Monday, February 11, 2019

5 Factors That Make It Harder to Break Into National Business Media

Securing national business coverage has never been easy. In preparing to talk to a prospective client recently, we thought it would be helpful to explain why it's gotten tougher -- even before you get to the client.

Clients always want to know about relationships with the media but these days, even with a strong knowledge of the media and good relationships with reporters, there are other challenges to consider:
  1. Shrinking news rooms. Newsrooms have seen dramatic cutbacks and buyouts. Before Feb. 2019, there were more than 1,000 newsroom job cuts in 2019. There is real concern that some newsrooms are ghost newsrooms, with not enough reporters trying to fill up the newshole, and often relying on syndicated content. So it's harder to find reporters these days.
  2. Increased demands on reporters. Concurrent with job cutbacks, the demands on reporters to produce and generate views has increased tremendously. Reporters typically have to file more stories, across different formats (you can read a news story on a radio station's website or watch a video on a print newspaper's website) all while posting content across social media to drive traffic back to the news organizations' website. That means reporters have to think harder about whether they'll even take an interview because of everything else they have to do as part of their jobs.
  3. Some print outlets have reduced their publication schedule or size of their print editions. Forbes, Fortune, Fast Company, Inc., Entrepreneur and other prestige publications have reduced the number of issues they publish annually. Fortune used to 25 issues per year; in 2009, Fortune decreased the number of issues to 18. In 2019, it currently publishes 14 issues a year. Forbes published 22 issues in 2010 and current publishes 14 per year. Entrepreneur published 12 issues per year in 2016 but cut back to 10 in 2017 (sorry Feb. & Aug.). Meanwhile, some outlets have reduced their page size so there's less space per issue for news. (A client recently asked about taking out an ad in the Boston Globe business section and we had to tell them that there's rarely any advertising in that section.) Fewer issues and smaller space means it's harder to get ink. There is, of course, still opportunities for online coverage but we still have to deal with fewer reporters with more demands they have to handle.
  4. Reporters are harder to contact. We've already established that reporters are busier than ever, But they're also harder to reach than ever. There are more freelancers who regularly contribute to a specific news outlet without being an actual employee. That means you can't reach them by phone through the publication's main number. There might not only be no number to use to call those reporters, but increasingly some of the newer digital news sites themselves don't list their phone numbers -- other than for advertising. We used to be able to follow up by phone and by smiling and dialing but that's less possible these days. For a recent client project that targeted advertising/marketing reporters, we found that fewer than half our list included phone numbers; of the ones who had phone numbers listed, 90 percent were the organization's main number, and the dial-by-name directory did not include the name of the reporter (even if they were staff reporters). By the way, of the 10 percent who did have a phone number we could reach, their voicemails were full and did not take new messages. (This is without pointing out that reporters -- across the political spectrum -- are as distracted as the rest of us by the Washington, DC news.)
  5. Tech reporters at national business media are more interested in Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google (aka FAANG of the Big Five), Microsoft and Twitter but not as interested in B2B technology. The products they seem most interested are smartphones, virtual assistants (i.e., Alexa); the issues that interest them are privacy, security, crypto and blockchain but not the underlying business tech that supports those products or issues. We know that cloud computing is hot but that doesn't mean reporters at national business publications -- the Journal, Times, Wired, Bloomberg, etc. -- are able to cover a company doing well in cloud computing. The fact is that those reporters are more interested in business issues than in tech issues, and at the same time, it's hard to sell B2B tech via articles in those publications. (Partly that's because it can be much more complicated for businesses to adopt new technology, as Walt Mossberg, the legendary Wall St. Journal tech columnist, told me more than once.)
We know this list is something most clients won't like reading -- we didn't like it ourselves but we try to give clients realistic assessments -- so we  will tackle some ways to get into the national business media in a follow-up article.

In the meantime, let us what you think of these factors.

Monday, February 4, 2019

4 New Predictions + 17 Ongoing Trends for 2019

It may be a new year but some of the trends we expect to generate media coverage in 2019 are ones from prior years.

In this installment about 2019 trends, we list four new predictions plus 17 ongoing trends that will continue in 2019. That's 21 predictions in one article. In some cases, we will just mention the trend without much explanation because we've covered them a lot before. (If you have any questions, post a comment and we'll respond.)

