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Marketing communications – telling customers about your products and services – has two parts: advertising and publicity.

Advertising is straightforward. You pay money, the media company publishes or broadcasts your message. You control your message and its presentation.

Advertising is a commercial transaction.

Publicity is different

Publicity also costs money – plenty of businesses accept payment for promotional services .

With publicity you don’t usually pay the media to promote your message. And you have no say over timing, placement or presentation.

You can’t even be sure your message will run.

In theory, you get publicity when the story you tell is so compelling journalists and editors fall over themselves to publish it. Remember their idea of compelling isn’t the same as yours.

Editors need to give readers, viewers or listeners the hottest news, up-to-date information, the most relevant background features and the best stories. They also look for entertaining material to brighten their pages. They can be grumpy.

Editors are not your sales team

Editors don’t care whether their stories help you or your business if they are doing their job properly.

There are publications where this doesn’t apply.

A common misunderstanding about publicity is a press release is best way to get it. This is a pre-written version of the story you’d like to see in print. Press releases are usually written in a highly stylised format, containing the basic facts together with background.

Press releases can work. Usually they don’t.

Many go straight into the bin. And rightly so. That’s the place for rubbish. Press releases mainly exist because clients like them – they create an aura of useful media activity.

Press releases just part of the mix

Some of the best communications professionals – they may call themselves public relations consultants, press agents or something posh sounding like ‘media consul’ – will tell you press releases are only one, not particularly useful, strategy and account for a tiny fraction of their work.

We look at the press release mechanics elsewhere.

Publicity involves enticing the media to write or broadcast information about your company, product or services because you have something new, important, exciting or otherwise interesting to say.

The best way to do this is to call a journalist and tell them, quickly and concisely, just what your story is and why it may interest their readers. Like everything else in business, this is about forming the right relationships.

Media training

If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, get some media training or hire a press agent to call on your behalf. Good public relations professionals know who to call and how to pitch stories in a way that makes them more interesting to journalists or editors. They introduce you to the right people, set up face-to-face meetings or organise phone interviews and help you prepare for these.

Occasionally when you have something important to announce, you may want to hold a formal press conference or maybe host a less formal gathering of journalists for morning tea, lunch or afternoon cocktails. This kind of event works best when used sparingly, it isn’t always the best way of telling a story, but it is a great way to make or maintain contact.

PC World New Zealand has an ABC circulation of 15,565 and Nielsen readership figure of 148,000. That makes it New Zealand’s most-read specialist technology publication. Published monthly, in New Zealand that means 11 issues a year with a joint December and January edition.

In August 2006 Fairfax Business Media bought the New Zealand licence for PC World from IDG. In that year Fairfax acquired the bulk of IDG’s NZ business picking up four titles. IDG New Zealand sold two other titles; Unlimited and Actv8, to Infego under a separate agreement. IDG closed one title; Fast Forward.

Before August 2006 IDG published PC World. The had been published in New Zealand by IDG since 1989 when it was a tabloid supplement in ComputerWorld.

At the time of writing, PC World is typically 112 A4 colour pages. It is printed on gloss art paper, plus a cover on heavier stock. Advertising makes up about a quarter to a third of the pages. The magazine is perfect bound with a DVD disc which is inserted, not cover-mounted.

PC World New Zealand on bookstands

The magazine is mainly sold on bookstands with a cover price of NZ$8.90. This is competitive with larger, overseas published titles. You can also find the magazine in petrol stations and supermarkets. A significant number of readers are subscribers.

Most PC World readers are highly educated, well-heeled men. It occupies the same market niche as Australian Personal Computer, PC User and PC Authority. It has new product reviews, group tests, news features and plenty of how-to advice stories.

Typically well over half the editorial content is locally written. The overseas material is given a local slant and boosted with local information such as sidebars. PC World’s New Zealand staff and freelance journalists are highly regarded.

Strictly speaking PC World New Zealand doesn’t have any direct print competitors, its nearest local rival for readers and advertising revenue is ACP’s New Zealand NetGuide, but that title sells to less advanced users.

Two bloggers posted journalist perspectives on the power of blogs. Both are recent blogging converts. Both have worthwhile observations.

