Heads Up On The PR Revolution

A seismic shift is underway as consumers turn from the traditional atoms and ink news world to digital media on the web. While daily newspapers still lead the readership pack, the migration to news gathering on the web is approaching tsunami proportions.

PR professionals who hope to hit these new, rapidly moving electronic media targets will wake up January 1st, 2000, to find they must master new skills and deploy new technologies if they are to win the persuasion race.

But first, a little perspective might go a long way…

The good news for 20th century PR practitioners is that, for the moment, newspapers are still the nation’s reigning news media, with a total daily readership of 125 million, and 136 million on Sundays (Newspaper Association of America).

Sensationalism In Web News

The bad news for old-line PR pros is that sensational news events — from the death of Princess Di to Monicagate and the Columbine shootings — have attracted record numbers of Netizens in search of more lurid details. These Internet news interest spikes are the distant early warning signals that the wired world is fast becoming accustomed to using the web as a primary source of news and timely information.

According to a 1998 study by the Pew Research Center, weekly news users, which account for some one-fifth of the user population, go online for the ability to search (55 percent), to find information unavailable elsewhere (54 percent), for convenience (51 percent) and for audio/video features (23 percent).

And where do they find the news they seek? Half access news through search engines or directories, another 40 percent from online services (read AOL).

Jupiter Research reports that the primary news content users seek online is national/international news (61 percent), business news (39 percent), sports (34 percent), entertainment (31 percent) and local news (26 percent). However, web users who are interested in the local scene tend to migrate to newspaper web sites(72 percent), where they also check the weather (40 percent), national news (39 percent) and ads (38 percent)(Editor & Publisher Interactive).

Newspapers Still Reign

Luce Press Clippings reports (not surprisingly) that the number one medium among public relations people is still usually daily newspapers. Why? Because the newspapers offer more publicity opportunities (read more pages) than television, and the top ten papers can deliver even larger audiences than most national TV programs, especially as the web cuts into TV viewership like a knife.

But the times they are a changing, and fast. A new, long-range study, Paper and the Electronic Media, by the Boston Consulting Group, makes some dire predictions about the future of print-based media, especially newspapers. According to BCG, newspapers, the largest single application for pulp-based paper, will experience the greatest impact from digital media over the next five years.

It is the loss of classified advertising revenues which is rapidly migrating to the web, not primarily the drop-off in circulation due to online news seekers, that will impact papers. Not to worry though, the newspapers business will be OK as it continues its drive toward becoming a web-based medium. Already, 200 million pages of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post are viewed monthly on the web.

New Tools For 21st Century Publicists

Now to return to my initial thread. What does this mean for PR folk in the new millennium? Sure, we can still blast out our news releases to the media universe, print and electronic-based via PR Newswire, Business Wire, the Internet News Bureau (with links to additional web-based files, too), and the like, but emerging email technologies provide a hint of some interesting things to come.

In the new millennium, edgy PR practitioners will have the capability to deliver streaming email news, with embedded audio and video, directly to journalists on their media list, or targeted to those who opt-in to receive ongoing updates and news of interest. Perhaps, more important to PR pros, will be the ability to track who opened the email, and when.

RadicalMail, a streaming email product that lets recipients open emails with voice, music, sound effects and video without a plug-in, was recently introduced by Internet ad company StreamMedia, Marina Del Ray, CA. Conceived as a marketing tool for opt-in email list use, RadicalMail poses interesting possibilities for PR professionals.

According to the StreamMedia news release, the product was designed to answer advertising’s biggest question: Is our advertising working?

Surely, the same question should be asked of public relations activities. Now that the tracking process can be automated, PR pros have a tool that can measure news release readership, plus provide listener and viewer stats.

Once software like RadicalMail is adopted by PR professionals, the age-old novice question, “Did you get our press release?” will never be asked of a reporter again.

In itself, that would signal a new era in media relations. And that would be real progress.

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