we also have trade outlets in many industries thirsting for good content.  Many are willing to publish your stories, you just have to seek them out.  Sometimes it’s as simple as asking.

Bite the bullet and pay for it.  The traditional bailiwick of the PR pro is publicity and media coverage that one doesn’t pay for.  The current term of art is “earned media.”  However, many media outlets offer distribution channels which are not traditional public relations opportunities (meaning not free), but they aren’t traditional advertising either, though they do have a price tag.  For example, Forbes has a section called BrandVoice, which integrates marketers’ content with Forbes’ editorial and users’ content.  If you sign up and pay their fees, they will give your story prominence on their website.  Companies like IBM and SAP currently run case studies and other stories that appear in the news and search streams but are not editorial content written by a Forbes reporter or contributor.  Forbes can help drive people to your story, but in this case, for a price.  While I might have shrugged off such an offering as “pay for play” when I first started in the PR business, today I can’t.  It’s a viable way to get your story told, even if it might feel more like advertising and less like publicity.

Other services, flying under the banner of “content marketing,” enable you to pay to place your blog posts on top websites like CNN.comNBCNews.com and Marketwatch.com (run by The Wall Street Journal).  It won’t run in the news stream but will appear in sections, usually at the bottom of the page, titled “Content from Our Sponsors” or “Around the Web.”  These are typically pay-per-click sections, and a number of online companies can set you up on them rather quickly.  I have tried a couple but can’t yet vouch for one.

Develop your own channel.  If you can’t find a good partner arrangement and you don’t want to pay for content marketing, you can create your own channel.  Many businesses have had the makings of their own channel for years.  It probably started with the holiday card list which has since morphed into the e-mail blast list.  Add-in all those contacts buried in your Outlook and you have the beginnings of your own channel.  Combine this with your LinkedIn contacts, your Twitter and Facebook followers, and we start to get some traction and reach.  E-mail blast providers can help you set up a distribution system in short order.  And you can consider augmenting this with a purchased or borrowed list.  Beware the spam rules but your own channel can be up and running in no time.

As the media business shifts, we have to also consider changing the PR channel.  It takes some effort, but any business can develop a distribution system that offers great benefit.

How have you dealt with the latest changes in the media landscape?  I would be happy to hear from you.  And if you want to discuss developing new channels for your storytelling, let me know.


Author: John P. David

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