Instant news and information

Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on March 29, 2007

All the rules have changed

According to a report in Advertising Age last week, consumer products behemoth Johnson & Johnson (J&J) is doing much more than talking up new media. By some estimates, the company shifted somewhere around $250 million, 22 percent of its marketing budget, to nontraditional media last year. There is also evidence that nontraditional media performed so well that J&J spent 10 percent less overall on global ad spending in 2006.

Broadcast took the biggest hit in the reallocation of the J&J budget. The money went to purpose-built websites, online media, email promotions, and a feature film. Two examples: Its website attracts between 500,000 and 700,000 visitors daily and a separate report recently noted that consumer products companies’ corporate websites are among the most popular online destinations.

Although major brands have reported plans to shift significant marketing funds to nontraditional media in recent years, the J&J example is one of the few hard number incidences of that until now virtual reality. J&J’s enviable results – brands with the biggest shifts in budgets to nontraditional media are among the fastest growing – suggests that competitors as well as executives in other industries will feel more compelled than ever to actually implement effective nontraditional media strategies.

How, where, and when consumers get information has changed, and the J&J results indicate that the pace of change will only increase. But marketers aren’t the only professionals who should sit up and pay attention. The shift to online media requires every executive to move out of his or her comfort zone because the rules of effective communication are changing fundamentally. The implications are strategic not only because value propositions can be more effectively communicated, but because bad news can also travel faster and stay relevant far longer than before.

Author, professor, and founder of AudienceCentral Gerald Baron in the second edition of Now Is Too Late: Survival in an Era of Instant News, describes how the increasing popularity of nontraditional media is changing the way corporations not only sell products, but manage brands and corporate image. AudienceCentral is a leading provider of crisis communication information technology.

Baron writes that nine old “rules” of communication have changed for corporate communicators. For example, public relations professionals have always operated on the principle of meet the demands of media. That’s still true. But the corporate communicator’s job has expanded beyond the media, which traditionally has been the principal communications channel to all other stakeholders.

Not any more. The new rule is: “Meet demands of a wide variety of stakeholders who expect immediate and direct information.” To understand why, Baron says, “Answer this question: Who are the media? Are they only reporters, publishers and editors from traditional media? Or do they include bloggers, citizen journalists and Uncle Randy who is extremely unhappy about his company and establishes a Website and an email list dedicated to undermining the company’s credibility?”

The easy assumption that news can always be effectively disseminated through traditional media is no longer absolute. Baron counsels, “In this new information environment, leaders and communicators need to think through various scenarios with the questions: who will have high relevance and high demand for information? Given today’s instant news expectations, how will they expect to get the information from us and when will they expect it?

And there will be less time to think about those questions. The old rule number 2 was, “Follow news cycles.” The revised rule is, “New cycle every minute.” When it comes to breaking news, there are no more deadlines because stakeholders expect to receive what they consider important news instantly. More terrifying, when that expectation isn’t met, the company is immediately viewed negatively because it appears unresponsive and therefore irresponsible.

The third rule, “Bad news usually goes away quickly,” has morphed to, “Bad news can be controlled by opponents and politicians and frequently has a long life.” Before, reporters and editors might eventually de-prioritize a story when the trickle of new information slowed and other stories developed. But an activist with a syndicated blog has a stake in keeping a story alive, and will use all the nontraditional media tricks at his or her disposal to do so.

The other six rules are important too, and if you are a marketer or corporate communicator – and who isn’t these days? – you should read them all, and the book, too. The bottom line is that how we market products and services is changing rapidly. And how we manage corporate brands and company image is also a 24/7 job that is vastly more complex than it used to be.

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