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Print, pay-walls and potential – monetising online media

 

You only have to look at the success of sites like MailOnline, the Daily Mail’s web offering, to see that the general public’s appetite for news is as strong as ever (especially when it comes to celebrities!). Figures posted earlier this year revealed the website saw 129 million unique users in May – far outstripping its closest rival The Guardian (83 million), which is often heralded as the shining light of digital media.

The web offers endless possibilities for media owners, with an almost unlimited audience just a click away, and the ability to add depth and excitement that most print titles struggle to match. But, following yesterday’s news that the Sun’s online figures have plummeted since putting up a pay-wall, one thing is clear – the majority of consumers don’t want to be charged for it.

The problem is that they’re just not used to paying for content online. Huge free media libraries like YouTube and extensive coverage from the likes of the BBC – whether you pay your licence fee or not – mean consumers expect everything, they expect it right now, and they don’t expect you to ask for anything in return. Add Twitter and Facebook into the mix and it’s pretty simple to get what you want without paying a penny.

So, what can publications do to monetise their online offering?

  • A pay-wall can work, but content must be better than anything you can get elsewhere for free. The problem here is that there are plenty of others doing brilliant things and charging nothing, so paid-for sites must go far above and beyond
  • Know your audience – it’s no coincidence that pay-walls for the Times and the FT have been a success, and not necessarily a surprise that the Sun’s wasn’t. An affluent readership is likely to be more open to paying for an always-on service
  • With brands cutting back on advertising budget, selling space is no longer the easy option – one consideration for publications is to cover breaking news immediately online, followed by exclusive, in-depth articles in print the next day

 

But that’s just food for thought – it will take real innovation for media outlets to turn page views into pounds. There will no doubt be a few who will do it very well and see their online content completely replace print, but there will be just as many who fall by the wayside. In my former life as a journalist working on a daily regional title, it was in equal parts upsetting and frustrating to see the paper I’d delivered as a 13-year-old haemorrhaging readers every month by failing to properly embrace online.

That said, although it’s a scary time for the UK’s traditional press, it’s also a very exciting one. Already, forward-thinkers like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, who bought the 135-year-old Washington Post in August, are evolving traditional news brands with business models that will see them thrive in the modern digital world. I’m intrigued to see how changes like this transform the media landscape in the coming years.

Celebrity endorsement: Finding the perfect match

In a recent article in Marketing Week, Mindi Chahal asked whether celebrities could take on the role brand marketers.

Highlighting the appointments of Will.i.am (director of creative innovation, Intel) and Alicia Keys (global creative director, BlackBerry) as examples, Chahal explored the growing trend for brands looking to celebrities for consultancy.

Leaving aside whether we should be concerned about being replaced with Cheryl Cole for a moment, the main question is, ‘what makes some brand partnership succeed where others fail?’

Mulling this over I was reminded of Gavin Esler’s talk at one of our breakfast forums where he discussed people buying into the story of the individual first, then the organisation, and only then what the individual and the organisation can do for them.

Esler was referring to politicians and political parties but the same applies to ‘personalities’ and brands. Celebrity offers a shortcut to engagement by providing a pre-packaged story of the individual that people can buy into. Taking this line, it makes sense that Diet Coke’s audience will be more open to its brand messaging if Karl Lagerfeld is on board because they know and have bought into what he stands for.

However, this only works when there is some synergy between the brand and the celebrity. The talent should boost the brand but if there is too much reliance on either party the relationship falls apart. Much as seeing a couple where one party is creative, attractive and charming and the other is none of those things but wealthy, a lop-sided brand partnership makes for uncomfortable viewing.

 

Three tips

Start by matching your brand’s story/core values to that of the talent. There should be some overlaps but also gaps on both sides that allow both parties to contribute

Use the similarities and gaps as part of your pitch to the celebrity. Good talent looks for strong strategic fits with unique opportunities for personal as well as financial growth. Offering them the chance to do something they couldn’t do without your brand should be the thing that gets them really excited. If it doesn’t, keep looking

Create a narrative for the partnership that includes the story of the talent, the story of the brand, and the story of what the talent and the brand can do for your audience. If this looks like something that would be genuinely appealing to the people you want to target, you’re on to a winner

 

Favourite brand partnership: Michael Jordan and Nike

Nike may not have been Jordan’s first choice (he only met with them to please his parents) but this arranged marriage proved a match made in heaven. Combining his unquestionable athleticism with the sportswear company’s marketing prowess, both sides created a brand even greater than the sum of their considerably great parts.

