L ARUNA DHIR
There has always been a debate between the goodness of Old – the time-tested, comfortable set of practices that have proven their mettle time and again and the value of New – a precocious kid on the block that struts its stuff with vigour and confidence of having been received with open arms. With the former, you have an immense sense of familiarity, a pronounced comfort zone but for the latter you must welcome change and rise up to meet new challenges in the area of work and knowledge.
As any Public Relations expert – Hospitality specialist or any other – knows, media is the veritable best man, the strongest ally and one of the most powerful tools in the PR toolkit. Nobody can deny the usefulness and power that the media mix holds over a PR person’s overall role. So much so that in many companies and PR agencies, the efficacy of a PR person’s performance is measured by media presence garnered for the company represented.
Today, a PR person is spoiled for choice, between the old and new media and within their ambit. Some like me, are from the old school of thought and still hold the old media in a prominent place while warming up to the idea and prospects of the New Media. There are others who are fans of PR 2.0 so much that they make the mistake of ignoring the traditional media, of course at their own risk. But the wisest are those who hold both kinds in esteem and continue to reap benefits out of the two.
Yet, there are distinct qualities that set one apart from the other and enjoy brownie points over the second when brought to comparisons.
One of the best arguments in favour of the old media is that it provides credible Third Party endorsement. To be endorsed by media such as eHotelier, Hotels, Food & Wine, Gourmet, Washington Post, The Guardian, National Geographic, BBC, CNN, Travel & Living, Condé Nast and several others – all giants in their own genré – is a prominent yardstick that assesses your level of success, your quotient of acceptance or degree of aspiration amidst your consumer and is also a scale that measures a PR person’s effectiveness and deliverability in performance. To appear in such publications means you have arrived, are worthy of being talked about in these pages and are sought after as a Brand. To get coverage in such publications proves that the PR person knows his or her job and is a performer.
The second important point is that sizeable coverage in the traditional Press-of-prestige immediately ups the profile of the Brand featured. Isn’t it a fact that hotels frame recognition from high profile publications (especially awards & certifications) or share such information with their guests via vehicles such as the Hotel newsletter?
The third point of significance is that coverage in the old world media-of-might ensures that the Brand manages to reach its target audience effectively. It is a given that your current and potential guests read such publications and it brings in guest loyalty by being featured in these publications.
Having said that, it is today’s reality that under the onslaught of rapidly evolving technology and with scores of possibilities being presented by Web 2.0, even the traditional media has gone online, interactive and viral.
This brings us to the virtues of the New Media. While it offers several opportunities, it also expects you to acquire and own new set of skills. This in itself – the need to be a better writer, or to be more technology savvy, or to learn new methods of communication or to become such a manager who learns to handle the media mix well and judiciously – is ample scope for keeping one’s role challenged and exciting as it provides a plank for horizontal growth in the area of PR work.
Sites such as Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube herald the coming in of Web 2.0 – a whole new world that provides excellent chances and opens up new vistas for a Media Manager. With the onset of Social Media in the arena of media coverage and planning, a PR Professional must be adept at handling each of these avenues. While Social Media is expanding career options by introducing such positions as a Social Media Manager or an Online Reputation Management Expert; not many companies have the finance or inclination to bifurcate responsibilities and hire separate individuals to handle such posts. Hence a role such as this has landed itself in the kitty of the Communications or PR Professional who needs to learn, unlearn and relearn to become a master of both the traditional and new age media. This, to my mind, is an extremely welcome change that encourages you to shape up for the New Media defined roles otherwise you may be shipped out by those who are more adept and trained.
Come to think of it, as PR experts with our strong skill base in writing, media handling, planning, website management and marketing communications, we are the naturally skilled workforce who should be entrusted with the responsibility of managing the New Media.
The real-time value of New Media is unsurpassed. Everything in it happens in the realm of “here and now.” Your news is as new or old as your last post or blog or tweet.
A lot of the power has shifted to you – the Communications specialist – from those on the journalistic side. If you have proved your worth and your Brand is considered of significance, then even the journalists are becoming fans of your Facebook page, following you on Twitter or linking up with you on LinkedIn.
You get to decide what, when and how much you wish to share with your target audience through your blog posts that link neatly with your parent website (thereby also increasing footfalls on your website), your Facebook updates, your tweets and YouTube plug-ins.
You get to learn instantly whether your Brand is ‘trending’ or is being given the cold shoulder by the online traffic.
With the old media it was difficult to measure the reach and penetration of your story – the only measure being the circulation figures which often failed to tell you whether the information on your company was actually read by the key audience or not. In the New Media, you can actually count up the “likes,” “views,” “shares” and “follows” to define how much a sub-product has been liked and whether a marketing idea will fly or fall with the end consumer.
