HOT DIGITAL: What lesson does the decline of print journalism have for comms and PR?

18968690604_ffda899120_bYou know the good old days of newspapers have gone, don’t you?

You know that the press release is at best dying too?

If you don’t, here are three more nails for the coffin.

Firstly, the digital first Manchester Evening News have been telling PR people, apparently, they won’t look at what you send unless there is an image or a video attached.

Secondly, when Birmingham New Street re-opened central government comms people by-passed the Birmingham Mail and the BBC and went straight to the Birmingham Updates hyperlocal site with a video for their 200,000 Facebook page.

Thirdly, the Independent newspaper is to scrap its print edition and concentrate on the web. ‘There are not enough people,’ Independent editor Amol Rajan wrote ‘who are prepared to pay for printed news, especially during the week.’

A downward spiral for print

But it’s not just one national title that’s fading from print. More than 300 have closed completely in the UK in the last 10 years.

Brian Cathcart, a journalist professor and Hacked Off co-founder on the day the Independent announcement was made wrote in The Guardian mapped the decline:

“Trace the downward curves of print sales over the past couple of decades and then extend those lines into the future: you will find they all hit zero at some point in the next 25 years or so – and of course they will have to cease publication long before that zero moment comes.

“Indeed for most people under about 25 it is already extinct – a couple of years ago I stopped talking to my students about newspapers because even budding journalists don’t see the point of buying a wad of newsprint every morning.

“The grand tradition of newspapers, sometimes noble sometimes shameful, is coming to an end. Connections that go all the way back to Gutenberg are fraying and we will soon be left with little more than old people’s memories.”

But let’s not be sad

I love newspapers. I worked on them for 12 years and started my career on a Staffordshire weekly carrying pages of type on a hot metal newspaper that used 1880s technology. I’ve had printers ink under my finger nails. It’s sad to see an industry in decline. But watching this trend for communications and PR people is a red herring.

People aren’t consuming the media through newspapers in print or web in the numbers they were.

The future of news debate, I once heard it said, is the most boring debate imaginable. The only people having it are hacks and ex-journalists. Everyone else was already hearing Osama bin Laden was dead on Facebook.

Stats confirm it. Ofcom say the average UK adult spends 15 minutes a day reading newspapers in their hand or online. That’s just over half the amount of time they spend scrolling through their Facebook streams and on their other social media sites. Newspapers are also the least popular way of getting news.

Yet there is an unhealthy fixation with the newspaper industry in some parts of public sector communications. The tyranny of the local newspaper frontpage is a thing.

Print may go but journalism evolves. This is the death of a redundant medium and not the message, Brian Cathcart in The Guardian says. He’s right.

The lesson remains the same

But communications people shouldn’t smugly ignore the lesson here. You may not have to live or die by newspaper sales. Your .gov website may be well placed for SEO. But nobody is queueing up outside their town hall, head office or headquarters for their press release. They’re too busy reading the BBC website, watching a 20-second Facebook video or finding out the football score on Twitter.

Newspapers have woken with a jolt to realise that shorter, sharable, engaging content is what people want. Communications people should pay heed.

The lesson remains the same. Change and get new skills or be irrelevant.

Credit to Albert Freeman for spotting the Independent editor’s comments.

Picture credit: Peter Burka / Flickr / https://flic.kr/p/uUcuRJ


HERE NOW: video is not the future, it’s the now

18446561558_269901d6cb_bThe title I was given for the session ‘video: it’s the future’ made me think. It’s actually already here.

It’s been clear for some time that video has been getting more important.

These aren’t bold predictions from industry analysts that may or may not come off. They’re the here and now.

The four reasons for video’s rise

What has convinced me is first anecdotal data of travelling on buses and trains watching people with their mobile phones. Where once they read newspapers now they are on their phones swiping through emails, websites and social media. People’s smartphones have got more powerful. They can watch and shoot their own video. Behemoths like Facebook and Twitter fall over themselves to make video more accessible in your timeline. Besides, we are inherently lazy. We are drawn to images.

The data makes the case

All that is true and where it is confirmed is the data. Ofcom say that 66 per cent of UK adults have a smartphone and almost half are happy to watch short form video. That’s footage less than five minutes.  TV is still here. So is TV news. But in the battle for your attention it is getting out-gunned by the clip of a new-born panda. No wonder BBC journalists are being taught how to make more short-form content.

People want to learn

It’s been an amazing experience co-delivering video skills for comms workshops with Steven Davies. People do want to learn and with a few basics they are off making good use of video. The barrier? Often it is the tech and time. An android or an apple device will cut it. A blackberry won’t. As you practice more the quicker you get at thinking through, creating, editing and delivering video.

But where does video go?

