I was working on a political campaign last year -- my first comprehensively statewide effort in a few years -- when I was smacked across the face with a new reality.
There is almost no local media left in Arizona anymore.
We've all read plenty about the struggles of conventional media in the new age, especially those of newspapers, but interacting with the media drove it home in an alarming way. I had a story to tell...there was simply no one in the conventional media to tell it to.
Don't believe me? Guess how many newspapers in Arizona have a dedicated presence at the Arizona capitol? The answer is...one. The Arizona Republic, of course. (CORRECTION: I was wrong about this; it was pointed out in comments that the Daily Star has one as well. I had heard that they pulled their presence but was mistaken. Apologies.) The rest of the state relies on two wire services for any capitol news. That means that for any given press release, there were only three beat reporters in the print market to send it to.
What about radio? Well, with the rise of syndicated talk radio shows, there are now only a handful of live, local-issue talk radio programs in the state that air on a regular basis. The two big Phoenix talk stations have a handful of shows each; the Tucson market has a total of two, and there are maybe two or three more statewide. The same holds true for stations that actually do their own news -- almost all the others rely on wire sources.
Television? Good luck. The competition is so cut-throat, and the stations are so short-staffed, that unless you have a truly compelling visual angle or sensational story, it's not going to happen.
So now what?
Good marketers and public relations professionals are increasingly learning how to master new media, including the ever-so-trendy social networking sites and blogs. Any good PR pro's distribution lists now include relevant blog sites that cater to the target audience. In politics, that's easy to find, but for traditional or product marketing it can require some diligent research.
And while everyone seems to have a Facebook or MySpace or Twitter presence these days, the key is to get people to follow you. So there are a few cardinal rules you have to follow:
1) Just building a page doesn't ensure people are going to see it.
2) In order to keep people interested, you have to continually feed the content beast. And don't make it dull, or people are going to drop you.
3) Have an endgame in mind. "Increasing awareness" is not it. Social networking programs work best when they "drive" the user somewhere, such as to your organizational/product web site. Once there, you have an opportunity to make sales pitches, capture data, or interact with the consumer in other ways. If you don't do that, the effort is pointless.
Even in the new age of media, there is no magic bullet -- although if you have the budget, Facebook and MySpace's advertising programs allow you to target your audiences extensively. It's still a mixture of savvy, creativity and luck to start a viral marketing phenomenon.
But by opening up your marketing and public relations programs to new media outlets -- with a few key caveats in mind -- you can overcome the shrinking of traditional media outlets by maximizing your new media opportunities.