I’ve been obsessed for years with understanding how we consume types of media – what’s going on in people’s lives, environment, and heads when they read, watch or listen to the things we write, produce, record, create, publish and whatnot. How do our eyes move when we the page of a book, newspaper or magazine?
That used to be pretty easy. We had some nice rules of thumb that, if overly simplistic, still reflected the real world to a degree.
Radio was something we listened to in the car. Now, we have TV stations that carry video of guys sitting in front of microphones, doing radio call-in shows. TV was something we watched in our living rooms. Today, we time shift and binge watch – to the extent that Netflix has begun producing programming an entire series at a time, as it did with its House of Cards series.
Our ways of measuring how people use media are lagging horribly behind the real world. On a given day, I’m likely to listen to the audio podcast of a program I missed the night before while getting ready for work, then end it by watching an episode or two of a series I missed when it was running 20 years ago. In between, while standing in line or stuck on hold, I’ll check the RSS feeds of 15 or 20 different media sites.
What I almost never do is use any medium the way it was originally intended. I rarely read an article by visiting the publisher’s web site. I consume radio content mainly by reading. Except for sporting events, I rarely watch a TV show when it originally airs. I probably consume more audio books than printed, and I generally get my music during the day by navigating screens on a television.
And speaking of television, how does the tablet in our lap (which we now call the “second screen”) affect what we’re actually absorbing on TV? The old methods of establishing ratings by hanging a box on on the back of a set to record what channel was on at which times don’t cut it any more, though Nielsen is trying to adapt. Sometimes the “second screen” seems to focus our attention better, especially with shows that promote Twitter conversations (the “B” movie Sharknado and the Breaking Bad series are great examples, as are a lot of football games). But when we’re watching a sitcom and browsing the news on our smartphones at the same time, we’re missing something.
All of this creates a measurement nightmare.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this during the last few days, as we’ve been getting new “circulation” numbers from the Alliance for Audited Media. USA Today raised a few eyebrows by bragging about its 1,690-percent increase in digital editions, when the change really just reflected the newspaper’s decision to start including readers gained through mobile apps.
Games get played, as media pick and choose what to include in their “metrics” and how to spin it.
This presents massive challenges to anybody who’s trying to make advertising decisions. Top-line circulation numbers mean next to nothing, and the AAM cautions against comparing different outlets.
I usually try to offer sound advice at www.newmediarules.net, but in this case, the flux is so great – and the universe of variables so large – that the best I can do is offer up a general caution to know what you’re buying! Get the best numbers you can for the edition you can buy, while resigning yourself to the fact that the salesperson trying to take your money can’t answer most of your questions.
Here are some good ones to ask, just the same:
- What’s the circulation? How much of that is paid, and how much of it is complimentary?
- If you’re including apps in your readership numbers, will my ad actually appear in an app? How often? In what context?
- Are you giving me numbers for combined circulation, or for the edition I’m buying?
- Will my online ad appear behind a paywall, or can anybody see it? (Note that readers/viewers/listeners who pay usually make up a higher quality audience.)
- How much of your television audience watches live, as opposed to recording and watching later?
- Does your TV or radio show have a podcast? How many subscribers? Do you redact the commercials or include them in the podcast?
- How many of the “hits” on your web site are unique users? How many are real people versus crawlers and web bots?
I could go on for pages, but you get the idea. I expect most of these questions will just get you a blank look, because the media themselves are hopelessly lost and behind.
For now, there’s no rulebook – just a toolbox. And the main tool is a healthy dose of skepticism and a willingness to ask hard questions.
This ran in Auctioneer Magazine, September 2013. Used by permission.
By Carl Carter, APR
Good news coverage about your upcoming auction can give your business a welcome boost. But it usually doesn’t just happen by itself. Here are a few things you can do to encourage media coverage without having to hire a public relations pro.
Survey the local media landscape. It may seem laughably basic, but you can only “pitch” your auction story to media who are around to hear you. If you’re promoting an auction in a rural community with no daily newspaper and no TV stations, you obviously will need to either extend your reach or just gear your expectations to that reality. In smaller rural communities, you may be able to score a few minutes on a talk radio station by calling the show’s producer. Don’t overlook local news blogs and newsletters. I’ve seen a local garden club newsletter stoke interest in an auction.
