Recently, I received notice from the publisher of a local business journal that the “People on the Move” section is up for sale. The one-time crowdsourced feature for new hire announcements or appointments in a local market will cost $250.
“This fee will cover an expanded profile in print which will run even sooner – within 30 days of purchase, in addition to an online listing,” according to the publisher’s message [emphasis added]. And with that, what was once a community service of sorts, with some editorial oversight, has become an advertisement.
It looks to me like this change will take place at many, if not all, of the weeklies in the American City Business Journals (ACBJ) network. If it works out for the ACBJ – good for them – but for business communicators, it’s just another example of the four big media trends that are upending the landscape.
Publishers’ have struggled for a business model in the digital age where most marketing money flows to just a handful of companies. This has been accentuated by cuts to the editorial staff, and increasingly, a slow but steady shift towards advertisements masquerading as news.
This means good stories that would have made news a few years ago will go unnoticed today. Consider these other recent examples:
- Business coverage means Tesla, Apple or politics. A business reporter at a major daily outlet noted cuts in editorial staff meant his beat was constrained to Tesla, Apple or politics. In other words, the stories he writes must appeal to as many people as possible. Even a business story that defies expectations…won’t make the cut today.
- Blending editorial and advertising. A trade publication covering cybersecurity often publishes roundups of new products. The editor was quite candid that products are selected based on a combination of newsworthiness and sponsorship. The emphasis was clearly on sponsorship.
- Conflicting interests. An editor at another trade publication covering the business of law explained he’d have to check with his corporate chain of command before covering a story. I was pitching a story that involved a product that competed with a product his corporate stakeholders commercialized.
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These are not isolated examples. Media ownership is changing hands at a rapid pace and publishers are frenetically experimenting with new sponsorship models, some of which are questionable by traditional editorial standards.
This would be a good point in a post to bemoan the tribulations of media relations or lament for the loss of independent journalism (though it is tragic), but here comes the curveball: this is probably one of the biggest opportunities PR, and indeed brands, will see for many years.
In many niches, publishers have determined the economics of an advertising-based media model simply do not support the margins they desire. However, the economics of a B2B software or technology company are different, and this presents an opportunity to fill the information gap in their respective niches.
This is what the trend in content marketing is about. There’s real value in filling an information gap with a journalistic approach to creating understanding, ideas and analysis, that can’t be found anywhere else.
I’m not suggesting it’s easy. The competition grows daily. Commitment, consistency, and dedicated resources – those are quickly becoming tables stakes just to get a seat at the game where brands still need the talent to play.
The alternative, however, is sifting through an expensive maze of options to rent a little piece of digital property some other publisher owns. With any luck, it’ll be published in the next 30 days.
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