Convention has it that YouTube is the only show in town. That’s not the case anymore. Facebook at the moment is rewarding you for uploading video to a page by showing it to more people.  Twitter joined Facebook in autoplaying video as you scroll through your timeline. It’s made it easier to post video from your phone. But the idea of making one video and posting it everywhere is dangerous. The optimum time for a Facebook video is 22 seconds and on YouTube far longer. Vine is six seconds and Instagram not much more than 10 seconds. What counts as a view is opaque. On Facebook it is three seconds and YouTube 30 seconds.

The what is next?

We’re moving as fast as the tech is moving. A few years ago watching video on your phone would have been unimaginable. Today? It’s common. Two important steps are realtime and what can be grouped together as virtual reality.

Realtime is the posting video as live. Your smartphone becomes an outside broadcasting truck and as the super-portable clip onto yourself GoPro cameras are now integrated with livestreaming Twitter app Periscope the climber livestreaming his ascent up the north face of the Eiger is now possible. Even with a smartphone you can post within minutes an Environment Agency officer talking during the floods of how the Morpeth dam was working:

 

Virtual reality is something I’ve blogged about before. It’s watching footage that sees you standing in the scene and allows you to look down and around. New York Times are pioneering new ways of storytelling.

Facebook’s 360 video allows you to watch footage on your smartphone and move it around to see a different perspective. Footage of US fighter pilots taking off show this. YouTube has also allowed a 360 video and Flickr has done something similar.

But the tech

A few years ago virtual reality could be said to be a niche. Now a Google cardboard headset costs a tenner and allows a more immersive experience. But you can watch just with your tablet or smartphone. It’s not strictly the same experience but you get a flavour.

Two helpful things

We’ve created an ever-updated resource for video and comms. You can see it here.

We also co-deliver workshops for comms people with University lecturer Steven Davies who has worked as a cameraman with BBC and as a filmmaker across the public sector.


VIDEO SKILLS: For video, is it Facebook or YouTube or both?

12965332783_46d685a137_zSo, where do you stand? Are you in the blue corner or the red?

There’s a punch-up going on between Facebook and YouTube and the winner gets the crown of King of Video.

When you consider that almost 70 per cent of the web is going to be video by 2017 that’s actually some crown to be fighting over.

If you are even half way interested in digital communications then it is something you need to know about. Why? Because making the right decision can make or break your video.

Technology has improved and smartphones have got more powerful. You can now watch – and shoot – video on an iphone or an android device. Facebook has encouraged people, brands and organisations to upload direct to it with the carrot of its audience.

Ofcom stats reveal that in the UK 66 per cent of adults have a smartphone in their pocket. Of these, 42 per cent watch short clips over 21 per cent TV shows. So, in short, we’re rather keen on snacking on video content.

The game significantly changed when Facebook as the world’s largest social media site has thrown its clout behind video. Inspired by a Harry Potter film they invented auto-opening videos as you scroll through your timeline. It’s also a path that Twitter have gone down with videos uploaded through twitter.com.

YouTube and those who have developed channels there have not reacted well to the challenge. One vlogger Hank Green accused Facebook of ‘lies, cheating and theft’ claiming it of being slow to take down pirated content and counting a view at just five seconds as opposed to 30 seconds on YouTube. As with anything with the social web, it’s hard to piece together exact stats.

Be the blue corner and the red corner 

For me, it’s less Facebook or YouTube but rather the both of them.

YouTube remains huge. It’s the second largest search engine in the world with three billion searches a month. So it makes sense to upload content there. But Facebook is also huge. In the UK more than 30 million people have accounts and globally, it’s now running at four billion video views a month.

Erin Griffith in her ‘Fortune’ piece ‘How Facebook’s Video Traffic Explosion is Shaking Up the advertising world’ runs through the scientific arguments. You should read it. Facebook has become a place where its worth uploading video directly, she says. In February 2015, 70 per cent of uploads were direct to Facebook – almost three times the number within 12-months.

Why? Griffin says that video is a way to breathe life into your Facebook page. The secretive Facebook algorithm, she says, will show around four per cent of followers your text update, 14 per cent your picture and up to 35 per cent your video. So, video it is.

A thousand different versions of the same video

But armed with Facebook’s pile of user data is where it can get really interesting. The story of car maker Lexus making1,000 different versions of the same content and used Facebook’s demographics to distribute them is mind-blowing. So a male tech-loving car enthusiast saw a different version to the female from Chicago who loves travel.

Anecdotally, Facebook video outscores YouTube for views. In my own stream, a highlights video released when England cricketer Jimmy Anderson became leading wicket taker nets 47,000 on YouTube and 177,000 on Facebook, for example. Elsewhere, that broad trend is being talked about.