 

 

Emeka Njodi, Associate Director, 3 Monkeys Communications

 

PR: Spin Masters of the world…really?

I couldn’t help thinking that whilst there were many great things about Jeremy Hazlehurst’s recent article in Management Today, entitled ‘Spin Masters: How PR is taking over the world’ but that on the whole it undersold the value that good, professional communications skills have always played in the business and in the process perpetuated a few myths.

While it is hard to dispute Jeremy’s argument that PR now plays a greater role and receives greater recognition in the boardroom, some of his article regrettably still plays to industry clichés and lauds spin mastery that many PROs today not only consider old fashioned or indeed inappropriate.

Yes, relationships will always be a key driver of success in business and PR, but surely what enlightened businesses understand today is that power and success are derived not from the relationships themselves, but from the knowledge and insights that relationships proffer.  Mastering how to value and leverage that knowledge to manage a brand or individual’s reputation is where PR professionals can step into their own.  Indeed, it is these communications skills that have secured PR professionals a place at the boardroom table.

Essential skills for business leaders today have never been more aligned to the PR discipline.  There have been too many recent examples of how reputation management – through good as well as atrocious PR – has been share price sensitive and career making and breaking.  From BP to more recently the BBC, business leaders and brands can no longer hide behind marketing hype, spin or cover ups.  We have moved from an Age of Deference, to an Age of Reference, where businesses, consumers and voters sniff out scams, untruths and inauthentic or unacceptable behaviour in real time and through multiple on and off line channels.

As business leaders strive to earn the trust of their board, so too successful PR professionals, whose laser focus and genuine understanding of compelling and authentic story-telling enables them to earn the trust of multiple audiences and stakeholders. In a world where trust is the ultimate measure of brand value, being able to engage and establish goodwill through honest, transparent and meaningful communication is priceless.

Surely this makes PR professionals masters, not of spin, but in the science and art of communication and its real impact on the bottom line.

Sarah Odgen, Director Business Communications, 3 Monkeys Communications

Social good – the defining DNA of a business

Reputation has always been as much about what you do as what you say. Whilst previous decades showcased the business sector’s core social contract as being a good employer and cash converter,  today responsibility goes much further. Businesses are expected to be nothing short of honest and decent with the social good as a core concern. Recent evidence is strong in showing how cash corrupts and the pursuit of wealth above all else is socially unsustainable and quite frankly unfashionable. Culture is shifting in favour of correcting the moral imbalance and business is in the driving seat to lead the change.

The age of “conscious capitalism” is upon us. It was perhaps not until mainstream society witnessed morality in public life take an apparent nose dive (as typified by recent banking sector crisis) that we really started to see business values have renewed meaning and purpose. Whilst every good corporate entity may have spent time defining a mission statement and core values, the unique political and social environment that exists today is making sure those values are the beating heart and agile brain of smart organisational strategy.

Consequently, the notion of corporate social responsibility (CSR) now has the potential to go way beyond being a siloed concern or ticking a policy checklist. Big businesses recognise the benefits of expanding CSR practice into organisational strategy and a whole new group of values-focused, socially-minded business start-ups are emerging with the social good as their defining DNA.

Being relevant, competitive and respected today is intrinsically linked to an organisation’s ability to be market orientated, connected and engaged with stakeholder audiences and customers. The internet is shaping corporate culture, demanding responsible business practice across all aspects of society. Social media is the tool that champions transparency and trust, provides real-time customer feedback and is the key to building community and brand equity – its importance will continue to evolve exponentially.

The notion of responsible, social business should no longer be the sole endeavour of CSR specialists or marketing departments. Core values need to stand up to the truth test of today’s savvy customers and really mean something. Not just in terms of what a business says but what it actually does.

Guesting blog post by Sarah Ogden, Associate Director, 3 Monkeys Communications

PR… it’s emotional

“Who could have missed the great show that was the Wimbledon Final last weekend – or more spectacularly, the flood of tears and emotion that came from Andy Murray at the end of the game?

 

It’s been the topic on everyone’s lips: as soon as someone that was perceived to be a grumpy so-and-so showed “real” personality, the nation finally succumbed and asked themselves, maybe he’s not a bad bloke after all? Moody Murray was now a real human being with real feelings, real wants and real desires.

 

Since the showcase of Murray’s emotions on Sunday evening in front of the entire country, he’s not only become increasingly likeable but as a result, a lot more marketable as well – now a whole host of brands (that potentially wouldn’t of even considered him before) are lining up to get a slice of the Murray pie.

