Communications and public relations--perhaps more than many professions--are undergoing a sea change, and the waves haven't subsided yet. It's more than time to reexamine your traditional products, from print publications and static Web sites to the news conference and even a media relations staff. (Here are my 8 tests for examining your communications in 2009 as a start.) But tough times call for tough measures. I'm suggesting you take another step and consider these models you may want to borrow from the apparently tattered traditional print media:
- Break apart, then re-aggregate, your content in ways your audience can use it. Rather than reading an entire newspaper, plenty of users choose to read only certain sections, or a selection of sections, or just the graphics, or graphics with text. (That's true for mobile phone users, as well as many online readers and those who skim the dead-tree editions.) Use RSS feeds, tags and bookmarks to carve your content into topical, time-oriented, or other segments and offer them in a menu that your fans, readers, employees or customers can use in ways that suit their specific needs.
- Start charging a fee for previously free services: If you've been publishing and direct-mailing a free publication, newsletter or magazine to your employees, customers, alumni, donors and other key audiences, but aren't sure everyone wants it in electronic form, offer a print edition at a premium price--then print it on demand to save more on storage and printing needless copies. While you're at it, set a fee for bulk copies and encourage other groups to purchase print issues for distribution. You may find a whole new audience--and you'll quickly find out who wants that print copy. Or, provide your publication/video/guide for free to a core audience and charge a small fee to anyone who falls outside that key demographic.
- Already charging a fee? Raise it. Today's New York Times looks at the venerable weekly news magazines--such as TIME and Newsweek--which have traditionally been priced very low per issue. In a twist on print media's search for profitability, they're considering raising the cost per issue...and some analysts say that price makes no difference in reader engagement. The article notes: "...whether consumers pay $5 or $50 for a subscription does not affect their perception of the magazine, according to a study conducted four years ago by the media consultant Rebecca McPheters for publishers including Time Inc., Condé Nast, Hearst and Meredith. [She said in an interview] 'we've done a lot of work around public-place readership, and we find that public-place readers who pay nothing are almost as engaged as those who pay'.” Or offer the publication in a more convenient format and charge more for the mode of delivery (as the New York Times and other newspapers do on the Amazon Kindle).
- Give some things up entirely, in favor of new options. I continue to meet communicators who feel they must--must--continue to publish print publications and carry out full-bore traditional media relations while adding blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter to their menu of communications tools. But many publications--the Christian Science Monitor and U.S. News and World Report among them--now publish online-only formats. I'd rather see you take this route than publish so infrequently that you can't pierce your audience's consciousness...or fail to keep up with social media changes.
Do you see other lessons from the newspaper and magazine world? Share them in the comments.