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Taking on the Biggest, Baddest Publicity Medium

  |  September 26, 2000   |  Comments

There is a publicity medium that rivals network TV in its reach and dwarfs print media in its circulation and intimacy. The medium targets its markets far more precisely than any trade magazine with an immediacy that approximates a tap on the shoulder. And instead of blowing off publicists, its editors urgently request material and are largely ignored. Welcome to the murky medium of the online newsletter and its kissin' cousins, e-zines and discussion lists.

There is a publicity medium that rivals network TV in its reach and dwarfs print media in its circulation and intimacy. The medium targets its markets far more precisely than any trade magazine with an immediacy that approximates a tap on the shoulder. And instead of blowing off publicists, its editors urgently request material and are largely ignored.

Welcome to the murky medium of the online newsletter and its kissin' cousins, e-zines and discussion lists.

Wake up and Smell the Future

It took a double wake-up call for me to stumble on this massive medium: internet.com's acquisition of ClickZ and my research for a print magazine article on newsletters. Interviews with newsletter gurus gave me the dimensions of the medium, but the $16 million shelled out by internet.com for ClickZ was the real eye opener. Right. We're not just covering a revolution, we're one of the revolution's own products, related somewhat to lots of other newsletters and e-zines. Taken together, online newsletters are nothing less than a new, inconceivably vast medium, a medium created by the Internet itself.

It's like the early days of TV. Who could have guessed the ancestors of Uncle Milty and Howdy Doody would dominate the world's consciousness and revolutionize news coverage in a few short decades?

Clearly, there is a continuum of newsletters from the truly embarrassing shlock-zines and adver-letters on up to world-class editorial and design productions. Together, this medium likely produces several-billion-plus page views monthly as it gets blasted into maybe 180 million email boxes daily. And, yet, apart from multiple newsletter publishers like internet.com, iEntry.com, and BRIEFME.COM, where are the integrated programs targeting this medium? Where are the publicists keying in on its specific requirements, defining its scope, creating access channels?

We've seen new media departments and on-staff online evangelists but nothing close to the strategic publicity and public relations effort required to incorporate this massive new medium into the universe of publicity outlets. If you have a story, let's hear it and put it out there for ClickZ subscribers to see.

The Wrong Side of the Tracks

Reluctance to target this medium is partly based on the company it keeps. There's a lot of shlock out there and fear of bottom feeding in targeting newsletters for a publicity campaign. Get over it! This is a medium that now includes The New York Times, ICONOCAST, and ClickZ. You can get hyperlinked HTML email from each of these institutions keyed to full editorial content. Email-based direct newsletter communications are only going to get bigger and stronger as full HTML, voice over Internet protocol (VoIP), and streaming video gain strength.

Sure, there's a seedy side to the newsletter industry. Newsletters proliferate like fruit flies and are often just about as much fun. There's a toxic waste dump in my own email trash folder, unsolicited junk ads masquerading as subscription fulfillment. And along with that composting mess are all the unasked-for offers sidling in from e-marketers buying lists from the charlatans sending out phony newsletters. The result? Publicists and their clients have been blinded to the real value in mapping and addressing the upside of this dynamic medium.

Four Reasons to Jump on This Medium

The shareholders, CEOs, clients, and marketing VPs relying on PR to support corporate and marketing efforts need to reach the person at the other end of the emailed newsletter: the subscriber. You can reach this person with a splashy magazine spread if he or she is looking or through a profile or roundup story in a major newspaper or newsmagazine if you're lucky. But, compared to online newsletters, PR:

  • Can't reach as many subscribers

  • Can't reach subscribers as directly

  • Can't reach subscribers while they're sitting right at their computers ready to click over to a company's web site

  • Can't reach subscribers as cost-effectively

Publicity arriving in the ultimate consumer's email inbox is so awesomely powerful as to make all other media, well, offline.

A Case in Point

A few weeks ago, I got an urgent email from a total stranger. He just read a false accusation in the I-Sales discussion newsletter that my client was conspiring to violate its customers' privacy. The outraged stranger dug up my name in the company's online pressroom.

The very next day I posted a response in defense of my client. Over the next two days, other loyal customers weighed in. In all, apart from the unwarranted attack, 131 lines appeared in the heart of I-Sales.

I-Sales has only three sponsoring positions for its daily discussion list. A six-line ad costs a little more than $1,000. The combined lineage defending this client amounted to 23 sponsorship ads, or more than $20,000. Since the real value of this cyberinterchange derives from its source comments by fellow list subscribers real dollar values are inestimable. And no, I didn't plant that posted attack, but it gives you an idea of how fast and cost-effective newsletter communications can be.

I-Sales is a double opt-in newsletter with a $70 CPM that limits itself to 20K total text per issue. In addition to the 13,000 or so circulation of I-Sales which is part of a family of 50,000-plus Audette subscribers the 100,000 customers to my client's service received a newsletter in their separate email boxes that same week, with a hyperlink to another newsletter, ClickZ whose circulation is more than 50,000 referencing remarks made by its CEO.

Doing the math, you're looking at reaching into more than 150,000 opt-in email boxes and maybe another 100,000 casual (nonsubscribing) readers of those same newsletters.

OK, it's not the cover of Time magazine, but if you're looking for results and not for prestigious laminated exhibits, it would be hard to downplay this medium. To reach the people in the specific niche you're targeting, start including online newsletters and related online media. You might find the more realistic measure of program success is in tracking click-through rates, not counting clips.

If you have a different opinion or, better, an online newsletter publicity story, cough it up. Next week's column is on online newsletter publicity techniques and how your story can get into email boxes around the e-marketing world. Just where you found this article today.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Zhenya Gene Senyak

Zhenya Gene Senyak of www.senyak.com is a bipolar writer/marcom pro based in a formerly lazy California chicken farming river town. A ClickZ writer, he's also the author of Prentice-Hall's "Inside Public Relations" and Public Relations Journal articles on cognitive dissonance and fear appeals, and is a contributor to Business 2.0, OMNI, Home Office Computing, Publish, and other onlineand offline media.

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