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Bill Bennett

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How to get publicity for your business

If you have a product or service to sell, you want as many potential customers as possible to hear about it.

Word-of-mouth marketing is a great jumping off point when you’re starting out. Yet before long you will need to reach a wider audience. This means engaging with newspapers, magazines, broadcast media, web sites and blogs.

There are two ways businesses use media to get attention; advertising and publicity.

Newcomers can confuse the two. That’s a mistake as they are different and operate in parallel universes.

Advertising

Advertising is always a commercial transaction. In most cases you buy a fixed amount of space in a printed publication or air time from a radio or TV broadcaster.

Online is more complicated. It often comes down to display advertising like banners and boom boxes or text ads.

These can appear on web sites, in electronic newsletters or even as part of an application like Gmail.

When you buy advertising you provide the advertisement at your cost. People in the business call this your “copy”.

Creative help

If you’ve got enough budget you can hire a creative team to prepare copy on your behalf. This is not cheap. Yet it is worth the expense if you’re running a major campaign. Clued-up advertising specialists know how to press the right buttons and get results.

With advertising you get to say where, when and how often the copy will run. More important, you have complete control over the message and the delivery. Up to a point. Some publishers may refuse certain ads and there are laws about what you can and can’t say in advertising.

Advertising prices are loosely based on the number of readers, listeners or viewers the media delivers. Experienced advertising buyers talk of CPM or the cost of reaching a thousand people.

Publicity

In contrast with advertising, you have almost no control over publicity.

Editors, journalists, photographers and other media professionals make all the important decisions. They may choose to listen to you, but they might can ignore your advice.

In principle it all depends on the newsworthiness of your message. If your story strikes a chord, they’ll take notice. If it’s boring, they’ll ignore it.

Surprising though it may seem, journalists have a strict ethical code. They are not for sale. Their job is to keep their readers informed regardless of external commercial pressure. (There are exceptions to this that we’ll cover in a moment).

Take care

This is why you should take care when seeking publicity. Don’t imply that you will place advertising in return for favourable editorial.

At best you will insult them or offend their professional pride. At worst you will create a situation where ethics mean they can’t touch your story. They may choose to take a more hostile approach to sheet home their independence.

Their overriding loyalty is to their readers. Journalists don’t regard aiding your sales as any part of their job. Nor should they.

This might seem confusing to some people; media companies are commercial businesses. You might think editors and journalists would jump at the chance of making money.

Business sense

Yet, taking a longer term view makes good business sense. Readers, listeners and viewers hold media with a strong ethical code in high regard.

This not only means that more people get to see or hear the editorial; it means they see the advertisement. Strong editorial integrity usually delivers better, i.e. more involved or wealthier, readers. The ones you want.

Research shows advertising works best when the editorial is credible.

Even when a journalist does respond to your publicity in a favourable way, they still get to choose what they write and when the story runs. You can’t choose the words, place or time. Trying to do this can cause problems.

They choose the angle. They also decide how many words to devote to your message. They can choose whether your rivals get to comment or not. An editor might use your supplied photographs or other graphic material, they may not. A journalist – usually a sub-editor, will write the headline and captions. Not you.

You wouldn’t expect to pay money to a publisher when they use your publicity. Yet, there are some media properties that will ask for a payment in return for running it. This brings us to the world of paid editorial or advertorial. 

Commercial arrangements

Some media might run your vetted publicity in return for you buying advertising. There’s a whole spectrum of commercial arrangements. At one end there is a total separation of editorial and advertising. At the other there are properties that are, in effect, nothing but paid advertising.

At that extreme end of the scale you are dealing with vanity publishers. People who will take your money and make you look good or feel important. Your mother may like the result, but you won’t sell much this way. Readers are not fooled.

As a rule, publications that sell their editorial integrity are not well-regarded by readers. Experienced publicity people discount the value of these publications.

Paid-for editorial

Readers tend to know when they are looking at paid-for editorial. They learn to trust it less than independent content.

