As newspapers prepare for a future online, PR must stay ahead

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This afternoon was the CIPR North West’s event Social Media and the Law, with speakers Tony McDonough, Business Reporter at the Liverpool Echo, and Steve Kuncewicz, a media law specialist.

I like to think I have quite a good grasp of legal issues surrounding social media, but Steve’s talk was really interesting and very informative – especially on issues like NLA copyright and recent legislation like the Right To Be Forgotten and changes to the Defamation law.

Steve also stressed the importance of being aware of a social network’s terms and conditions in relation to hosting competitions (I imagine many marketers fall foul of this) and of being careful with paid brand advocates, who can find themselves breech of Advertising Standards Authority regulations, which apply equally to social media and websites.

Meanwhile, Tony McDonough from the Echo gave us a good oversight about how the newspaper landscape is changing. He talked about research by Ross Dawson, who estimated that in the UK, the last print edition of a newspaper will go to the presses in 2017. While Tony didn’t necessarily agree with that timescale, he said he accepted that print newspapers will, at some time, “go off the edge of the cliff” and that their future lies online. He also cited some really interesting stats about how many hits the Liverpool Echo website gets daily – and how much this has grown in the past few years. In 2009, when the Echo’s digital news team launched the website was getting 56m hits a year. Now it achieves that in a little over a month, with around 1.5m hits every day. This has risen as high as 5.5m on key news days such as Ladies Day at Aintree and the recent visit of the Three Queens to the River Mersey.

In contrast to that, however, 70% of the Echo’s revenue is still from print adverts – so it seems that advertisers are slow to recognise the size and potential of the online audience, and the Echo’s challenge is to convince them of that before the print edition does “go off the cliff”.

Tony said the newsdesk ethos has changed from: “What can I put in the paper tomorrow?” to “What can I put online now?”, and that the paper is operating a ‘web first’ policy. But he added that he had never known a time when the newspaper had so few staff and yet so much content to create.

And that, I think, is where public relations can come into its own. Tony said that multimedia is very much part of the consideration when deciding whether a story is a runner or not. He said that, as a bare minimum, a story has to include one high-res landscape image – whether professionally shot or just snapped quickly on a phone. The Echo are also happy to receive video and audio for their online stories. At this point in time their requirements aren’t particularly sophisticated – just a quick grab of video could help you get your story on their website or social feeds – but I guess that in the very near future the requirements of journalists will begin to be more exacting and simple talking heads and video grabs will no longer suffice…. But that’s one for another day!

It was also really interesting to hear the impact that social has on the traffic to the Liverpool Echo’s website. 50% of traffic comes from Facebook but in contrast just 5% from Twitter. It would be really interesting to delve into those numbers and figure out the reasons for that – I wonder if that is a common theme of all news outlets?

But it was clear that press releases are still important to journalists and will remain so for some time. So whilst we, as public relations people, must get better at providing journalists with the multimedia content they need, that will still need to be accompanied with written text in one form or another that can be quickly and easily recycled into a news story by time-pressed journalists.

I’m certain that the need for multimedia content will only grow and grow – as will expectations about its quality. With so much opportunity to work with our journalist colleagues we can’t afford not to move forward to help them create the kind of content Tony said he wants – “interesting, compelling and relevant”. And we need to do it quickly.

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Don’t blame the council – blame ITV

Updated 

Like many others I tuned in yesterday to watch ITV’s Don’t Blame the Council, billed as a ‘behind the scenes’ look at Wigan Council.

Back in October, when Wigan announced they were going to take part in a BBC documentary, Call The Council, I blogged about it and was hopeful that it would help shine a light on the real challenges faced by local authorities like Wigan. Maybe it would help ‘ordinary’ residents understand what the unprecedented cuts to budgets really mean for the services that many people take for granted.

At the time, Donna Hall, Chief Exec of Wigan Council, wrote a piece for the Guardian Public Leaders Network explaining why Wigan had decided to let the cameras in. She said:

“The last time there was industrial action, in Wigan we had to cancel our household waste collections. That went down like a contaminated bin at a recycling centre. Our social media accounts were inundated with questions from angry members of the public whose bins were not collected. Many asked: “When do I get a refund for the service you’ve not provided?”

This reaction told us one thing – an awful lot of council taxpayers appear to believe all we do is empty their bins.”

And she explained what she hoped the programme would achieve:

“I’d guess most of our residents wouldn’t be able to name more than 10 services we provide. In fact, Wigan council provides more than 700 services to 310,000 residents.

“Call the Council won’t be able to reflect all those services but it is going to show a rich mixture of our work. The film crews have only been with us for a few weeks but they have already followed our officers doing spot checks on taxi drivers, organising an Expo for small businesses, taking food samples from shops, dealing with illegal traveller sites and installing LED street lighting.”

