musings on marketing, media, public relations....and life, by David Reich
Reich Communications, Inc.
Reich Communications, Inc. is a boutique public relations agency in New York City offering full service in a variety of areas, with specializations in business-to-business; advertising, marketing and media firms; transportation safety; non-profits, and select consumer products and services.
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So-called native advertising is ad content designed to look like the editorial content it's surrounded by. We used to call it "advertorial" long before "native" became the current buzzword.
By its very nature, native advertising is deceptive, since it is intended to make the viewer think it's real news, coming from the media outlet's reporters or writers. As such, it tries to pick up the implied credibility that would come with a legitimately reported news or feature story.
Not so. Native ads are, after all, ads paid for and written by an advertiser. You shouldn't expect native ads to be fair, balanced or even, unfortunately, totally accurate.
For years, advertorials in newspapers and magazines usually were labeled as ads or paid content, although often in small lettering that could easily be missed.
Then, as media went digital, the lines became blurred or disappeared altogether. Online media, including widely-read blogs, went for the money, posting paid content without disclosing it was sponsored.
The Federal Trade Commission issued a ruling that all paid content had to be clearly identified. I'm not sure if anyone has been fined or prosecuted for breaking that rule, but most legitimate media seem to have become more careful.
Despite this and perhaps proving that more noticeable identification as an ad is needed, a new study by a university in Georgia shows the vast majority of us don't recognize native advertising as a paid ad. The study, reported in the Journal of Advertising, found that only eight percent of people surveyed identified native advertising as paid marketing messages. So 92 percent were fooled into thinking what they had seen in print or online was real news or information.
No wonder native advertising has become the hot thing.
New York State yesterday approved a bill that outlines various forms of lobbying and requires firms that engage in those activities to report their actions.
I don't yet know what the reporting procedures are, but a troubling clause in that bill includes PR agencies' contact with editorial boards of newspapers.
The 10-page bill lists various activities that are excluded, including "normal" dealings with reporters on news and feature stories. But if I were to arrange a background session for a client with an editorial board or the opinion editor at a newspaper, it seems like I'd be obligated to report on that activity somehow. I don't yet know what and how much paperwork would be involved or if fines could be levied for failure to report.
The idea is a bad one, a clear overreaction to recent corruption cases up in Albany. It flies in the face of free speech.
Over the years, I've arranged meetings between clients and editorial boards. One example was for NHTSA, to encourage editorials urging readers to buckle up when driving, or not to drink and drive. Clearly, those are messages in the public interest, but I would now have to report on such sessions.
Traditional lobbying is another story, and I feel there should be much tighter restrictions on what lobbyists can do and how money they can distribute to public officials.
I've seen firsthand how lobbying works. Several years ago a client wanted to get Congress to pass stricter laws on a public safety issue. I helped them find a reputable lobbying firm. They began by identifying legislators who were on committees that impacted that issue. The lobbyist knew most of them. I helped them prepare position papers outlining the what and why of my client's objectives, and then they had meetings with the legislators themselves or key aides.
But here's where it got dicey. The lobbyist strongly advised my client to attend various events sponsored or supported by some of those targeted legislators. Some were fundraisers for nonpolitical organizations favored by the legislators. But in several cases, my client was encouraged to attend small-group luncheons or meetings, where the price tag was often $5,000 and up to sit across the table with a dozen or so people and the likes of Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer and Chuck Schumer.
All perfectly legal, but how fair is it, really? How many of us can afford to spend big bucks for such direct access? And you have to wonder, when really big bucks -- millions -- are spent, does a public official then feel obligated? Look at big spenders like the gun lobby and big pharma and think about the lack of action on some issues those industries face.
That's where attention needs to be focused. When I or another PR firm sits with a client to inform or try to influence an editorial writer, there are some big differences from lobbying public officials. Meeting with editorial boards, we make our best effort to explain our position on an issue. But the ultimate decision of if and what gets published is in the hands and heart of the editor, a journalist who tries to weigh facts before taking a position. And that choice is not impacted by money.
It's a big difference. So New York, especially in light of all the corruption that's finally being prosecuted in Albany, should focus on traditional lobbying and not dilute those efforts by trying to regulate normal media relations efforts.