Determine what your purpose is. Do you want to promote an upcoming sale? Or is it your aim to attract future business for your auction company? This will drive both your timing and your message (not to mention whether any costs come out of the auction budget or out of your own pocket). If you’re hoping to promote the auction, your outreach to media needs to begin at least three or four weeks before the sale date. Once you’re within about a week of the sale date, it’s hard to get any helpful pre-auction coverage without rushing the media outlet – a very bad practice.
Identify the story. And here’s the tricky part: It’s probably not your auction. Editors are up to their eyeballs in announcements of upcoming auctions. But within the details, there may be an item that’ll get people talking. It could be as small as the button off a Civil War uniform. A good way to see the hidden story is to think about what you go home and tell your spouse about. I was once getting a ho-hum media response on a famous basketball player’s house until I mentioned that his bed was selling with the house, because at seven feet, he required such a huge bed it wouldn’t fit through the door. Editors love surprises and unexpected twists.
Respect the “reach.” Before 1999 or so, local newspapers (and to a lesser extent, TV stations) would often cover news within a radius of 100 miles or more. Today, their coverage area is far more local. A mid-size daily (let’s say one with a circulation of 50,000) won’t usually venture far past its own county line. If an editor says your auction is outside the coverage area, accept it without whining and arguing. Otherwise, you may annoy him to the point where you’re not welcome next time you have a story to pitch.
Respect media staffing cuts, too. Since 2006, some 15,000 newsroom jobs have vanished as newspapers have closed or cut staff. TV stations, likewise, have cut back severely. Even if you have a great story, you’re probably not going to get a reporter and photographer to come out for the afternoon. You may have to settle for a quick phone interview, and maybe a request for you to provide a photo. If the TV station sends someone out, it’ll probably be a “one-person crew” which consists of the camera operator and no reporter. Even the Chicago Sun-Times recently fired its entire photo staff and started teaching reporters how to take better pictures with their iPhones. (Seriously, I can’t make this stuff up!) The editor can’t send people he doesn’t have, and you want to nurture a good long-term relationship.
Target the reporter, not the outlet. To borrow a phrase from Ronald Reagan, newspapers don’t write stories. People do. Find the web site for the newspaper or TV station you’re hoping to interest in your story, and look for stories compatible with yours. Check the byline. You’ll probably even find the reporter’s email address right alongside the story. Remember that most “pitches” and press releases go to editors, so if you can find the right reporter, you may have a better chance of getting his or her attention.
Decide on a delivery method. You don’t always need a press release. A well targeted e-mail may do the job. You don’t need to blanket the entire news staff with emails. Should you call? Maybe, but only to make sure the reporter still works there and ask for permission to email her a story idea. Don’t try to pitch it on the phone. Once you’ve sent the email, don’t call again. If she likes the idea, you’ll hear from her. Remember that reporters hate phone calls more than measles. If you do call, try to keep it to less than 30 seconds unless the reporter starts asking questions.
In short, keep it simple. Find a good story and tell it to someone who can pass it along. Give yourself a chance to get lucky.
The recent death of Google Reader — and the quest by end users to find replacements to organize their “news feeds” — serves as a good reminder of the importance of the RSS feeds from your web site.
Rather than offer a tutorial on how to create and manage your RSS feed, I’m just providing an example of how I’m using the ones on my various web sites and blogs.
I write a regular column for Auctioneer Magazine, which graciously allows me to post the articles on my own web sites as well. This provides fresh content for my site, and the articles are always accessible by clicking the Articles by Carl link on my corporate page. (Go ahead and click it if you like. It will give you a listing of recent articles I’ve published in Auctioneer and elsewhere.)
But I also know you don’t just spend your days stalking my company page for new content, so I use an RSS feed to let you get my new entries into your own RSS reader. If you scroll to the bottom of the “Articles by Carl” page, you’ll see little icon in the lower left corner. That’s gives you the link for my RSS feed for new articles. If you want a shortcut, here’s the link straight to it:
Depending on what reader you use, and how you set it up, you can easily add that to your “feed” that appears constantly on your tablet, phone or computer screen. Here’s how the feed from the “Articles by Carl” appears in Feedly, the “news reader” application I use on my Android tablet and phone.
But why settle for just one feed? I also issue regular news releases for my clients, and I post those to my web site as well. It’s a different page, and therefore, they’re published on a different “feed.”