In why journalists must learn the values of the blogging revolution, The Guardian’s Roy Greenslade argues that in the past journalists were secular priests pontificating to the great unwashed. He says news was a one-way traffic. Blogging, with its built-in feedback mechanisms has turned that on its head.

Maybe. Here in New Zealand, there’s often plenty of negative feedback when you write something that somebody doesn’t like. The odd thing about blogging and online news is you also get positive feedback. This is strange and unusual to some of us.

Future journalist bloggers

Greenslade goes on to write:

“I have tended to predict that future news organisations will consist of a small hub of “professional journalists” at the centre with bloggers (aka amateur journalists/citizen journalists) on the periphery. In other words, us pros will still run the show.

I’m altogether less certain about that model now. First, I wonder whether us pros are as valuable as we think. Second, and more fundamentally, I wonder whether a “news organisation” is as perfect a model as we might think.”

I’d be concerned about Greenslade’s conclusion if I agreed with his hub and periphery prediction. My vision of the future of journalism is that it is more like a sports league with professionals operating on one level, semi-professionals working at another and the amateurs elsewhere. And, as with the English FA Cup, there’s always potential for the occasional upset.

Towards the end of his piece Greenslade writes:

When we journalists talk about integration we generally mean, integrating print and online activities. But the true integration comes online itself. The integration between journalists and citizens. Of course, there should be no distinction between them. But journalists still wish to see themselves as a class apart.

Funny, I’ve never thought of myself as being a class apart from my readers. I’ve always regarded them as my employers.

New Zealand blogger Bernard Hickey writes he feels liberated as a blogger. He likes the speed of the medium, the feedback and the ability to connect to his audience. As Hickey says, he is now a blogging evangelist.

Hickey’s blog interests me because it serves an audience that is relatively ignored in New Zealand. For want of a better label his target is middle class, aspirational and liberal in the British sense, not the American sense.

The Australian newspaper says illegal downloads are the reason music sales fell to their lowest point in 23 years. It is no longer online.

According to the paper 1.8 billion albums sold in 2007. That’s roughly the same number as at the start of the CD sales boom in 1985.

MP3 downloads have an impact – but they are not the whole story. The Economist reported earlier this year EMI can’t even give CDs away to younger listeners.

Illegal downloading harder, riskier

Thanks to music industry-lead legal actions against downloaders, p2p services and ISPs, illegal downloading is now harder than in the late 1990s and the early years of this decade.

That was when Napster and other services were at the peak of their popularity. Surviving p2p networks are now filled with spam. They have music industry-generated dummy files designed to make downloading difficult.

This aside: the music industry was the architect of its own decline.

The last serious flowering of popular music was in the late 1970s and early 1980s – I know, I was there. An explosion of new talent appeared as punk rock and new wave. It morphed into dozens of other fresh new music styles.

New wave music, creative boom

That burst of creativity gave us acts as diverse as The Clash, The Jam, Talking Heads, The Smiths and the Ramones.

Accompanying this was a commercial blossoming. Hundreds of entrepreneurial, at times idealistic, record companies and related businesses arrived on the scene.

Similar waves arrived in the 1950s with original rock and roll. Then again in the 1960s with the Beatles and rock’s second coming. A third wave was from 1967 through to the early 1970s. Each successive wave  had a creative and commercial aspects.

Around the time CD sales took off, the record industry began a process of consolidation. This left four major companies accounting for most global sales. About 70 percent in the USA, more in some other western countries.

Squeezing out innovation

Along the way the new mega-companies trimmed their rosters of acts. They began playing it safe; which meant squashing innovation and creativity. They also started mining their back catalogues more than in the past. I can’t quote numbers, but old music accounts for a sizable share of today’s total sales.

As a result, there are fewer signed artists. There is less room for commercial mavericks to flourish. The remaining acts are more predictable and controllable. That’s great for large corporations reporting to shareholders, not so good for nurturing new talent.

Independent record companies still pick up bright new acts. But sooner or later they the majors get hold of them and the squelching starts all over again.

Which means the music industry would be in serious decline now even without illegal music downloading.

Even so, I’ve decided to make sure my music collection is one hundred percent legal.