While the old media and your story in it had the misfortune of being retired to the waste paper basket or sold to the ‘Raddi recyclist’ (Scrap paper dealer) or of reappearing as a wrap for snacks sold by the street vendor, there is no such danger with the New Media. Of course the biggest fear in the New Media is to go completely unnoticed by those very eye balls that you wish to catch as news and information flash by in high speed across the information freeway, yet the New Media has this great propensity to go Viral in the biggest way possible. Imagine the circuitry your story can create – from your company website or blog to LinkedIn to YouTube to Facebook to Twitter – with innumerable swaps in between – to a large river of search engines on which your story continues to appear.
And often with proper Search Engine Optimization it would appear in the initial few searches itself. This brings us to the importance of skills such as business writing for technology driven platforms as verbose as blogs or as crypt and concise as the 140 character Twitter. The other skills to be polished would be intelligent use of keywords, learning to link up well, using such tools as hash tags, bing, klouts, RSS, Social media alerts, tickers, Feedjits and the like. But this is a subject matter of another article which we may get into another time.
With New Media, you have the advantage of creating your own community that follows you, likes you and becomes a fan or a member. Your article that is liked or viewed by ‘X’ number of people has actually been read by those numbers without any wastage in the count and as a bonus has also been shared with their respective networks. Your Brand that is followed by a certain number of people enjoys loyalty from this number which has the potential to grow into a large population. Think about the online hits that certain features / stories invite on the internet and you will instantly know that this population can grow to a size of millions or more.
The New or Social Media is also an excellent platform for networking widely with larger demographics or pointedly with chosen focus groups. The networking and linking up chances with the like-minded groups on sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook help you increase your audience base taking you beyond the geographical boundaries within which your company exists. There are hundreds of Groups for Hoteliers, Travel professionals and other such defined categories with which you can network and share your information.
With an avenue like Wikipedia you can be your own Editor and create a User page or article for your Company. If it has universal significance then you will be easily inducted into the Wiki pages and enjoy easy searchability and wide readership.
With Social Media everything happens in the present so much so that the stories are listed every second and every minute of the day and through the night. The World Wide Web never sleeps and to make matters worse the Social Media keeps it on its toes at all times, there are no lunch breaks or pit stops on this information highway. Hence you need to be consistent and constant with your messaging. The rise in the relevance of New Media has caused a decline in the attention spans, therefore there is a greater need now than ever before to be pertinent and prime in your ‘newsability,’ otherwise your input will remain popular only amongst employees, family and friends.
With New Media you can reinforce your message with the ease of clicking a button. Simply press share or retweet and your story comes alive once again. But you must learn to do this prudently and in the right time span lest you become a social media outcast. With so much of information threatening to deluge their mind space your guests do not wish to be bored with old news or annoyed with repetitive nuisance.
All forms of New Media present wonderful options for inter-linkages. So your official blog piece or website page can be tweeted or shared on LinkedIn, Facebook etc. simultaneously with just a couple of clicks and you get to showcase your product amidst a large number of users of these sites with so much ease that it makes a kid’s play appear difficult.
One of the biggest boons of New Media is that it is absolutely free and adds admirably to your profit protection strategy. View this point in the light of big dollars earmarked for the annual media plan covering advertising and other media spend including Press FAMs and individual Press Trips for media coverage on your Company. Virtual Property Tours with exciting 360 degree views that have been traditionally put up on the website can now be uploaded on You Tube or tweeted or shared through LinkedIn, Facebook and the like for free and to multitudes who just need to have an access to a machine and the medium of Net. This, however, does not reduce the importance of the human touch, the impact of relationships with the media and the power of experiencing a property for real.
With these huge benefits come the bad lemons too as is a given with almost anything in life; with everything there always being two sides. Opening up to a wide readership and onto instant news platforms such as these also calls for immediate feedback. Your guests are at free will to tweet back or post a negative comment or deride your new sub-product or product in the same open, world-wide medium that you use. The onus lies on you – the Newsmaker – and your Company to be more responsible, meaningful and noteworthy.
With you as the Communications Chief, New Media also allows for much greater engaging and involvement of the employee base that can be part of the news making process, thereby developing a stronger bond and belongingness with the Company they represent. While not everybody can be allowed to post or tweet – given the crucial baseline of adhering to the Company profile and Brand Standard, but they can send their submissions to you, who as the Chief Brand Custodian can play the editor to the hilt and include the appropriate ones on to the forums. Seeing one’s tweet or post feature in the virtual world, gives almost the same high as seeing one’s article in print, well almost, and is especially true for the non-writers.