Here are links to some other “feeds” I publish so you can see for yourself:
Updates to media blog (this site)
Nor do you have to be limited to things you want the world to see. I also use RSS feeds as a convenient way for clients to keep up with the regular reports I post on their projects.
Use your imagination. If you’re not using this tool, you’re overlooking a major asset you already own.
You’ll be hearing a lot this week about multi-source news readers, because Google Reader will finally go offline next week. These readers allow users to “subscribe” to dozens of news sources, blogs and even web sites using RSS feeds. Everybody seems to be getting in on the act, with Digg, AOL, Reddit and even Facebook either introducing readers or floating trial balloons. But the big winner for now seems to be Feedly, which does a nice job on tablets and phones and just “cut the cord” so that it no longer depends on the Google platform.
These apps are important, because they’re an increasingly the way we access our news. I use Feedly, which allows me to quickly scan several dozen trade and business pubs, national and local media sites, and blogs. In that context, I wanted to pass along some new data from the Newspaper Association’s annual media review. (Most of this was not available when I compiled my annual Media Update a few weeks ago.)
The good news for newspapers (and for advertisers) is that 164 million (69 percent) of U.S. adults read newspaper media content — either print or online — in a typical week, or on mobile in a typical month. The bad news is that more than 17 percent of those are mobile-only, so they aren’t seeing print ads. And these aren’t all kids: 55% of the mobile-only newspaper readers are 35 or older. We’ll get a better feel for this when we see numbers for the first quarter of 2013.
The newspaper readership numbers in the Scarborough USA report show that 47 percent of adults 35 or older saw a newspaper — in print or online — “yesterday.” Over a week’s time, that number jumps to 65 percent, and over 30 days, it grows to 72%. This data shows little difference between men and women — or, for that matter, between daily and Sunday. The major dividing point is age, with only 28% of adults 18-34 reading a newspaper “yesterday,” vs. the 47 percent who are 35 and over.
Our challenge in reaching those readers is that we still don’t know a lot about exactly what they’re seeing. We’re left to guess what pages people are seeing in print, and exactly how the readership breaks down in terms of web, mobile and print. (Remember that these numbers come the industry, so it’s in their interest to package digital and print readers together to present a happier picture.)
While mobile readership is growing rapidly, advertising on handsets and tablets remains a muddle. The newspapers really don’t have a lot to offer in the way of ads on media-specific apps (which nobody seems to be using anyway).
For decades, we imagined we could customize our message for different audiences, based on what served their interests and our purposes. It was never true, because audiences always overlapped.
Examples are easy to find. Your local power company reports record earnings. That translates into happy stockholders, and the company naturally wants them to know just how much money it’s getting for them. But to the people who are paying high power bills, that’s not such great news. Too much crowing about record earnings can cause the public service commission to order a rate refund.
This problem also turns up a lot when publicly held companies make a major announcement. Let’s say Company A is acquiring Company B, and both are publicly held. Employees of Company B are incensed that that they weren’t told first. But securities laws dictate that such announcements be made to the entire world at the same time so that there are fewer “insiders” who might trade the stock illegally based on information that isn’t readily available to the rest. This is the sort of problem that sends people to jail, so companies have to take it seriously, even if they do make employees mad. (I faced this very problem a number of times when I was handling communications for BellSouth’s acquisitions.)
These days, I see the audience-segmentation challenge a lot in the real estate auction industry, because I do a lot of work for auction companies. When a company gets a high price on a property, it’s good news for the seller. You want to let others with property to sell know what a great price you got. But putting all the emphasis on the high price can make the buyer feel he got carried away and overpaid.
Even worse, if you talk too much about the high prices you’re getting, buyers may stay away from your auctions, thinking they won’t be able to afford anything.
It’s tempting to say that the Internet has created this problem, but we’ve never existed as clean categories anyway. People who sell at one auction tend to show up as buyers for a different one. Employees have always been stockholders. Buyers have always been sellers.
The only safe approach is to assume every audience will read everything. That doesn’t mean you give up on targeting, but the message needs to be customized in terms of emphasis rather than core message. (If Mitt Romney had kept this in mind, he might have avoided making his infamous “47%” remark and been president today.)
Play it straight. You can still target messages. Just emphasize what’s relevant group and remember that others will “overhear” it. Trying to get too cute is a recipe for heartache.