That said, paid-for editorial works best in trusted publications. A newspaper that publishes real, independent advertising that runs a paid-for report or supplement is better than a publication where integrity is for sale.

While many businesses organise their own publicity, others hire specialists. The most common arrangement involves hiring a public relations or PR consultant. It’s their job to know which properties, editors and journalists are receptive to which message.

A good PR company can save you a huge amount of time and trouble. They’ll help you prepare your message and train you in the art of handling follow-up questions. They’ll make sure the message gets to the right people at the right time.

Some public relations companies have extensive publication and journalist databases. Other operators keep all this information in their heads. They cultivate contacts and learn the best way to approach each potential outlet.

Be warned that public relations companies rarely guarantee results. In fact, you should go out of your way to avoid any PR operator who makes that kind of promise.

One misconception is that publicity is all about press releases or press conferences. Both have an important role to play, but they are only the tip of the iceberg; most important PR takes place out of sight. We’ll look more at this later.

Lack of local technology news damages industry

A week ago Catalyst Cloud launched a low-cost storage service. Or to be accurate its Object Storage service. You can see the full press release at Scoop.

The story didn’t get a run in any reputable New Zealand media.

Contrast this with the extensive coverage Microsoft got the following day when it announced it was opening a New Zealand cloud region.

The Microsoft story was everywhere. It popped up at Stuff, RNZ and Reseller News among others. There were overseas runs at TechCrunch, CRN and Computerworld.

The prime minister even talked about it on TV.

Big run

My point here isn’t about New Zealand media giving the overseas company a bigger run than the local company. Although that could be a story in its own right – see Comparing the stories below.

What the contrast between two stories show is how much damage the lack of local technology news coverage does to New Zealand’s home grown technology sector.

No-one here has the resources to file a story that is, by local standards, somewhat significant.

No one is watching, does anyone care?

We no longer have a native technology press. It’s a situation which, presumably, will be worse again if  Stuff no longer operaties as a separate entity.

Last month Bauer Media closed its New Zealand operation shutting off Peter Griffin’s excellent regular features in the Listener. (This has reopened after the title was sold).

The most visible remaining NZ technology news title, Reseller News, is run out of Australia, with a part time local reporter.

Sporadic technology news

The Herald, Stuff, RNZ and Newsroom all have the occasional story, but it is mainly sporadic and far from comprehensive coverage.

An exception would be Juha Saarinen’s regular Herald columns.

This web site is also sporadic. There are stories here, I write between paying journalism jobs. That means they can’t be timely.

There are a couple of other outlets, but the big picture is that New Zealand can no longer sustain a commercial tech publishing sector with the resources to cover stories like the Catalyst Cloud storage launch.

Filling the vacuum are many overseas sites. Whatever their merits, they are not going to zoom in on the activities of a local cloud provider.

Comparing the stories

There’s no question the arrival of a New Zealand Microsoft cloud region is the bigger news story. Microsoft is the world’s second largest cloud operator. It has many customers here and there is a pent-up demand for a world-scale cloud operator to open shop in New Zealand.

In contrast, the Catalyst story, is not much more than a feature update.

There are interesting angles to the Catalyst story. The cost of its Object Storage is on a par with costs for world scale cloud operators. It costs three cents a month to store a gigabyte.

The ‘everything stored in New Zealand’ angle is important. But it’s also an important part of Microsoft’s story. And, no doubt, Microsoft could make the same claim about only using renewable energy.

Uphill battle for local technology news

What this illustrates is a company like Catalyst struggles to be heard above the noise.

It must be galling for people at Catalyst and other New Zealand technology companies. They something innovative like introducing low cost cloud storage only to wake the following day and see a rival’s news splashed around the place.

Longer term it is a worry. Wikipedia says:

“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” is a philosophical thought experiment that raises questions regarding observation and perception.

Tech companies need that observation and perception. New Zealand’s tech sector no longer has either.