 

As a well-known publicist said on Sky this week, ‘his tears are potentially worth millions to him’.

 

There’s a lot that brands can learn from Andy Murray. Portraying a ‘real’ and transparent personality can go further than covering the truth up with a hardnosed corporate persona. Consumers like to believe they see a company, warts and all, as it potentially can be easier to engage and interact with something that feels more human. A faceless brand that shows no personality fails to capture an audience, especially when it comes to the digital and social marketing channels.

 

I’m not saying that brands need to promote their double-faults, but let’s face it, no one’s perfect!”

 

Guesting blog post by Sophie Howard, Senior Account Executive, 3 Monkeys Communications

To Pitch or Not to Pitch?

To pitch, or not to pitch – that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in the agency to suffer

The slings and arrows of a protracted procurement process

Or to take arms against the sea of briefs

And by suggesting to charge to pitch, end them. To win, to leap

Ever more–and by a leap to say we end

The heartache for another month or two and the thousand natural shocks

That the waiting for a decision game is heir to.

 

I don’t know about anyone else out there, but the first six months of 2012 has been pretty pitch-tastic.  Which is, of course, fantastic.  I’ve run PR consultancies through at least two recessions, and, as an industry we do tend to flourish in challenging economic times.  The reduced marketing budget, no longer big enough to be spent ATL, trickles, or sometimes gushes into our clients’ budget pot.

 

When you’ve been through a busy pitching period, however,  you become more acutely aware than ever just how random, different and often frustrating the process can be.  Even when you enjoy a strong strike rate, (we win one in two), you often come through the process feeling bruised, battered and bewildered.  From the procurement polemic, to the “we’re just interested to hear your ideas”, it’s really hard to know how best to qualify opportunities and decide how much or little to invest of time and real wonga to optimize your pitch.  Is this just a going through the motions pitch?  Is there a real appetite to change?  And what really matters to the pitch panel?  Are they in full agreement or are politics going to get in the way?  And what’s the true budget?  I could go on …

 

So just a little plea from me, if you’re planning to pitch, please, please, please, consider the following:

1. Give the consultancy at least 4 weeks from brief to pitch.  If you want the best response, we need this amount of time.  Don’t forget, we have a brilliant existing client base to serve and delight.

2. Always give a realistic budget.  It doesn’t serve anyone to be stabbing in the dark here, and will only make comparing competing proposals even more tricky.

3. Invest time in a proper chemistry meeting, preferably at the consultancy’s office.  At the end of the day, we’re a people business.  You get a far better sense of the team and the agency culture if you visit us in situ.

4. Consider live pitching.  It’ll soon sort the wheat out from the chaff.

5. Give thorough feedback.  It’s so important to learn from each pitch – the good, the bad and the ugly.

6. Be honest.  If this is just a re-procurement exercise, and you’re genuinely happy with your incumbent, give us some of our life back.  We’re still happy to chat, but there’s no point at all in us busting guts to try to wow you, when, at the end of the day, you’re really not planning to change PR partners.

The Revolution will be in HD

One of my must have reads for the week is always John Naughton.  And he didn’t disappoint in his piece in yesterday’s Observer “…has the Internet Run out of Ideas Already”.

 

Taking a ‘hard power’ view of the web, John analyses Tim Wu’s recent work on the “Rise and Fall of Information Empires” in terms of developments of software, services and devices. Looking at it this way you can understand how it might seem that we have just seen the web’s last revolution in terms of infrastructure, at least for a while. But the article pays way less credence to ‘soft power’ ideas and therefore for me misses the elephant in the room – the cultural revolution driven by the internet that continues apace in all areas of life.

 

The cultural revolution sparked by the web is not because it has given us access to some new religious fad or political doctrine but because, more powerfully, it enables new ways of doing.   From redefining our job descriptions in the home or at work,  empowering new movements of thought or overthrowing dictators we continue to be able to do things differently and rewrite the rules.  Whether the web nurtures our pioneering spirit or inspires us to challenge the norm I don’t know, but its radical potential to  drive cultural change more quickly than any other historical medium continues unabated and in the corporate world this is where it is really starting to get interesting.