This is how your “liked” pages are now being used as Facebook ads. I’ve called these the attention of the people being used in the ad, and neither “liked” the page in question at all. (Whether they’d clicked on it is another matter.) We’ve all “liked” pages as favors to friends, or whatever, but did you intend to give permission to be used in a public endorsement ad?
For myself, I went in this morning and “unliked” about 50 pages, many of which I didn’t even recall ever seeing. I suspect some were pages that originally were built up under one name, then “sold” to someone else. (My friend Rachel Zannis Callahan did a little digging into this “pump-and-sell” scheme for Facebook pages, and I highly recommend her post.
Here’s another for good measure:
A major new report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project confirms what most of us already knew: Tablets are continuing to penetrate the market, especially among those in the more attractive demographics.
Here are some highlights of the study:
- On the whole, 34% of American adults (18 and over) own a tablet — nearly double the 18% of a year ago.
- 49% of those between 35 and 44, and 49% of college graduates, own tablets.
- Penetration reaches across ethnic lines, with white, black and Hispanic ownership about equal.
- Ownership follows wealth. Among those who make more than $75,000, 56% own tablets. Among those making less than $30,000 a year, penetration is only 20%.
Another Pew study — released last week — showed that 61% of all cell owners now own smart phones. Among those 35 to 44 years old, 69% own a smartphone. (Note that this is 22% higher than the 49% penetration for tablets in the same age group.
I’m hoping that in the near future we’ll get more data indicating the extent to which smartphones tablets are displacing laptops. We have seen data showing that those with tablets tend to spend more time with the news and follow more media, but it still isn’t clear whether tablets will be secondary or primary devices for most media.
This was published in the May 2013 Auctioneer Magazine. Used here by permission. Here’s a PDF of the article. — Carl
By Carl Carter, APR
Your mother was right. It matters how you present yourself. Sit up straight. Be courteous. Speak correctly. Show up in clean clothes, and shine your shoes.
The same applies to our marketing materials. When people read our brochures, press releases, web sites and even emails, they don’t give us a pass because we aren’t professional writers. In their minds, they compare our work to that of people who are professionals, and that puts us at a disadvantage.
But we can at least follow the same general rules of grammar and style the pros use. Here are some resources that will help you do that.
Associated Press Stylebook
Nearly everybody reads the news in one form or another. And when you consider that the news is written and edited by thousands of different journalists in widely varying environments, the style in which they write is remarkably consistent. That’s because most of them rely on “AP Style,” as defined in this book, which has been the style “Bible” for decades.
You can get a copy for about $12, so there’s really no excuse for not having one.
Here are a few examples:
- It’s email, not e-mail or electronic mail. Don’t capitalize it.
- Don’t capitalize a title unless it precedes the name.
- Numbers. These get complicated. In general, spell out one through nine, and use numerals for 10 or more. But you’ll want to read the entire entry for the exceptions.
- It’s percent — not per cent or %. And it’s 6 percent — not six percent. This is an exception to the numbers rule above. See what I mean about it getting complicated?
Nobody can remember every rule, and you shouldn’t even try. I’ve been using the Stylebook daily since the 1970s, and I still have to refer to it constantly. Just keep it handy and get in the habit of checking the style whenever there’s doubt. You’ll probably find that it’s best to make some exceptions. For example, tight ad and brochure space might dictate that you abbreviate “square feet” and other terms that are spelled out in the Stylebook. Or you may decide to use “percent” rather than %. That’s fine. Just decide on a style and stick with it throughout all your materials.
(Note that the Associated Press stylebook is updated every year as the language changes, but you don’t really need the latest edition. A three-year-old copy that you actually use beats a current copy that sits on the shelf.)
The Elements of Style, by William Strunk & E.B. White
You’ve heard of this book. You probably even have a copy, though I bet you can’t lay your hands on it. Next to the Bible, I don’t know of another book that gets more lip service and less actual use. I’ve given away a lot of copies over the years, and I try to re-read it myself about once a year. Here are a couple of my favorite nuggets, along with comments from my own experience:
- Omit needless words. I love the way Strunk & White explain this: “This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects in outline, but that every word tell.”
- Keep related words together. In writing about upcoming auctions, resist the temptation to put any words between the subject and verb. If you’re saying “The home has a full basement,” you’ll weaken it by putting any phrase between “home” and “has.”
