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With old media imploding, marketers look to social media

The traditional media are imploding before our eyes.

Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper publisher, just finished slashing 2,000 jobs nationwide, including a couple dozen at the St. Cloud Times. Cuts at Gannett’s KARE-11 are expected soon.

Blue-chip magazine publishers Conde Nast, Hearst, Forbes and Time are making significant cuts across all their properties. Book publishers Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Simon & Schuster and Random House are doing the same.

Here in the Twin Cities, we learned last week that the Star Tribune, KSTP-TV and WCCO Radio are dramatically cutting news staff.

What this means for marketers is that social media will become increasingly important as conduits for delivering client messages. That’s why I was pleased to be part of a panel discussing social media at last week’s Professional Practices Conference of the Minnesota Public Relations Society of America.

Joining me were Lisa Hannum, CEO of Beehive PR; Matt Kucharski, senior vice president at Padilla Speer Beardsley; Maria Reitan, senior principal at Carmichael Lynch Spong; and Keith Negrin, director of public relations at Morsekode.

‘Age of engagement’
The event was well-attended by Twin Cities PR professionals, and there was clearly a hunger for more information on how to navigate the social-media world. Following are a few highlights from the discussion.

“We’ve moved from the age of influence to the age of engagement,” Hannum said. In the old model, those with money were able to get their message out. Now, she said, there are more options for delivering marketing messages, but they’re more difficult to identify.

“This is fundamentally a difficult change,” Hannum said. “It creates a lot of fear” among companies and the agencies they work with. Reitan agreed.

“A lot of our clients are unsure about this new media,” she said. “They’re very comfortable with old media.” Agencies and marketing professionals need to educate clients on new media: what it is, how it works, how it differs from the traditional models.

But there are principles that hold true for both the old and new models, Kucharski said.

“Research and objectives — that was key 20 years ago and still is,” he said. Marketers have always sought to identify media influencers and reach out to them. That’s just as possible with new media as with old. In addition, social media offer opportunities for direct communication with customers that were never possible in the old media.

(Side note: I was fascinated to hear Kucharski describe the “Smurfs,” a group of twentysomething Padilla employees who meet monthly to exchange new-media ideas.)

I agree with all sides. New media are an exciting opportunity for marketers, and they’re still very much a work in progress, with plenty of room for creativity and experimentation.

But, as Negrin pointed out, some things never change.

“Ultimately, we’re all in the relationship business,” he said. “Social media are another set of tools to build relationships.”

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Christopher Lower on 12/08/2008 - 01:16 pm.

    Hey John;
    I’m right with you buddy, the future of communications and therefore public relations is online. Part of the problem for open engagement of this by companies and clients is the failure of many agencies to embrace and become expert in these new tools. The message from agencies of advertising, PR, and marketing services is mixed. Many are in denial of the changing of the landscape, and are desperately clinging to the traditional ways. They are happy when clients are skeptic because: one, they don’t understand or use these tools, and two, are afraid of what happens when a client wants them, and they can’t deliver.

    Unfortunately some of our peers and colleagues are “claiming” expertise because it’s “cool” and to show that they’re “cutting edge,” yet they failed delivery to a client, leaving the client more irate and skeptical about social marketing and leveraging online communications. The fear/doubt even affected our President-Elect, The Great Online Communicator (or at least people on his team) ruined the perfect opportunity to showcase the power of online word-of-mouth and the viral spreading of news, when in the 11th hour, they leaked the Biden choice to CNN prior to the anticipated text. It truly will be a great thing when there is a complete trust, understanding, and embrace of social media/networking and the power of communications online. At least we won’t be the slow gazelles in the herd!

    -Christopher Lower
    Sterling Cross Communications
    Traditional Storytelling Integrating Today’s Technology

  2. Submitted by Albert Maruggi on 12/12/2008 - 01:23 pm.

    This piece was written when December 8th and we are just getting to the phrase “social media will become increasingly important as conduits for delivering client messages.” Two issues here

    1) social media as a means to deliver a PR message is not about Twit pitching. That’s old model in new technology.

    One function of social media is about exposing a client to the audience via podcast or blog and then having the PR firm get out of the way. I have many examples of coverage that occurred with no pitches. Yup, no pitching, and that is a reason most PR firms don’t get social media, oh there are about 20 percent in the country that do (Chris Lower another comment author is one of them, but most don’t. Why? they can’t bill as much for it or they don’t have the skill set in the old model to bill for it. I am not talking about blogger relations where you send a pitch to a blogger, we are not calling that social media are we?

    2) part of social media is for a company to actually be social, share ideas, take a position, admit mistakes, be a part of communities of interest. This is a culture change for the company in many cases and a PR firm is not concerned with that because that is a more difficult sell. If your perspective is social media is a “tool” like direct mail for 2010, you will not get the most benefit from social media. In fact, I’ll bet a beer your experience in social media will be short lived.

    I agree with Kucharski in that there are thought leaders “influencers” just like one would attempt to convince an editorial board member or columnist of your client’s position. I think Matt and I agree on this point, that reaching them is more about participating in their space, than pinging them with a few tweets and an email. (disclosure: Matt is one of my favorite peers).

    I would add that social media allows for “influential ideas” to surface without gate keepers being convinced by a third party. Lastly I do take exception to the 20 somethings reference. Social media is not, repeat not, about generations. If you look at influencers they are across the board in age. Scoble, Israel, Owyang, Brogan, Kawasaki, Monty, Defren, Swan, and many others.

    According to Forrester the fastest growing segment on Facebook is 35 Plus year olds. No no, I’m not defensive about being 50 in two weeks, am I? Social media is not limited to 20 somethings, get some old foggies in there, then there might be somebody to pay for all this stuff? :>) have fun

    Want to see social media, get to the social media breakfast – the twin cities has a dynamic group – monthly breakfasts next one on Dec 19

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