Monday, April 13, 2009

4 strategies borrowed from print media

Should your organization be borrowing its communications strategy from....print media? You know, those newspapers and magazines with shrinking ad revenues and readerships, the ones going out of business or furiously reinventing themselves every hour these days. Yes, them. What?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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.
Every one of these suggestions requires audience research and feedback, and may take some experimentation and flexibility. Try one or all of them as a pilot project, measuring your audience views as a baseline before you start and after the end of your pilot to see whether you've moved the needle. I can hear some objections already: What if you've never charged a fee before? Consider this: I have many clients who've told me that their free print publications were so well-received that some readers wanted to know how they could pay for a subscription. Clearly, for some there's a niche market that can be capitalized upon.
Do you see other lessons from the newspaper and magazine world? Share them in the comments.


Joe Bonner said...


Lots of great ideas here, but I think #4 is the key. I think it's incredibly important to examine why you are doing certain activities or projects, and the answer I hate to hear (and try not to give) is: "We've been doing that for years."

Of course, the other side of that coin, particularly in implementing new initiatives, like social media, is to do it because everyone else is.

In both cases, it's important to have a strategy in place to justify giving something up or adding something new.


eloquentwoman said...

Couldn't agree more, Joe. One reason I help clients think through plans and strategies for communications projects--be it a blog, a print publication or a media relations approach--is so they know what to do as well as what *not* to do. The overwhelmed communications director often doesn't have a strategy with which to turn down opportunities that may be nice-to-do, but are not strategic...and that's a slippery slope.