I’m not going to dwell on this, because you already know it’s true. Get in the habit of looking up any word that causes to hesitate. There’s simply no excuse for using the wrong word or spelling it incorrectly. Don’t fret over whether it’s Webster’s, Oxford or American Heritage. They’re all good enough if you use them, and they’re worthless if you don’t.
We all want to know who planted the bombs, and why, and how, and what the authorities are doing to find them. But we don’t. This is the paradox of cable news. The nonstop coverage of big events gives the illusion that there is a river of information.
There isn’t. To carry out the water metaphor, it’s closer to a geyser. We will have hours and even days where there’s nothing, then we’ll have a spurt of news, and then nothing once more. But until the story goes stale (usually after a couple of days), the networks will continue to show pictures, conduct entire newscasts from the site of the blasts and round up their experts (many of whom are kept on retainer) to talk about everything from world terrorism to bomb types to the likelihood of headaches and PTSD for those who were hurt in the blast.
None of this should be confused with news. So if you’re feeling stressed about time, here’s a tip: Turn off the TV. Check your tablet every few hours if you just can’t help yourself. You’ll still know everything that’s actually knowable, and your mind won’t be cluttered with all the guesses, false leads and misinformation that get shoveled into your set to preserve the illusion of nonstop news.
There. I just gave you a day. You’re welcome.
I just read my Sunday Birmingham News, the last remnant of the newspaper I grew up with. The one where I spent the first decade of my career. The one where I learned to write. Advance Publications, which owns the newspaper, also publishes print editions on Wednesday and Friday, but I dropped all but Sunday a while back.
In retrospect, it’s all about habits. Let me explain.
Advance’s logic was sound as far as it went. Keep producing the news daily, but only print it three days a week. Save megabucks on newsprint, ink, trucks, pressmen and such. For a while, I thought the industry would follow their lead, because Advance has a strong history of success.
The problem is that you don’t take a seven-day-a-week habit and break it up — getting the news three days in the driveway and four days a week on the computer or tablet. A lot of people just aren’t wired that way, and from a reader perspective, it makes no sense.
I quickly found that my tablet brought me the news very nicely. It was never wet, and I didn’t get ink on my hands. On Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays — the three days the physical paper came — it became an inconvenience. My habits had been formed in a different direction. Now I’ve cut back all but Sunday, and it’s hanging by a thread.
It now looks to me like we know the right direction for the newspaper industry. Newspapers that have begun charging readers for the news are stabilizing. We don’t know how the Advance papers are doing, because they’re privately owned and don’t have to publish financial data. The Advance way (primarily relying on cost cuts an online advertising growth) may or may not be working. But the path of charging for the news apparently is turning out to be successful.
Pew’s annual State of the Media report came out a few days ago, and they found that digital pay plans (aka paywalls) are being adopted at 450 of the country’s 1,380 dailies. Along with the return of some classified advertising and an improving economy in general, paywalls seem to be producing good results. Savvy investors — notably Warren Buffett — are buying newspapers. It’s true that they’re getting them on the bargain counter, but they see opportunity on both the digital and the print side of the business.
The New York Times rolled out a plan last spring that allowed visitors a limited number of stories per month, after which they had to pay. There were a lot of holes in their paywall by design, but now they’ve tightened it up. The Washington Post and San Francisco Examiner have also announced paywalls. Other papers charging for online news include most of the Gannett papers, Lee’s 47 papers, McClatchy’s 30 and E.W. Scripps’ 14.
And why not? If you hired reporters and paid them to do the hard work of interviewing sources, sitting through meetings, going through files and writing stories, wouldn’t you think it was reasonable to be paid for their work? If publishers can’t make enough money to pay the journalists, they’ll have to keep letting them go. There’s still plenty of that happening. Pew estimates that 1,000 newsroom jobs have disappeared each of the last two years, and newsroom employment is down 30% since 2013.
For years, we were in the habit of reading our local paper, and paying for it — although at a price heavily subsidized by advertising. As news began to appear on the Internet, we all expected that online advertising to cover the cost of unlimited online news. For a lot of reasons — not all of which are clear — that hasn’t happened. So now we have to break the habit of having unlimited news from unlimited outlets. Many of us will have to pay a bit, especially for local news. That seems like a reasonable habit to me.