Using journalism tools to save the news industry

“Here’s the bad news: No one is coming to save you. No business is going to swoop in and provide sustainable funding for newsrooms. No new technology is going to transform the way journalism supports itself forever.

No big, incredible deal is going to build a strong foundation for the news. There isn’t a single magic bullet that will work for everyone. Even producing groundbreaking journalism isn’t going to suddenly turn your fortunes around.”

Source: Use the tools of journalism to save it » Nieman Journalism Lab

Ben Werdmuller has a sobering and realistic take on today’s journalism. It looks grim for journalism, yet there is optimism of sorts here.

A conversation

He says journalists need to recognise the internet is not a broadcast medium but a conversation. This echoes a post on this site from 11 years ago. More on Twitter journalism looks at the way many journalists use Twitter as a broadcast medium. They see it as a way to draw in readers to their newspaper, radio or TV channel websites.

This still happens. But many New Zealand journalists have learned how to engage with readers online. We focus here on Twitter because that’s the only social media I use these days. One reason for picking a single social media channel is that I can concentrate my firepower. This makes sense for a one person freelance journalism business. And it is a business, not a job.

In the earlier story I write:

“Most use it as a broadcast medium – like an RSS feed. A number have Twitter accounts, but say little of value. Perhaps 40 percent can be said to be serious Twitter journalists.”

Without digging around and doing a lot of research, I’d say that number hasn’t changed much.

Twitter as a conversation

What has changed is many of New Zealand’s higher profile journalists have regular active Twitter conversations. Go and dig around, you’ll see many of the best-known names engaging with their audiences. It can be hard doing this among the snark and antagonism.

One innovation that I’ve been working on is to integrate Twitter comments with those on my site. I’ve used a couple of IndieWeb tools to capture tweets responding to my posts on stories. I’ve done this to boost the conversational aspect of my work.

My plan is to add to this over the coming year.

The linked story from this site ends with:

“Until publishers encourage reporters and editors to engage with their audiences, they are going to miss out on the potential of Twitter.

Of course, the journalists who do this best will become media brands in their own right, which will worry the bean counters. But that’s another story…”

This is working well 11 years after those words were written. Many of us who still work as journalists are now mini-brands. Publishers and editors hire journalists with a good brand. Freelancers like me get work on the back of having a brand.

This doesn’t come naturally to older journalists. We taught journalists to keep themselves out of the story. That’s not how things work today and it definitely isn’t how blogging works.

Community

Werdmuller has a different take on what amounts to the same idea. He writes:

“Instead of thinking in terms of having an audience, you need to think about building and serving a community. Instead of informing, you need to be listening. The opportunities to learn the nuances of your community and to serve it directly are unprecedented — but it takes work.”

It does take work. One of the skills journalists pick up is to be excellent at listening to sources. In the past we’ve not been so good at listening to our audiences. It took me a while, although judging by my earlier posts, I was onto this 11 years ago.

The point here is there hasn’t been a clear dividing line between sources and audiences for many years now. Likewise, there is less of a division between journalists and audiences. We are, as Werdmuller puts it, communities. He is right when he says this takes work, but boy, it can be rewarding.

Indieweb for journalists

There are times when working as a journalist can overlap with the Indieweb movement.

The first is having a syndicated work portfolio. If you like, a single source, feed or river of everything written or posted elsewhere.

This means linking back to my stories published on mainstream media sites. I want to do this even when those sites don’t reciprocate my links.

At the moment I sometimes write a linking blog post on my site.

Here’s one from last year: https://billbennett.co.nz/agility-knowledge-economy-key-for-auckland-as-an-emerging-global-city/

One of the problems with this is the way big newspaper sites change URLs and even drop old content. Keeping links up to date is hard work.

My second idea is to somehow consolidate the comments that fill different buckets at places like Facebook, Google+ and Twitter. There are also some on Disqus.

