The structural change in the media landscape continues unabated. As does the change in consumer behavior regarding the way people access and use information and content. The digital age creates a number of challenges for traditional media work. Time to revisit an established concept from the marketing world – multi-channel marketing.
As communication managers, we use the media to share knowledge, spread ideas, convey messages and inspire dialogues. An article in a prestigious newspaper such as the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, the Financial Times or the Wall Street Journal enhances credibility and strengthens a company’s reputation and position in the marketplace. Having a positive article published on the front page of one of these newspapers is a key goal of any media relations work. Recently, a customer described it as “the holy grail of media relations”.
Well, we will have to change our perspective on this.
With newsrooms shrinking across the globe and the number of newspapers on the decline, it is becoming increasingly difficult for companies to find space in unpaid channels. At the same time, people are changing the way they access and use information and content, with traditional media losing ground while new media/social media has increasingly gained traction.
To avoid any misunderstanding: traditional print media, TV and radio still play a dominant role in media consumption and the search for information. And they will continue to do so. According to a study published by Nielsen in 2014, credible third-party articles in well-regarded print media are still the most effective way to guide and accompany consumers through all phases of their customer journeys. Hence, the following thoughts are not promoting an “either or”, but an “as well as”-approach.
We can’t just ride it out
However, taking an “as well as”-approach does not mean that the current changes in the media landscape can be ignored. We can’t just ride it out and we all know that. But: precisely because it is common knowledge, I find it all the more astonishing that many communication leaders seem to be looking for one thing above all when thinking about how to achieve their ‘external’ goals: more coverage in traditional media.
I find this unfortunate, as I think it would be more productive to take the changes in the media landscape as a juncture to transform our thinking – not just on paper, but also in practice:
- we should revisit the question of what role the media can still play in our efforts to engage with target groups today;
- revisit the question of the weight other channels should have to ensure effective and efficient communications;
- and be open about how a contemporary communication strategy and its operational roadmap should look like and how best to translate it to tangible actions.
How to increase the ROI of media coverage
The answers to these questions must find their way into an overarching strategic communications plan – and not simply present themselves as a mix of tactical measures, in which the usual media work is spiced up with a pinch of advertorials and a dash of ‘digital’. Instead, the concept of multi-channel marketing should be applied to communications, and (potential) target groups should be addressed through carefully planned and systematically implemented measures across a multitude of channels.
Within this context and at the most basic level, a solid and sustainably manageable foundation can be built with three mutually supportive measures:
The creation of target group-focused content
Content that is relevant to a company’s specific target group has always been at the core of a successful communication strategy. The most important word in this statement is “relevant”. Although it is a truism that content should be geared to the needs of target groups, time and again we see content that seems to be driven mostly by the desire to position a company, its products and its services in a … well, perhaps ‘in a slightly photo-shopped way’ would be a suitable description.
The problem with this: neither the media nor the target groups are interested in this type of content. And those who ignore the true needs and interest of their target groups fail to maximize the ROI on their investment.
Every company should therefore have precise and data-based knowledge of its target group’s customer journey, its interests, pain points, wants and needs. Today, even with a small budget, it is possible to acquire this knowledge: to analyze which topics are of interest to specific target groups and which channels they use to obtain information. Based on these facts, content can be created which – carefully developed, smartly distributed, and continuously monitored and adjusted – resonates effectively with a specific target group.
A powerful combination of Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned Channels
A modern integrated communications strategy distributes highly relevant content on a wide range of channels. Customer-centered marketing has been using this cross-channel approach – which, ultimately, reflects today’s dynamic omni-channel customer journey – for a long time. Translated into the PR and communications universe, an example would be the combination of newspaper articles (Earned Media), advertorials or native advertising (Paid Media) and the placement of content on owned platforms such as a website (Owned Media) or one’s own Linkedin profile (Shared Media).
Engage your audience more directly
We have discussed the importance of connecting with target groups directly in a number of previous blogs. (Unfortunately, the blogs are available in German only.) But basically, we suggest that building and maintaining relationships must be at the heart of every communications activity. These relationships can be established through a wide range of measures. Today, every company, regardless of its size, can reach its target groups directly via contemporary/social media platforms.
In a nutshell
To paraphrase Mark Twain: Reports of the death of media relations have been greatly exaggerated. But unlike in the past, media relations is no longer the panacea for companies seeking to increase awareness and understanding. As one cog among others in the communications machine, media relations must be closely interlinked with other measures and, through this, can continue to be a central and immensely valuable tool for corporate communications.
This is not a new concept. Far from it. And there are numerous examples of communication approaches at the global level that reflect the changes in the media landscape and in consumer behavior – even in the traditionally cautious financial industry. But we find there is plenty of room to strengthen efforts to engaging with target groups through a number of diverse channels instead of just one. Based on data-driven content, a consequently and consistently implemented strategically planned cross-channel approach will guarantee a more effective and efficient communication. And isn’t that what we are all looking for?