Friday, November 26, 2010

When a newsman sounds like a PR guy

I caught a great interview marketing 2.0 expert Brian Solis did with Dan Farber, Editor-in-Chief of, about how news organizations have to evolve their approach to their business given the rise of social media.

Here it is, from Solis' (R)evolution series which, in Solis' own words, "connects you to the people, trends, and ideas defining the future of business, marketing, and media."

I shared this link with my colleague, journalism instructor Duncan McMonagle, saying "this newsman sounds a lot to me like a PR guy."

Duncan's reaction: "Uh oh!"

Smart strategy is smart strategy, no matter who's doing it.

"Dark side" jokes aside, Farber makes a lot of statements about what news organizations should be doing in the face of growing competition from Web-based media, which my PR students here at Red River College will tell you are basic tenets of good public relations.

For example, he says CBS News works to ensure its content can be found "where people are congregating." This requires research to determine where your audience is, what its preferences are, and how best to reach it.

PR people have been doing this for decades: understanding the principles of persuasion, we know we need to position our messages such that they offer something our audiences will value, and in ways that make it easy for our audiences to access them.

Sounding even more like a PR guy, Farber also says his business is "all about building relationships now, and trying to engage people."

There was a time when "newsmen" created the news, put it out there, and their audiences simply consumed it. They didn't have much choice: as Farber himself points out, there weren't nearly as many sources for news back then.

But as we all know, the same isn't true today: news comes at us from all angles. It isn't all credible, and it isn't all accurate, but it's there, and it's competing for our attention. The challenge for professional news organizations like is to break through the noise and protect their audiences from their hundreds of online competitors.

Selling the news isn't much different from selling anything else.

Whether you're selling dog food, a political candidate, a non-profit as a good cause, or your news organization, the best way to build support and loyalty is to build relationships.

Our audiences in 2010 live in a world of unending messages -- coming at them from all sides, at all hours, in every format.

How to break through it all?

First of all, put your messages where your audiences are (for example, Farber knows his audiences use Facebook and Twitter, so his organization maintains profiles on both, with more than a million and a half followers). Don't make them hunt around to find you - they won't. They don't have time. And there are millions of other messages out there, ready to distract them if they try.

Secondly, engage with them. "Engage" is quickly becoming one of those throwaway words that lose their meaning in marketing blather - but its fundamental message is key. (It's also the title of Solis' most recent book.) Loyalty is built on give-and-take, two-way relationships. Give your customers the opportunity to get involved in what you're doing rather than simply watching you do it, and they're far more likely to stick with you.

Mainstream media outlets have a big job ahead of them, as our attention spans grow ever shorter and the media landscape fractures further.

In the long run, I'm betting on journalists like's Dan Farber.


  1. Melanie- have you read Engage yet? It's on my Christmas list this year haha

  2. It's on its way to me from Indigo as we speak!

  3. "Whether you're selling dog food, a political candidate, a non-profit as a good cause, or your news organization, the best way to build support and loyalty is to build relationships."

    I completely agree - and I completely agree with directing your message to your audience, but in "their" way. My company tries to eliminate "main stream" advertising because they know the audience doesn't listen to the radio as much as they're on Facebook or Twitter.

  4. 'Engage' is great. Lots of really good examples of how to effectively and creatively use social media -- but because social media evolves so fast, parts of the book is in danger of becoming obsolete/inapplicable very soon. I hope Solis is already writing his next book!

    I always meet/hear about journalists who have switched to PR. Maybe the tables have turned? Sounds like J is in need of a little bit of PR! Hehe.

  5. Maybe we are doing both and don't even realize it.
    To me, selling is building relationships, finding what your customer needs and providing a solution that they would not have thought of.

    Wonderful how the term engage is emerging as a buzzword. With how instant gratification is leading our world these days, engagement seems more important to secure loyalty and long term meaninful relationships full of substance and personality.