There have been times when there are two or more conversations covering much the same aspects of a story. It would be better if the interested commenters could see what others have to say and interact.

Indieweb central repository

Then there’s my unrealised idea of moving to more of a stream-of-concious style of reporting. This is not so much Jack Kerouac style, but more like the daily live blogs you see on sites like The Guardian. I like the idea of writing a post then update it as the story evolves. This would be easier to manage with a central repository.

Last and not least, there’s my need as a journalist to own my work outside of the big silos. I’m not a snob about FaceBook or Google, but I am aware their shareholders get the reward for my effort when my work appears there. It won’t happen overnight, but the Indieweb may hold the key to redressing the balance in the future.

There’s a lot to be said from taking back control over how we work with technology.

PressPatron: Now you can support my site

You may have spotted the PressPatron banner at the top of this page. It invites you to be a supporter. There’s also a button to the right of this text.

They are both part of my PressPatron campaign. It’s a new way of crowd-funding websites.

I’m one of the first journalist-bloggers in New Zealand to use PressPatron. That puts me in good company. Russell Brown at Public Address got there first. Brown’s campaign has been running for about a month.

PressPatron is new, so there may be bugs in the system. Please be patient.

Soon you’ll see PressPatron banners in a lot more places.

Newsroom and Scoop are onboard. So is Sciblogs, E-Tangeta and TheatreReview. We’re all small, independent New Zealand online publishers.

What is PressPatron?

PressPatron is a way for readers like you to support the media you use. It is voluntary and painless. You get to set the amount you contribute. You can make a one-off payment or commit to a series of payments over time.

Most of all, PressPatron is not a pay wall. The stories on this site will stay free. You don’t have to pay a cent. The idea is that you’re supporting a website, not buying anything.

For now PressPatron is a New Zealand service. The founder, Alex Clark in Wellington, plans to offer it to overseas publishers. I’ve been talking to Alex about the idea for some time now and feel like I’m on the ground floor of something important.

One of the things I like most is that PressPatron doesn’t get in the way. If you don’t like seeing the banner, you can click it off. The sidebar button will stay, but it’s not offensive or distracting.

What will I do with the PressPatron money?

This site was never designed to by a source of income. It’s not my job. But it does cost money to run and it costs money to cover New Zealand technology.

So my first goal is to collect enough money so this site pays for itself.

Running this site isn’t expensive. There are managed web host fees and a handful of licences and subscriptions for services.

I’m a strong believer in paying people for work. That means paying for things like WordPress plug-ins, even when contributions are voluntary.

Around $500 will cover all my costs.

More, better local technology reporting

Any money I collect over that amount will go towards my journalism expenses. Among other things that means covering conferences and getting to industry events that might not otherwise get the attention they deserve.

InternetNZ’s NetHui is one example.

Open Source Open Society is another candidate. It would be good to get to Multicore World, ITX and the Linux AU conference when it is in New Zealand.

Some Commerce Commission conferences could do with a reporter watching what goes on. I’d also like to get to some out-of-town press conferences.

Tuanz events are useful. In my experience other smaller, narrow focus trade events can be valuable. I learned much from going to ISPANZ a year or so ago.

I’ll use any money raised money to pay for travel, accommodation and meals. Nothing fancy. At this stage PressPatron is not going to provide my income. That will continue to come from paying journalism and writing jobs.

PressPatron goals

  • First I want to make $500 to cover site costs.
  • If I reach a total $1500 I’ll be able to attend two out-of-town conferences that I wouldn’t otherwise get to.
  • A further $1500 means I’ll be able to attend all the big local scheduled events without needing to pick favourites1.
  • Any money raised over $3500 will be spent traveling outside of Auckland to get a wider perspective on technology. It means driving or flying out-of-town to chat to more people, more often.
  • If PressPatron takes off I’d like to spend some money on better photography.

  1. Although that depends on my availability and the amount of paid work I’ve got at the time. Sometimes conferences clash with publishing projects. ↩︎