June 4, 2007
Copyright © 2007 PRSA. All rights reserved.
By Larry Thomas
The following article appears in the June issue of PR Tactics.
In stark contrast to the advertising world where disciplines are generally split into creative and media, the PR profession has largely measured its success by the quantity of media garnered regardless of the quality of written, visual or aural work produced. In addition, since there are few guarantees in the world of public relations — certainly none with editorial coverage — the natural corollary is for scarcity to drive value.
Modern media concepts such as disintermediation, direct-to-consumer outreach and leveraging the long tail of the Internet represent challenges posed by the tumultuous changes in the media environment. After years of trying to win over the media gatekeepers and measuring campaigns by the quantity of clips and on-air mentions, how is a PR practitioner going to make sense of this new world order?
Content and context
The rise of the Internet as a universal platform for media consumption has already shifted the focus for many PR strategists to creative content — namely video.
The standard fare of PR deliverables must be reconsidered. Those achieving early success in Web video are evolving into savvy producers and programmers who develop meaningful content and create the appropriate context with self-branded media delivery vehicles.
In so doing, PR veterans are becoming painfully aware that proven media models that have guided them through the dawn of television into the age of 24-hour video news are limited in today’s video 2.0 world. Too many PR pros still apply traditional media rules based on decades of studies conducted on TV viewing habits. While some of those rules still work, others must evolve.
Audience engagement with video
Let’s examine four examples that drive audience engagement with video in the advent of this new age of public relations.
1. Video technology
Conventional television remains the primary mass consumption vehicle for video. However, audiences are growing more selective and opting for more intimate media experiences, choosing devices that offer personalization and mobility, such as digital video recorders, wireless computers, portable video players and smart phones.
2. Video distribution
Traditionally, video was delivered through terrestrial distribution, cable and satellite. Widespread adoption of broadband delivery means that more content — especially video — can be consumed on the Web with a quality that is becoming an acceptable alternative to broadcast TV.
3. Consumption habits
Remember, NBC’s “must see TV” promotion for its Thursday night lineup? With the exceptions of mega-hits, such as the Super Bowl and “American Idol,” consumers now insist on having full control of the video experience, meaning interactive, mobile video on-demand around the clock. Viewers are no longer gazing intently at the TV monitor waiting for the programming to be fed to them; they’re grazing media throughout the day.
Audiences have been conditioned to decide in the first few seconds of viewing video whether it is one of two types of content: advertising or programming. The video was either a commercial merchandizing a product, or it was entertainment or news programming. Today, we’re seeing the emergence of a third genre of video content — narrative marketing — where the PR tradition of storytelling engages consumers, while its placement within advertising space offers predictability.
There’s no doubt about TV’s enduring popularity as a mass medium, but its one-size-fits-all programming tends to fall short in creating relevance for audiences.
Narrative marketing is essentially PR video delivered through an advertising vehicle. Media exposure is purchased on broadcast and cable television, radio and the Web based on precise demographic and geographic audience targets, ensuring that the message reaches the viewers who care about it most.
This new breed of content traces its roots to PR video because it employs short-form video to inform or explain the benefits of a brand, product or issue. Unlike traditional advertisements, narrative marketing messages are neither delivered by paid representatives nor driven by price stimulation, side-by-side product comparisons or special offers.
Each video typically runs for 30 seconds and provides interview clips with fully identified, unpaid endorsers, such as company employees, consumers, or industry authorities. A presenter — who is visible on camera to introduce and close each segment — serves as a narrator and provides the voice-over to advance the storyline. In addition, a Web address is offered to help viewers or listeners learn more about the source of the content and act on the message.
The long tail taps into video
Video delivered on the Web begins to create relevance for viewers in ways broadcast TV has been unable to achieve.
The 2006 publication of the book, “The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More,” written by Wired Editor Chris Anderson, helped to popularize the term “long tail.” The term describes the set of numbers found at the end of an extended “L-shaped” chart that starts with higher values, then drops sharply and thins out over a long period of time.
Anderson posits that the Internet offers low-cost opportunities for niche marketers to reach consumers, and that this small-business segment — the long tail of the Internet — in aggregate, represents a vast untapped market.
The long tail is populated by countless micro-communities. Companies that operate in the slimmest of vertical markets cater to the needs of audiences who are seeking highly specialized content, especially video. Business-to-business marketers who had previously been shut out of PR video opportunities in network or local television now view the Internet as the great equalizer.
Direct-to-consumer Internet channels
Companies today can offer a branded Internet channel displaying professionally produced video of all of its product offerings, earnings announcements or promotional events.
Similarly, a product profile can be produced as an entertaining viral video to be posted on YouTube and other popular video-sharing networks. The same Web video can be pushed through search engine marketing techniques, which match the video’s metatag descriptions with the search terms entered by Internet users of popular portals like Yahoo! and Google. Web sites that function as video search engines are yet another way that audiences seeking specific information within their areas of interest can effortlessly find and view video on the Internet.
Public relations finds itself at the epicenter of an industry-redefining moment of seismic proportions. While there likely will be a few new concepts to master, like narrative marketing and Internet TV, it is the profession’s well-established storytelling skills and understanding of audience engagement that will steady the ride on what is sure to be an exhilarating journey.
Larry Thomas is the chief operating officer of Medialink Worldwide. He has more than a decade of experience in media services management, revenue generation and product development.
Background: the long tail
The long tail theory was first introduced by Chris Anderson in the October 2004 Wired. Anderson, the magazine’s editor, suggested there is a profitable market found in selling obscure items such as books, music and videos to online niche groups. (Companies such as Amazon and eBay sell these items. They are able to provide these products because they are not limited by storage.) In his article, Anderson gave three rules to having a successful long tail effect, including:
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