When it comes to preferences in music, movies and media, different age groups don't agree on much. But a recent poll by the Pew Research Center shows Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials do agree on which news sources they feel they can least trust.
All age groups say sources they trust least for accurate reporting are Buzzfeed and three widely-syndicated conservative radio shows hosted by Glenn beck, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh.
Although many listen to the opinionated radio shows, they may tune in more for the entertainment value than for trustworthy news reporting.
The Pew study found more of a discrepancy by age groups when asked which news sources they can trust. Millennials (ages 19-34) say they rely on two faux-news shows, The Daily Show and the recently-ended Colbert Report. Almost as scary is that this group also lists Al Jazeera America as one its most-trusted sources of news. Boomers and Gen Xers, maybe with wisdom that comes with age, said they don't rely on any of those programs for reliable information. They say they get much of their news from local TV.
Troubling, to me at least, is that newspapers didn't figure into the picture for reliable news. (And where do you think local TV gets many of its story leads? The morning paper.)
In a few weeks, longtime ad columnist Stuart Elliott will pen his last column for The Times. He announced on his Facebook page this morning that he will be taking "the very generous buyout" the paper's been offering to longtime reporters and editors, as it tries to reduce its newsroom headcount by 100.
Others who will be leaving by year-end include bylines we've been reading for some time, like Bill Carter on the TV industry.
But Stuart's departure will leave a real gap in The Times business section. He's written beautifully over the years about new campaigns, agency mergers and buyouts, marketing and advertising trends and, often after long holiday weekends, the 10 or 20 humorous questions he raises, always capped with the self-deprecating final statement "for a guy from Brooklyn, you ask a lot of questions."
I've always looked forward to reading Stuart's columns, in the paper and also online. And I'm pleased to say, while we're not close friends, I've had a cordial professional relationship with him. I've always tried to respect him by only pitching him story ideas that I honestly felt were on target, often telling a client "sorry, that's just not for Stuart." And he's treated me with respect, always repsonding to my calls or emails, even if, sometimes, to patiently explain why an idea just isn't for him.
He's been the longest-running ad columnist at The Times, going back to 1991. In terms of longevity, he beat out legendary ad columnist Phil Dougherty, who preceded him, by a year.
Actually, I go back with Stuart to 1990, when he was the ad writer at USA Today. I had just started my own PR business, and an early client was agency Geer DuBois -- a name, like so many others, now just a memory for us oldtimers. He did a nice piece on a new campaign by Geer client YooHoo chocolate drink.
I recall meetings with him and clients like media guru Gene DeWitt in the cafeteria at the old Times building on West 43rd, or more recently at his breakfast haunt at the Royalton on West 44th St.
I'm sorry to see him go, but I know there are many opportunities waiting for him, if he chooses. Or who knows... maybe there's a book in the offing.
Whatever he chooses to do, I know I'm among many who wish him the best and thank him for his good work over the years.
I wrote a while back about the New Orleans Times-Picayune, one of the nation's most respected daily papers, cutting back to three print editions a week, putting its daily coverage online. The folks in NoLo were not at all happy about it, but the owner and publisher of the Times-Picayune is newspaper mega-publisher Advance Publications, and they've been making similar moves with many of their other papers throughout the country.
So here's some encouraging news that says the paper will publish five days a week beginning in September, to satisfy advertisers who want to connect with readers during football season. It's about getting more ad dollars, really, but it will help local readers too and maybe, with some luck, the publisher will continue the expanded print schedule after football has ended.
Here's how it was reported this morning in MediaLife...
The New Orleans Times-Picayune is slowly walking back on the decision made two years ago to publish a print edition only three days a week.
The newspaper has decided to add home delivery of a Saturday and Monday edition this fall, Advance Publications announced recently.
The decision coincides with the football season, beginning Sept. 6 and lasting until the hometown New Orleans Saints’ last game, which could go all the way through to February.
The extra papers will come at no cost to print subscribers, who usually receive Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday editions.
“Our readers’ interest peaks in the fall and so does our advertisers’ desire to reach them,” the paper said in an article announcing the change. “We are expanding our print coverage to meet the heightened reader intensity and to serve our advertisers, who depend on us to reach their customers.”
