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What’s in Store for 2011?

There’s little dispute that the past year has marked more changes in the media landscape than ever before and the entire industry continues to race toward an uncertain future. In 2011, the increasing strength of self-marketing via social media, the rise of personally branded journalists and the escalating force of the digital and hyperlocal space will bring new challenges to print publishers, broadcast outlets and company communications alike.

“The biggest thing that you are going to find is that print and online media will become increasingly the same thing,” said Terry Neal, SVP and Director of Strategic Media at Hill & Knowlton, a leading international communications firm headquartered in New York.  “They will continue to be on different platforms, but they will be inextricably linked.”

The second thing, according to Neal, is going to be the battle over who can create and run a successfully monetized, hyperlocal news model. Sites such as AOL Patch will continue their growth, and newspapers such as The Washington Post will try to carve things even more “micro” than the Patch sites despite many papers’ previous failure in web-based hyperlocal news.

“[The Washington Post] failed with Loudoun County Extra, a hyperlocal online only focused on Loudoun County. …Since a lot of the advertisers are national advertisers, it is difficult to monetize [hyperlocal news models],” Neal noted. “I think that folks are going to try and perfect that digital advertising model.”

Successfully monetizing the digital platform goes beyond the hyperlocal news and blankets the entire online medium. 2011 will challenge publishers to come up with a comprehensive and strong model.

“Look at a place like the Washington Post,” said Neal, who is also a former writer and editor of the paper.  “There are actually more people who read the paper’s content today than ever before. The problem is that a lot of those eyeballs are coming online. A lot of those eyeballs are also being directed through links from other sites. So everybody feels there is a way to monetize that, but it’s difficult to do it in a way that has successfully increased the revenues from the digital side to offset the losses from the print side. I think that’s a trend that’s going to continue for a few years.”

Perfecting that revenue model goes hand-in-hand with solid investment and new marketing strategies of traditional media in the digital space, but that’s not to say that print will disappear in 2011. According to Stephanie Agresta, EVP and Managing Director of Social Media at Weber Shandwick and co-author ofPerspectives on Social Media Marketing, a lot more print-and-digital mergers should be expected.

“There is no question that eyeballs are continuing to move in a greater velocity toward digital assets,” Agresta noted.  “That said, I think there has been some serious investment on the part of traditional media in digital distribution channels.  If you look at things like the joining of forces between Newsweek and The Daily Beast, for example, it really speaks to the fact that traditional media is not going to take this sitting down. I think they are getting it and realizing that distribution and marketing and the way they interact with their audience needs to radically change. I think you’re going to see more and more of that in the New Year.”

Inasmuch as traditional and new media collaborations could successfully fill in the gap of revenue loss, more and more journalists continue to flock toward the digital space, which inevitably hurts the editorial quality of print. This trend will continue in 2011.

“There are people who worked at The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times, who have found it more profitable and easier to prosper at an online-only publication than they ever have before,” Neal said.  “Some of these people were ushered out the door, as great as they were, because they were too expensive now for the print-only model. And then they were able to get more attractive packages through some of these newer, online-only publications. I see absolutely no reason to think that this trend is going to reverse now.”

Larger digital outlets can also afford or choose to invest in solid, credible print reporters with expansive rolodexes. Politico, for example, had instant credibility “not because their model or their idea was that brilliant,” Neal said, but because they made a decision to invest in all these expensive writers and editors.

“They got John HarrisJim VandeHei and Mike Allen, and they paid a pretty penny for them and I don’t know whether they made a profit yet or not, but I am sure they will one day. And it’s because they invested in that talent. And The Washington Post lost that talent. Just between those three guys, you have decades and decades of experience in the White House on the Hill. That can’t just be easily replicated by just bringing in anybody.”

But there’s also a new kind of journalist who became increasingly popular throughout 2010 and who, according to both Neal and Agresta, will take an even more prominent spot in the media space – branded journalists. With the rapid speed of social media, journalists are now their own brand and can put themselves out there in an authentic and transparent way.

“We see very well respected journalists like Katie Couric and Ann Curry, who have very strong Twitterfollowings and who understand what it means to have a direct voice with their audience,” said Agresta. “Couric is a great example of someone who is utilizing the media in a way that allows her to continue to connect with her audience in many channels.”

Neal added, “In the past, you weren’t supposed to think about yourself as a brand. And now, there is certainly a large amount of marketing value in blowing that paragon out of the water and thinking about marketing yourself across the platforms and finding creative ways for people to click on you. Reporters know all the strategies now.”

So where does all of this leave the public relations industry in 2011? Both Neal and Agresta agree that traditional and digital media strategies are increasingly seen as one. And that fact alone is forcing companies to change.

“I think PR needs to continue to evolve,” Agresta said. “There are a couple of core values that every PR firm need to incorporate in order to be successful: Accept new talent, so people with different kinds of backgrounds and skill sets get into the mix. Tap into the new influencers, who are no longer just anchors of broadcast news, they are people who have their own personal newsrooms and aggregated audiences via social media.”

According to Neal, you can’t influence conversations without being able to understand the new media platforms.

“People are monitoring Web conversations and traffic as an indicator of what type of conversation they are having,” he said. “If you can change that conversation, you can potentially change the perceptions about what’s important.”

 

 

About Anna Marevska

Anna Marevska is an editor and writer for Cision Blog, and writes media updates, media influencer and industry features. She is also manager of content and research at Cision’s research department, and the editor of FashionFilesmag.com. Find her on Twitter at @Anna_Mar3.

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