Facebook also does better than YouTube in keeping and holding the viewers’ attention. Almost 60 per cent will ‘complete’ a video. This is almost twice that of YouTube. However, videos posted to Facebook tend to be shorter at 44 seconds.

Facebook for trending and YouTube for the long haul 

If it’s trending then Facebook video stats do well. But as that fades the only place to find it and where search engines send you is YouTube. So for my  money, do both.

Brian Shin CEO Visible Measures describes it:

“If something is hot and of the moment, such as a newly released campaign, the Super Bowl, or even a cultural phenomenon like Fifty Shades of Grey, Facebook and similar social media sites are incredibly effective for driving the spread of timely content due to the trending nature of the newsfeed. But the strength of Facebook to promote trending content also highlights how powerful YouTube remains as a platform for continued viewership.

“If social media platforms like Facebook want to be longer term video alternatives to YouTube, they will need to amp up video discovery and search options within their sites. Because, at this point, the more removed something is from being ‘hot’ the more often YouTube is the only way to find the video.”

The clear trend is for video to be around and growing. Many comms teams have been caught out and are flat-footed by the gear shift. But video represents a brilliant way to engage with an audience via a Facebook page and via people who are happy to consume content on a smartphone.

Dan Slee is co-creator of comms2point0.

Picture credit.

  • By public demand we’re running a new round of Essential Video Skills for Comms workshops with Steven Davies. We are in Cardiff on November 12, London on November 26 and Birmingham on January 28. For more information and to book click here. 

COMMS TIP: Why You Need to Challenge Like a Three-Year-Old

P1030315I’ve blogged about the need to be the grit in the oyster in comms and PR and to the need challenge.

That scheme the chief executive has? It’s going to fail and you need to diplomatically warn them.

That elected member who demands a press release? It’s down to you to tell them that won’t work.

Unless you do you are nothing more than a glorified shorthand typist.

Here’s one way you can challenge… by be an annoying three-year-old.

Or rather, adopt the questioning strategy of a small child who is asking questions because they are just plain nosey.

If you are a parent you’ve been there. Picture the scene in a super market right now somewhere in the world.

‘What’s that?’

‘It’s a tin of beans, Jimmy.’

‘Why do we have tins of beans?’

‘So the food doesn’t go off.’

‘What’s ‘off’…?’

And there we have an explanation to Jimmy of food storage, freshness and the degrading process that makes food dangerous to eat.

Small children have got a brilliant quality of cutting through the crap.

A couple of times recently in a training session I’ve thought of the two-year-old interrogation strategy.

We’re doing a ‘thing’. It’s great.

Why?

Because it’s a good idea.

Why?

Because if we give people some basic information it reduces the chance of them coming back with an even worse problem.

Will that cost you money?

Yes, lots, about £10,000 a time.

How many could we stop coming back with a worse problem?

So, the ‘thing’ moves from being a good thing to a thing that is going to tangibly improve lives… and tangibly save money.

That’s win and win.

It’s also the beginnings of your evaluation because as we know, it’s not the column inches or the tweets but what people have done as a result.

‘Hey, chief executive, we’ve just communicated to a load of people and 100 have gone away with information that could stop them costing us £10,000 each.’

Does that sound better?

So, shouldn’t you be more of a three-year-old?

Picture credit

My daughter.


COMMS ADVICE: Be Bold, Be the bit of Grit in the Oyster

3875021320_445f89a757_b (1)If there is one piece of advice I came to late in my career that I value  it is this… the role of comms is sometimes to be the bit of grit in the oyster.

It was Paul Willis of Leeds Metropolitan University who I first hear use the phrase.

Really?

What the heck does this mean?

My take on it is that sometimes, the role of the comms person is to politely stand your ground and to challenge and to point out where things won’t work.

The chief exec of the water company blamed for water shortage taking questions with a clean bottle of water, British Gas staging a Twitter Q&A on the day of a price hike or senior officer hellbent on back of bus ads… because that’s the way they’ve always done it.

I was reminded of the need for this a short while back in a comms planning workshop where one attendee mentioned the pressure she was under to come up with evaluation weeks after the launch of a campaign to encourage people to sign-up to volunteer for a specific task.

“It’s really difficult,” she said. “I’m getting pressure to show if the campaign is a success but we know it takes six months for it to work.

“It’s been a month and the thing is, it’s really difficult, because it’s a senior person who is asking.”

Of course, in an ideal world that senior person would immediately see the folly of asking how many cars the Forth Bridge had carried after just a week into its construction.

But life is not like that.

So, if tact and diplomacy don’t work, sometimes your role as a comms person is to be the person to draw a line in the sand and point out where something, in your professional opinion, doesn’t work.

When I worked as part of a comms team I’d often find it useful instead of directly rubbishing an idea directly just spelling out the logical sequence of events that decision would bring.