Newspapers are in the business of gathering news and information in order to attract readers, and then they use those readers to attract advertisers wanting to reach the readers.
In order to have news and information, newspapers employ reporters.
As readers turn to other sources for national and international news (TV, cable, radio, internet), newspapers beef up their local reporting and investigative staffing, to attract more readers looking for information on what's happening closer to home.
Oops, maybe I'm wrong on that last point. I guess I was thinking of what might be a sensible response to the financial difficulties many newspapers are facing. But instead, papers are laying off the source of the very thing that makes them of value to readers... and to advertisers. Management at U.S. newspapers laid off 1,300 newsroom employees last year, according to the annual census by the American Society of News Editors.
That's better than the 2,600 newsroom jobs that were shed the year before, but still... how can newspapers report the news if they have no reporters and editors? Newsroom jobs have fallen by 35 percent from their all-time high of nearly 57,000 in 1989, currently standing at 36,700.
I've written about this before, citing as an example Gannett's Journal News, which serves the northern suburbs of New York. The paper used to have a few newsrooms throughout the area, including in Westchester's largest cities of Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, Yonkers and New Rochelle. Then came consolidation, shutting down the local bureaus and cutting reporters. Where they used to have reporters in each bureau covering local government, schools and the police beat, there are now a few reporters who are responsible for covering those beats for all the communities in Westchester, as well as the neighboring counties.
This scenario has been repeated many times over recent years throughout the country. The result -- important local stories just don't get covered, making the paper less relevant to readers and, with lower circulation, less attractive to advertisers.
So the genius bean-counters think they're helping fix the bottom line, when what they're actually doing is hastening their own demise. It's a sad situation and we are all the worse off because of it. An uninformed public risks being at the mercy of government and businesses who do what they want since they operate in the dark with no public oversight.
I just returned from the annual meeting of ADTSEA, the American Driver & Traffic Safety Education Association. That’s the organization that represents the nation’s driver ed teachers. I was there representing my client The National Road Safety Foundation.
I also serve on the executive board of ADTSEA, so on behalf of the group I reached out to local media in Wichita, where they were meeting, to try for some publicity about the group. I was able to interest The Wichita Eagle, the major daily covering Kansas, in coming to interview the group’s leaders as well as some of the driver ed teachers who were there from throughout the country.
The reporter called yesterday to tell me it was up online and would run today in the print edition. I read it and was happy with the thoroughness of the reporter. It was a perfect story – except for a quote at the very bottom of the piece. I had given the reporter the contact info for the person in charge of driver ed at the Kansas Dept. of Education, so he could get some local perspective, but it turns out she wasn’t available. So the reporter spoke with his own local contact at AAA, the Automobile Club of Kansas. The AAA guy cited an old study – from the 1980s in Canada – that found driver ed had no impact on the incidence of teen crashes. That study has been plaguing the driver ed community for decades. And that quote about the old study was sitting at the end of the story.
Since the story, so far, was only online and not scheduled to be in the print edition until this morning, I knew I had a chance to make an almost-perfect story perfect. I had learned a few days ago that a new study by the national AAA refuting the decades-old study was going to be presented at the premier traffic safety conference in September.
I called the reporter at The Eagle, thanked him for a great story, and then told him here was one factual error he might want to correct. I made it clear we weren’t questioning his accuracy in the quote, but rather the accuracy of what the person he quoted said. I asked if he would take a minute to talk by phone with the president of ADTSEA, and he agreed.
I put the president – Connie Sessoms of North Carolina – on and he explained. He made a solid case. I then got back on the phone and told him, again, it was a good story except for that one erroneous point. I told him I knew he’d do what he felt was right and that I would respect his decision. I didn’t push or insist that he delete or change the quote. I left it in his hands. He thanked me for calling and explaining and he said he’d see what he could do to balance it.
When I picked up the paper at the airport this morning, I smiled when I saw the story dominating Page One at top right. Perfect placement! And when I read the story, I smiled again as I saw Connie Sessoms’ statements in support of driver ed’s effectiveness. And even better, there was an additional quote from the AAA guy, moderating his negative comment. The reporter had gone back to him after we spoke and questioned him a bit more.
