by Ronn Torossian
Mark Twain once observed, "A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can even get its boots on." Today the lie travels the world twice before the truth is out of bed.
And that's why despite today's ZDNET oped saying otherwise, indeed Public Relations pros will increasingly create content. Case in point--I own a PR agency yet have a regular byline in political magazines, religious publications, and very well read high ranking.com sites.
Everybody is a journalist now, and we're all in PR - from civilians on the streets of the Middle East filming a revolution, to bar-goers recording Dior designer John Galliano's racist comments; to mommy bloggers deciding which juice box or diaper maker gets a time-out; broad swaths of the population are taking opinion and news making into their own hands. And they are doing it as traditional media organizations are increasingly going online only.
Everyone with a smart phone, a Facebook page, or a Twitter account can "report" from the street. A few years ago, Editor Bob Mong and Senior Vice President of Sales Cyndy Carr sent employees of A.H. Belo, which owns the Dallas Morning News and three other daily papers, a memo announcing that some of the papers' section editors will report directly to Carr's team of sales managers, referred to as general managers.
The memo clearly stated that Carr's sales force would work "closely with news leadership in product and content development." A term Mong coined, "business/news integration," signaled a radical departure from the way traditional media has been run in the U.S., with editorial and sales separate (at least in theory). This brave new world of information dissemination is unfortunate for the many great old-school journalists out there.
We'll see more of this from major corporations. It may not be unlike what happens in Europe, Russia, Latin America, and many other countries in the world, where the wealthiest people own media to serve their purposes. Frankly, I don't know what's stopping Nike or Johnson & Johnson from starting eponymous media machines. For huge companies like these, the costs would be low and staffing needs minimal. Then
companies could talk about the world as they see it, and frame the debate in terms of issues they care about, from their points of view.
J&J's community site for parents, www.babycenter.com, is so well-trafficked some publishing executives have said it accounts for a large part of the decline in sales of actual parenting magazines.
Many smart, forward-thinking companies have bloggers and editors on staff, writing content for websites that look much like magazines. So what if some of these companies lose money on such ventures? It may be well worth the expense to get their controlled message out to the public.
Energy drink behemoth Red Bull started a newsstand magazine in May 2011 called The Red Bulletin--published in the United States and seven other countries--to portray the world as Red Bull sees it: a place where high energy thrill seekers perform crazy feats, fueled by the company's famous beverage. "
We're going to be doing stories that definitely present boundary-breaking approaches to life," U.S. editor Andreas Tzortzis told AdWeek. Prediction: you'll see more companies following Red Bull's lead.
Even before Walmart bought social media company Kosmix, they partnered with Time Inc. on what has become a successful "controlled circulation" magazine. All You is published by the Time Inc. editorial staff and sold exclusively at Walmart. Its mission is simple: show women of all shapes and skin tones wearing regular clothes (from Walmart and the like), offer inexpensive meal ideas and recipes, and provide diet and beauty information without having to wade through celebrity sightings and gossip.
A magazine industry consultant, Samir Husni, told BusinessWeek magazine that he estimated the All You launch likely cost just $25 million, half the cost for a traditional magazine's unveiling. The huge cost reduction came from cutting out newsstand wholesalers and direct marketing needed to sign up initial subscribers. There's no reason why more large companies can't cut these kinds of deals with big retailers and produce great content that promotes and educates people about their brands and worldview.
The U.S. has an advantage in that the ruling class (including big business) doesn't have as much unrestricted power as it does in other countries. As long as average people have access to publishing, printing, and broadcasting, independent voices can and will be heard.
No matter how reporting and technology changes the way news is delivered, news and feature stories will continue to be written, and readers will continue to look for information--and they know how to find it.
The times they are a changing. In order to succeed today's brands have to work on many different fronts. So yes, expect to see PR pros continue to create media.
Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR, a top 25 PR Firm, and author of “For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations.”
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