I really admired Wigan Council for taking the brave step of letting the cameras in. Their aim was noble – highlighting the many and varied services that local government provides, and to demonstrate the tough decisions that councils all over the country are having to take.

Since then it seems that Wigan Council also permitted ITV to film with them for yesterday’s Don’t Blame The Council.

The BBC series is yet to be aired. But ITV’s effort was broadcast last night and left a bit of a sour taste.  Despite all the interesting and varied jobs that their Chief Exec described the BBC filming in the quote above, ITV’s hour long programme focused instead on… you guessed it… BINS.

Their portrayal of council staff was purposely negative – showing a sleeping bin lorry driver (legitimately on the break he is legally required to have maybe?); made the officer in charge of dog fouling and flytipping look over officious (despite the fact she was carrying out a very tough job that most members of the public, in my experience, support); poked fun at the stereotype of council workers always having meetings and generally being inept.

Not what I (or Wigan Council, I imagine) had hoped for.

And a missed opportunity I felt. Lazy, stereotyped fly on the wall nonsense that had no real intention of highlighting the very real issues and challenges facing local councils, but just wanted to follow a few ‘characters’ and have a bit of a laugh at their expense. 

The comments on Twitter were particularly depressing, with lots of ill-informed anti-council hate being posted. Early local media coverage hasn’t been much better. Not exactly what Donna Hall set out to achieve.

I feel for Wigan Council. They were brave enough to take this risk, and it hasn’t worked out as well as it could have. That is ITV’s fault for taking the easy, lazy approach.

A transmission date is yet to be confirmed for the BBC’s Call The Council series. Let’s hope for a more thorough, carefully considered programme from the Beeb. Perhaps they can put ITV to shame. But ITV’s treatment of this subject matter is bound to make other councils think twice about taking part in any future project as a result.

I would love to hear what other local government workers and communicators thought of the show – and I can’t wait to see how differently (hopefully) the BBC approach this issue. 

 

 

Yes, council communicators should think like ‘content marketers’

Chalkboard with "What's Your Story?" written on itWith a background in journalism and now public relations, the concept of content marketing is one that I am really interested in.

I don’t count myself as a ‘marketer’ but for me, content marketing is all about telling stories that are relevant to your brand/organisation, in a way which is useful and interesting to your target audience/stakeholders. That’s very much what I love to do.

Basically, you tell interesting stories, people read them.

Simple!

As council communicators we have a never ending supply of interesting and informative stories to tell which the people we wish to communicate with (our residents, mainly) are likely to find interesting and useful.

If you don’t believe me, or you’re short of inspiration then this list of inspiration for blog posts from Ragan.com can be very much applied to our work as council comms people and should generate more ideas than you could ever possibly hope for!

I like to think that we’ve reached a point where the vast majority of councils are embracing social media, but now it’s time to take that to the next level. It’s not enough just to tweet out links to media releases. We should be thinking like journalists within our organisation and telling our stories in the most compelling, interesting and relevant way we can.

Social media has allowed us to talk directly to the people we want to talk to. So let’s not bore them, nag them or fob them off with council speak or media releases that weren’t written for them. Let’s grab their attention, hold their interest and give them something which is genuinely entertaining and useful. Believe me, it’s the future.

Want to know what digital journalists really want from PRs?

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I think we all realise the world of newspaper journalism has changed almost beyond recognition in the last few years – and will continue to do so in those to come.

Newspaper journalists are increasingly concerned with creating digital content – recording video and audio interviews, breaking news on twitter rather than waiting for the next day’s print edition.

Our main local daily newspaper the Liverpool Echo, is no exception and recently advertised for a number of ‘bloggers’, rather than ‘journalists’.

As PR people we need to keep up too – yes we’re trying to create digital content for our own organisations but we mustn’t forget our mutually  important relationship with our old friends the newspaper journalists.

And if we aren’t paying attention to what they need to help them create compelling content, we won’t be doing our jobs properly.

So, if you are in the North West you may be interested to come along to a really interesting sounding CIPR North West event on Friday, June 26 (12.20-2.30pm) in Liverpool. The guest speaker will be Tony McDonough, the Liverpool Echo’s senior business editor, He will be talking about how he and his colleagues source and promote stories through social media – and give an insight into the type of content he wants for today’s print and online publications.

As well as Tony, the event will also hear from  media law specialist Steve Kuncewicz who will talk about some of the legal considerations for PR people on social media and how to avoid the most common pitfalls.

It promises to be a really interesting and useful event.

If you’d like to go along, tickets are available to buy online now.