The call and the diplomacy made an almost-perfect story perfect.
A Gallup poll just released shows that Americans' confidence in news media continues to decline. A startling 18 percent of Americans say they have a great deal of confidence in what they see on TV news, and only a small number more -- 22 percent -- say they have confidfence in what they read in newspapers.
Surprisingly, to me at least, almost the same percentage of people -- 19 percent -- say they have confidence in what they read in online news sites.
The small vote of confidence in online news has remained the same since 1999, when Gallup last included internet news in the poll. What's upsetting to me is the sharp drop in confidence in so-called traditional news sources like newspapers and TV, which had been in the mid-30 percent range 15 years ago.
Gallup says confidence in newspapers has dropped by more than half since its peak, which was 51 percent in 1979. TV news had its highest vote of consumer confidence in 1993, when it stood at 46 percent.
Some of the decline, Gallup says, is due to increasing political polarization in the U.S. Liberals are a bit more trusting of the media than conservatives, which had a small impact on the overall numbers. But Gallup also attributes the decline to the changes in where we get our news and the proliferation of news sources. Even as newspapers fold, more and more cable outlets have news reporting. And where we used to have 3 or 4 major TV news sources and our local daily paper, there are now so many more places where we can get our news, especially online and on cable.
I have to blame some of the decline on the owners of papers and TV outlets, who too often sacrifice quality reporting for the bottom line. The beancounters force cuts in their reporting staffs, which leads to less coverage and sometimes less accurate reporting. That, coupled with the constant battle to be first, causes mistakes to be made. And every time a network or a major paper has to recant a story or admit they missed some details, the news consumers lose confidence.
It may be a cycle from which there's no jumping off. Time will tell.
News about news organizations has more often been bad rather good in recent years. It's been dominated by newspaper closings and news staff layoffs.
So it's good to see some positive news about news.
The Associated Press announced an expansion of its investigative reporting efforts, with the hiring of some experienced award-winning investigative reporters and the reassignment of others already on the AP staff to investigative units. There will be an increased focus on national news in the U.S. and a new focus on international investigative reporting.
Investigative reporting is, in my opinion, one of the most important functions of a free and independent press.
Reporting that's based on first-hand and eyewitness accounts, prepared news releases, staged news conferences and interviews tells us what's happening -- on the surface, at least. But investigative newsgathering delves behind what we see, to tell us why it's happening, who's behind it, what are the implications for those involved or for the readers. It's the news behind the news.
The news release about the move, on the AP website, gives several examples of how investigative journalism has exposed corruption, mismanagement or honest errors, and how it's brought about many significant changes in laws, corporate and government practices and other things both here in the U.S. and abroad.
The AP's commitment to more investigative journalism is good news.
Newspapers, long suffering at the hands of all the news content now available online, are seeing some welcome news for a change. And they have digital to thank.
The nation's three biggest dailies enjoyed healthy circulation gains in the latest report from the Alliance for Audited Media.
USA Today remains at the #1 spot in terms of total circulation, at 3,250,157. That's up an incredible 94 percent, which is a bit misleading. USA Today's parent Gannett recently began including a truncated edition of USA Today as a stand-alone insert in dozens of its local and regional daily papers. That move has added more than 668,000 to USA Today's overall circulation, although that number doesn't represent added subscription revenue. It does, potentially, mean Gannett could see added ad revenue, which is a good thing, as long as Gannett puts some of that money back into providing better local reporting -- something I have not seen so far in the local Gannett paper I read, The Journal News.
The Wall Street Journal remained the second-largest daily, with a circulation of 2,291,093.
The New York Times is very close behind The Journal and, in fact, beats it on Sundays. Its daily circ jumped an amazing 94 percent to 2,199,012 and Sunday circ went up 8 percent to 2,517,307. The big increase in daily circulation is partly thanks to the fact that the AAM now includes digital circulation in its calculations.
The change to include digital has boosted the numbers for many other papers throughout the country, which could help beleagured publishers improve their bottom lines with added ad revenues.