Telling your own story

Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on February 12th, 2016

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How we communicate, both professionally and personally, has changed drastically in the past decade. The online world has created a different way of connecting with stakeholders, your target markets and your community, as well as with family and friends. And that has had an impact in the world of media, including journalism, advertising and marketing.

For the purpose of this blog post, I am going to focus on journalism because publicity and media relations are often important components of what we do as communicators. In Canada and the U.S., newsrooms are not just shrinking – many are ceasing to exist. Print publications that have been in business for more than 100 years are going out of business and local television and radio stations are being closed down. We are at a critical stage in how local and international news is delivered to us. There is a great deal to be discussed about what this means to our communities. I strongly believe that journalists are a key element in maintaining a functioning, democratic society. They ask the tough questions, they investigate, and they hold public and private figures accountable to their promises and for their actions. However, for this blog post, I am going to stay off of my soapbox about this subject and focus on the practical business actions that need to be taken in response to the shrinking opportunity to connect with your stakeholders and tell your organization’s story through media relations or publicity.

The fact is, it’s harder to generate positive media coverage for your organization. Newspapers and magazines are smaller, radio and television breakfast shows and talk shows are being cancelled, and the opportunity for a communications professional to generate coverage is shrinking because the process of who gets interviewed has changed and no one is really talking about it. You see, advertisers have become the priority for who gets interviewed. The only way the media outlets that are still standing are going to stay standing is by increasing their revenues. That means creating added value for advertisers – like having them on a morning breakfast show as a guest, choosing to write about their product, service or event, or profiling the CEO or organization in a print publication – creating copy that is written by a journalist, but that leans more on the side of advertorial than editorial. And – none of this is to criticize the working reporters, producers or editors who are doing this work. The world has changed and they have had to adapt. None of the journalists I know are happy about this, but the fact is – they are trying to do their absolute best while the sand continues to shift under their feet.

One example showing how much things have changed is a recent pitch we did to a television breakfast show for a coffee company client. We had an interesting, newsworthy announcement about what the (Canadian) coffee company is doing at their plantation in Thailand for the environment and for the people of the surrounding villages. It is visionary, they use sustainable business practices, and it is environmental excellence. And the producer of the breakfast show said he loved it and that is was a great story and it was something that their viewers would be interested in, but (and it’s a big but here), they had just taken on a “coffee sponsor” and couldn’t cover any coffee news on the show. And low and behold, within the week, there were the hosts with their branded coffee mugs.

The AHA Moment

Organizations can no longer rely on traditional media to tell their stories, to help build their communities, or to connect with their stakeholder groups. They need to become their own media outlets – creating well-written editorial style articles, taking great photos that help showcase who they are and what they offer clients or customers, and producing short videos that share their news and information in a way that makes people want to watch. The good news is, brand journalism – branded content – can be done in a reasonable time frame for a reasonable budget. It will require a shift of budget and effort from media relations, publicity and even advertising and marketing to tell your own story in a compelling, engaging and entertaining manner.

We are going to be talking a great deal about brand journalism and branded content here on this blog in the coming weeks and months. And that’s because it’s a conversation we are having more and more with our clients. While publicity and media relations will always be an important part of the work that we do, the reality of the current landscape and the declining state of journalism and shrinking newsrooms around the world means that organizations will have to produce their own content – in an authentic and meaningful way (no marketing speak) – in order to stay relevant and build stakeholder and customer relationships. It’s an interesting and exciting time in our world and we’re looking forward to helping our clients to effectively tell their stories in a way that engages and informs their target market, stakeholders and influencers.

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