 

From a PR perspective, it has been obvious for a while to see how the web enables new channels, audiences and engagement. But for way too long emphasis has stuttered around talk of Facebook pages, followers, blogs and being LinkedIn or the battle ground between different agencies as everyone tries to secure a piece of the social budget. PROS steal share from advertising, social media agencies steal from PROs or we all collaborate (a bit)  or become hybrids (mostly) and vice versa….and the world keeps spinning. But I have always thought this misses the point and holds our profession back from reaching its full potential. And it would appear there is a growing movement of pioneering new radicals who are more than a few steps ahead of me in this thinking. I met quite a few of those and got my ‘social business’ musings supercharged when I attended one of Will Mcinnes’ pioneering collectives of thinkers and doers at the  #SocialBusinessSession that we hosted @3MonkeysPR.

 

So now, my passion is properly ignited in the believing the importance of ‘social business’ as a cultural movement and way of operating. I had been fortunate recently to witness some brave clients making incremental changes and seen things being done differently in even the hardest and far flung corners of corporate culture.  The internet has changed things in such a way that brand and communications are now primed as a strategic business tool able to orientate a business to its customers, reinvigorate corporate culture and influence what a business does, not just what it says.

 

PR is and always has been (for those that really understand its potential) a strategic business skill represented at boardroom level.  The notion of social business and the changes we are seeing in corporate culture will accelerate this reality and benefit organisations that embrace it.

 

Guesting blog post by Sarah Ogden, Associate Director, 3 Monkeys Communications

Aggregate don’t Aggravate

Without a doubt, there is nothing that makes me happier than when I witness analogue and digital getting jiggy and making some marketing magic. Don’t get me wrong, both can hold their own and be  brilliant but when the best of the ‘old’ world meets the new it can create something ‘of the moment’, so good it makes you smile. Take this I spotted from Moleskin,  who have created Text Message Paper Planes <http://www.psfk.com/2012/04/moleskine-text-message-paper-planes.html> . Perhaps not the best example of my point but definitely one worth appreciating.

When old and new media come together it reminds me of a phrase I read recently “we learn from history because the past stays with us”. Likewise, analogue isn’t going away. The best of it remains intact, reinforced in fact by new media. The rest, as we see every day, is being transformed, reformed or made extinct by the rising tide of digital.

The Washington Post is in the spotlight this week for apparently failing to “aggregate” <http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/elizabeth-flocks-resignation-the-post-fails-a-young-blogger/2012/04/20/gIQAFACXWT_print.html>  the best of both new and old media worlds. The result is that it is only just now ensuring that “digital journalists learn the ways of street reporters, and reporters will learn the ways of digital and social media”.  The saddest thing about this is it reminds you how lessons from the past can take so much longer for some to realise than others. And if there is anything that digital should have  shown us by now is that speed is everything and the tide waits for no-one.

Guesting blog post by Sarah Ogden, Associate Director at 3 Monkeys Communications

What a load of froth

If you’re going to attack a brand …

http://www.dumpstarbucks.com/

Now there are many, many reasons I’ve not shopped in Starbucks much. But if anyone in their right mind thinks that I’d give up my latte because a high street coffee shop is supporting same sex marriage, they should take a trip to the reality docs. This latest dumpstarbucks is an ill-conceived idea which will only increase support for the coffee retailer. Pick your issues dumspters. If you lifted the lid, there are possibly a whole load of not bad reasons why you might choose to sip from a different cup.

The internet contributes more to our economy than most G20 countries

Great news.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-17405016

According to latest figures, the internet contributes more to our economy than most other G20 countries.  And, given how the UK traditionally sets shopping and other spending trends, we can only assume that the currency of the internet will continue to grow apace.  Which kind of calls into question why it is that retailers haven’t really yet embraced technology trends in enough of a meaningful way to help boost their coffers.  I mean, it’s still way more time consuming searching and booking a holiday on line than it is to call a travel agent.  And, whilst clothes are probably the biggest pocket money spend for women, it’s still on really ASOS.com that’s almost nailed the on line fashion shopping experience.  Consumer demand and easy technology platforms especially smartphones, mean that is high time brands radically review how they’re connecting with consumers off the high street.

Shopping deal aggregators are cashing in, yet run the risk, as Groupon has realized over the last week, of losing credibility and custom if they don’t put consumer rights at the heart of their offer.  My experience of these on line voucher portals is that they’re a crisis waiting to happen, over-selling and then damaging the reputation of their supplier partners.

Under the counter services are also experiencing a major growth spurt.  If you haven’t already clocked it, check out the new black market retail world of the Silk Road … it’s like Camden in the late ‘70s, on line …

http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2011/06/silkroad/

The web continues to inspire innovation and opportunity.  So come on all you brands out there – what are you waiting for?

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