While the importance and significance of the old Media cannot be ever denied, the New Media is all too powerful, in your face, productive and result-oriented so as not to be taken lightly. It is not a fad and needs to be fashioned out sensibly into your media strategy.
Here is a quick snapshot of the Top Five pluses and minuses of both kinds of media –
OLD, TRADITIONAL MEDIA –
TOP FIVE +es –
- It is the best form of credible and creditable Third Party Endorsement.
- To appear in a top notch publication immediately ups or reinforces the profile of your Brand in the minds of the significant publics. Think Condé Nast, WSJ, New York Times, The Guardian and you get the picture.
- To be written about by the renowned reviewers / writers of these publications is a major achievement in media presence. Imagine getting first class rating by the likes of Mary Gostelow, Lynn Middlehurst, Jeff Weinstein and see how proud and pleased the owners, management and the guests are.
- Mention in traditional media has a sense of permanence to it. The news report can be filed and archived and can easily be dug into when it needs to be referenced again.
- It is easier to control what is being written about you (either through your Press Release or on account of your established relationship with the media representative) and form opinions in the traditional media as compared to the information circus that exists in the New Media.
TOP FIVE –es –
- It faces the danger of getting dated and being lost in the annals of time.
- The negative review hits the Brand hard, going by the same logic of appearing in a top notch publication and written by the high profile reviewer.
- In today’s times of excessive information being delivered to your desktop, laptop or palmtop every second, it may face the risk of getting lost in the deluge.
- With new information coming up every second, your article in traditional media can become old news sooner than you think.
- Because of the timelines it adheres to and the inherent gap that exists between sending of your press release or a journalist reviewing your product and the actual appearance of the story on account of a backlog of stories in hand with the media or something of more importance coming up at short notice, many a times your news report gets printed as a post event publicity and that is half the battle lost.
NEW / SOCIAL MEDIA –
TOP FIVE +es –
- You can control what is being said about you through your blog, pages, updates and tweets.
- You have a direct access to your guests and reach them with ease in relation to your news, offers and promotions.
- Instead of just one media platform, you have the ability to turn your news into a viral phenomenon and see it appear in several media planks simultaneously.
- You have the opportunity to send out more information about yourself. There is no restriction on how much you want to or can share.
- The power publications and the publicists that pack a punch are also on the New Media and can not only continue to write about you in the online editions but can also do so in their personal spaces of blogs, twitter page etc. which also enjoy additionally huge following.
TOP FIVE –es –
- You have less control on what people say about your product through their blogs, pages, updates and tweets.
- In the New Media, just about anybody can turn a writer or opinion maker and send their comment into the Social Media whirlpool. This can and does include your guests who can make direct comments on their experience. The realm of news does not just belong to the journalists any more.
- You must ensure that your news is meaningful and useful to the guest for it to be lapped up and for it to be something that your guests look forward to. Otherwise, it is very easy for you to become an irritant and face the risk of being unfriended, unfan-ed or unfollowed.
- It is difficult for you to control the vehicles where you wish to appear, keeping in mind your Brand personality and profile. Through the channels of New Media, your brand can find presence even in those media outlets in which you do not wish to appear.
- It is hugely difficult to grab the attention and enjoy readership penetration as the window of appearance and presence has been sizeably shortened in the flux of all that information that floats in the world of Social Media World be it Blogosphere, Twitterdom, Facebook zone, LinkedIn Groups, YouTube or innumerable others.
And a final comparison – to have my piece or property featured in a publication of repute is a prominent feather in my cap. But then the Social Media opens up a whole new world with its wide reach, focused penetration, advantages of “viralability” with sharing and re-sharing and being followed by the key groups of audience that we wish to address. Going by this measure, Social Media is several notches up as compared to the traditional tactical vehicle of Direct Marketing, wherein companies often lamented whether the expensive mailer was being read by the CEO or his secretary and if the pricey, glossy flyer was managing to hold the interest of the end user for the right amount of time, ensuring grasping of the offer that you wished to sell.
I am from that group of people who believes that we will always get to hold and feel the crispiness of newspaper with our morning cuppa, that we will still leaf through glossies and not just at salons or clinics and that in spite of the up surge in the demand for Kindles we will still get to hold and smell the mustiness of paperbacks and hardbounds, at least in our lifetime. I also belong to the set that uses the Socially relevant New Media optimally, intelligently and with such mastery that it reaps rich dividends for the Company we represent.
In my PR scheme of things, both the media have their place, position and prevalence and both need to be used effectively in order to enable me to stay on top of my game and you on yours.