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Pondering brand identity of media will help sharpen your PR skills

Which media best understand their audience?

On Wednesday night, I attended a forum hosted by Northwestern University’s Medill Alumni Club of New York. Much of the panel — entitled “Who Decides the News?” — was a synthesis of the failing newspaper business model and the opportunities for new, electronic forms of content.

During the lively discussion, Ernie Sander, managing editor of ContentNext, suggested that city-based dailies could cut their coverage to just a handful of beats so they could gain loyalty from fewer, but more highly engaged readers.

Melissa O’Neil, web director of Self.com spoke of the popular magazine’s online site not as an independent entity, but rather part of a brand operating via multiple platforms. In addition, she was really upbeat about turning occasional readers, who found the site via hyperlinks, into regular, registered readers.

One of the boldest statements of the evening came from Prof. Ed Malthouse of Integrated Marketing Communications at the Medill School at Northwestern University, who said, “very few media brands are strong,” in terms of people’s emotional connections to them. While this is unfortunate, he implied there’s great opportunity for those publications who really want to engage their readers.

Building news brands that are relevant to readers’ specific interests and feelings isn’t just good marketing —it has become a story of survival for the media. So much so, that many publications are being forced to abandon long-time readers in order to concentrate on the ones who are most highly valued.

This turn of events is a dual-edged sword in the media relations world. It’s becoming much easier to pitch journalists and reach audiences who have specific interests in the product, service or organization you’re promoting – especially now, when you have software to help tailor your pitches to a journalist’s micro-interest audience, such as “green” and travel news. The downside of this trend is that it’s becoming harder to reach broader audiences as publications fragment.

Keep on the lookout for those media with strong brand identities. They know their audience. Their readers know what the publication stands for and value it as a trusted source. And in an age of seemingly infinite information, trust is paramount.

I think a really good sign of a healthy media brand is one that sponsors in-person forums and activities. Its readers can engage with other individuals of similar interests, building loyalty and community through interaction.

What are other signs of media with healthy brand identities?

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