Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Counterintuitive tip for PR clients & other corporations: Hire a pet journalist

Addendum posted 6/4/10: A U.K. publication makes essentially the same point, saying PR is sidestepping trad'l media to go straight to the public. Great article. Disclosure: Edelman is in the story and is also my employer.

A smart move for old-school companies adapting to new-media dynamics would be to hire a journalist.

Could you pick up one of the former stars at a reputable publication like BusinessWeek to write a weekly column on your company’s Web site?

Nowadays, yes. Ten years ago, no. Even two years ago, no.

New business models, newly available talent

Counterintuitive opportunities are emerging in the collision of free online distribution platforms and the end of journalism as we know it. The best moment to act is now. Seasoned talent is newly available and newly receptive to new platforms.

Well-known examples include former technology news reporters Steve Hamm, now writing for IBM, and Steve Wildstrom, now writing for NVIDIA.

But why stop there?

Your PR agency could assemble a team of experienced journalists (for example, as needed: reporter, photographer, videographer, infographics designer or metadata/SEO expert) who temporarily coalesce around a project related to a social cause. Does your company have a corporate responsibility or good purpose budget? Does your marketing department engage in social media campaigns?

What not to do: ghostwrite a blog

By contrast, many companies' response to new-media opportunities has been limited to re-purposing content for a corporate blog or looking for a ghostwriter for a CEO blog, which can be questionable for a variety of reasons.

Before getting into why, I need to disclose where I’m getting the inspiration for this blog post. It’s not coming from me.

Multimedia entrepreneurs emerging now

I’m fresh off a two-day conference where the most successful entrepreneurs in new media gave a crash course to photographers, videographers, print and broadcast journalists, data designers, university instructors, PR pros and others looking for unexpected opportunities in emerging multimedia capabilities. (I'll write more about it in future posts.)

I’d been hearing Sam Whitmore of Sam Whitmore Mediasurvey (an expert in technology news media who sells advice to PR agencies) say this for the past six months or more. I believed him before, but now I’m on fire about it.

Below, I’ve included a list of the brilliant minds who spoke to us at Visual Journalism Bootcamp on Whidbey Island, Wash., last weekend. The event was sponsored by Fusionspark Media, which itself pioneered the journalist-for-hire idea a good 10 years ago when it did environmental reporting paid for by Toyota and Epson.

Why it's different now: Portal doesn't matter

Meanwhile, here’s the pivotal dynamic of the moment, and where it’s headed in coming years: Niche is king.

The economies of scale we associated with giants like CNN, BBC, The AP or The New York Times don’t matter as much as they used to. The refinement of search engines (still barreling along with no slowdown in sight) and no- or low-cost sharing platforms mean “the place” on the Internet doesn’t matter anymore.

You can go anywhere easily.

[For a deeper, broader perspective on “the portal doesn’t matter,” listen to Harvard business professor and "Innovator's Dilemma" author Clayton Christensen talk to Chris Hill of Motley Fool (10/14/09) on disruptive innovation, his investing philosophy, and his take on, Apple and Google.]

Two caveats: transparency & editorial freedom

Whether a reporter with a sterling reputation and huge following is at the Wall Street Journal or Acme Corp.’s website matters less these days. As long as transparency and editorial freedom are priorities, either works.

When companies try to hire ghostwriters for CEO blogs, it’s usually because someone in the marketing department said, “Hey, blogs are big. Let’s add blogs to what we’re already doing.” But that’s missing the point.

You don’t want “a blog.” You want a quality reputation. You want a following.

Hire someone who's already got those things in abundance. Give him a new kind of job.

Let your corporate journalist write about (or photograph or make videos of) compelling issues in your industry. Set parameters, but leave him the freedom he'll need to be a success.

To learn more about multimedia journalism from a PR perspective, you can contact my colleagues Elizabeth Powell and Terri Nopp in Edelman’s Seattle and Portland offices, both of whom attended the event.


Speakers at Visual Journalism Bootcamp last week:

Brian Storm, MediaStorm

Tony Deifell, Managing Director, Q Media Labs

Hanson Hosein, Director, Master of Comm., Digital Media Program

Brent Friedman, Electric Farm Entertainment

John Gauntt, Media-dojo

Russell Sparkman, Fusionspark Media

Dan Lamont,

Leif Utne, Board Member, & VP of Community Development, Zanby

Paige West, Studio Director,