“We can have a back of bus advert by all means,” it’s better to say, “but do we know if the Primary school children we’re trying to get through to drive? And how many signed up for that course last year as a result of it? Could we talk to some parents and teachers to see what the best route may be, too?”

Be professional, be polite but never be afraid be the grit in the oyster. It will almost always be the harder path but if you take it you will almost always win respect. Involve your boss if needs be. Or their boss.

If you don’t are you sure you aren’t just being a glorified shorthand typist?


PROTEST PR: How Comms Should Answer Cuts Questions

8544982977_36a47ac99a_oYou’re a public sector PR person and you’ve got to answer a question from the media about cuts, what do you do?

Forecasts say there will be 40 per cent job losses in some areas of the public sector with £3.3 billion being taken from the voluntary sector over a five year period and £20 billion coming from local government and £15 billion of efficiency savings due in the NHS.

So, what stories are being shaped? If you work in the sector it’s probably long overdue time to think about it.

A)      Apply a positive gloss and insist that yes, efficiencies will be made but frontline services will not be cut.
B)      Tell people that they had their chance to have their say in the budget consultation and they blew it.
C)       Tell people that this is what cuts look like.

All too often people in the public sector have been going for a) to try and minimise panic and upset on the population. But with £20 billion worth of cuts coming down the tracks in local government we need to be above all honest. So, let’s just take a closer look at that, shall we?

What insisting that efficiencies will be made and frontline services will not be cut means

You’ve been cutting millions of pounds from budgets for years. But the frontline hasn’t been affected? Efficiencies? Clearly, you were wasting that money all along so why on earth should I trust you now?

Or, you’re trying to be a bit clever and you know that the frontline will very much be affected but the couple of hours of mobile library visit will somehow make-up for the five-day-a-week building the community used to have. People won’t buy it, or they’ll see through it. So, why should they trust you now?

What telling people that they’ve had their chance means

You’ve pinned up details of a public meeting at the church hall and you paid three times the rate for a display ad in the local paper because it’s a public notice and they’ve got you over a barrel. Twelve people turned up and the Twitter chat you ran reached a fair number but not everyone. In other words, you’ve not done a very good job of this public consultation lark. Why should they trust you now?

What telling people that this is what cuts look like looks like

In Birmingham, this is exactly what Cllr James McKay told the Evening Mail about green bin charges in the City as people were protesting against cuts. Yes, it’s messy. Yes, people won’t like it. But look yourself in the eye. This is the truth. This is going to happen more and more and public sector comms increasingly is going to be about what you don’t do rather than you do.

But at least they’ll trust you more because you are being honest.

A grown-up conversation is needed about communicating cuts and if you work in the area you need to work out which choice you make pretty quick.

Creative commons credit 

Dog protest https://www.flickr.com/photos/16230215@N08/8544982977/


SPACE LAB: We need to create time to experiment to survive

3105377322_82475318c6_oThere’s been a real drive for evidence based campaigns in the public sector just recently.

Government communicators have been asked not to do anything unless it’s based on data.

The argument goes that this cuts out the vanity campaign or the SOS – the Sending Out Stuff – that sees press releases and other things shovelled out the door because some action is better than nothing.

Don’t get me wrong, I can see real merit in having a get out of jail free card when faced with a senior request ‘for stuff.’

But I’m starting to think about if we need to create some space for experimentation. Things like Trojan mice. These are things that see you try something out low budget just to see if it works and you can learn from.

One example of this skunkwork lab is the excellent Torfaen Council Elvis gritter YouTube that’s been around for a while. If you haven’t seen it, it’s the low budget Elvis impersonator from the Valleys singing about how the council can’t be everywhere and not to panic buy bread. It’s brilliant.  It was done on a shoestring to make people smile, to tell them some important things and done entirely without research.

It works because it’s human and is entirely without strategy.

I was helping train a local government comms team last week when this clip came up and we showed it just to see the reaction. There was disbelief. Then laughter. Then real affection. It works. It just works. I rememberdiscussing it 12-months ag with someone who works for an authority who ruthlessly apply the research-led ROSIE logic.

“It’s really, really good and I love it,” she said. “But of couse we could never do it where I work.”

So how do you create the space needed to make the Trojan mice flourish?

Google famously give staff a day a week to work on their own projects. Some of those projects have become key to their future strategy.

Tectonic plates in the world of communications are shifting. The centre cannot hold. Different channels are emerging and with them the demand for new skills. If you want the evidence, more than 70 per cent in our survey four months ago said the job was getting harder.

So, the task facing the the comms leader is how to create some safe space to experiment.

And if you are a comms person in the trenches, how are you going to carve out some Google time for yourself to look after your future?

Creative commons credit 

Pencils http://www.flickr.com/photos/67958110@N00/3105377322/


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