Here are four new predictions based on continuing trends.
  • Lawmakers will act against robocalls. Here’s an issue everyone can support. We all get too many robocalls, whether on our cell phones or land lines. What’s gotten worse is not just how many of the calls we each get but that most of these have spoofed caller IDs so you think it might be a neighbor or someone you know. We expect lawmakers to pass bills to reducing spoofing and robocalls. Already some of the phone companies are expanding their offerings. One problem: you need a different solution to combat the robocall problem on cell phones from the solution for landlines.
  • More colleges will fail and college debt levels will continue to be a significant issue for millennials. Some colleges can’t afford to keep their doors open and many students can’t afford to pay for a college education. The former is an issue and the latter is huge problem for society. We expect to see think pieces in 2019 (and beyond) about the plight of higher education in America.
  • The implications of the (possible) end of Moore’s Law will generate think pieces. In 1965, Gordon Moore, a semiconductor pioneer, wrote a paper that observed that that the number of transistors on a chip would double every year while the costs are halved. We’ve now reached a point where that no longer may be true. There are significant implications if Moore’s prediction slows down so that instead of doubling every year or two, the number of transistors increases every three to five years. We’re not going to go into the implications here except to say we expect there to be some coverage/debate about this in 2019.
  • Cashless-only retail will gain momentum. This is a generational issue but millennials don’t seem to use cash. They use Apple Pay, Venmo and other e-cash solutions but not cash. We expect to see more stores open that are cashless-only – that won’t accept cash. It won’t happen to supermarkets or hardware stores but it will be more prevalent in neighborhoods and retailers catering to a younger, cooler demographic. You might not even notice it happen if you, yourself, rarely use cash at the register. But it will be a problem for older people and people with lower income, including the 14.1 million unbanked adults, according to the Wall St. Journal; what’s disturbing is that the same article reported that, “Despite consumers’ expanded access to banking, one in five households, or 22.7 million, didn’t use mainstream credit such as credit cards and mortgages in the prior year.” That’s a lot of people who will be further cut off from many parts of the economy. 
Here’s our updated list of ongoing trends:

  1. The Age of Anxiety continues. Chaos, uncertainty, anger, a sense of helplessness and the near-constant news notifications will continue to fuel our Age of Anxiety, especially since it seems to be hard to escape. Even broadcast journalists have commented on air that they’re overwhelmed in trying to stay on top of and to process all the news – and that’s their job. We expect many to experience news fatigue, take “news vacations” or (aka a technology cleanses or digital detox, where they shut off all notifications on their phones and take hiatuses from social media – even though that’s nearly impossible to do. As we’ve said previously, in 2019, we expect more coverage regarding stress, anxiety, mental health and ways to de-stress. But the implications for marketers is this: 1) If consumers are turning off news and social media, it will be harder to reach them via ads, media relations and social media; and 2) They might be interested consumer media that distracts them from their anxiety.
  2. Concerns about Retailpocalypse and Amazonification will continue to have an impact in 2019. More big brands will struggle, close locations or declare bankruptcy this year. One change: we expect some saber rattling about whether or not to clamp down on Amazon’s market power. The good news is there will be some innovations in the sector, and some retailers will do well despite Amazonification. The retail sector is important in a consumer-driven economy but there are implications for real estate (when locations go unrented for a long time), local unemployment (the job market is strong but it may be hard for retail staff to transition to another industry), local economies (what happens to cities when retailers abandon them), local media (which benefits from local ads, circulars, etc.) 
  3. The gig economy, robotics and automation and income inequality will continue to spark think pieces about the nature of work. Last year, we said think pieces about the nature of work would be sparked by the labor shortage and the gig economy. This year, we expect think pieces to be driven by those two factors plus concerns about jobs of the future as industrial robots, and automation begin to make inroads in factory settings. Also look for articles about rethinking income inequality, the social safety net and the future of unions for gig workers who don’t necessarily get minimum wage, unemployment benefits, vacation and sick days or employer-contributions for workers’ comp, Social Security and Medicare. We also expect that there will be calls to better measure the gig economy.
  4. The debate about how to regulate Facebook, Google and Twitter will continue. It’s clear that social media companies continue to not be able to stay ahead of their problems. Congress knows it needs to do something in 2019 to address data privacy, hate speech/bullying that isn’t being removed/policed fast enough and election interference/misinformation from Russia. The new goal of any new regulation should be to go into effect before 2020 but we are skeptical that this will be possible because we’d bet that Facebook, Twitter and Google would have addressed their problems if they could have, rather than be regulated by Congress. There will also be articles looking at technology’s role in a democracy. Part of the problem: social media makes it easy to share content before users vet it, and that’s something Congress can’t mandate.
  5. Fake news won’t fade in 2019. Part of the problem is that the term “fake news” can mean almost anything: from news you disagree with or don’t like (but are actually true) to stories that are part of misinformation campaigns (and are factually false). If we can’t agree on a definition of it, and if Facebook, Google and Twitter all have trouble dealing with the fake news scourge, how will regulations and Congress be able to solve what the social media giants can’t? There’s no light at the end of the tunnel since there are calls that even the fact-checking at Facebook must be checked. It’s harder than ever to trust our institutions, which adds to the anxiety so many are experiencing.   
  6. Cord cutting turns out to be complicated and expensive. Over the next 18 months, we’ll experience a glut as more streaming services get launched. It’s getting harder to find all the things you want to watch. Something available on Netflix last month may be found on Hulu next month and then some new service next year. So to watch everything you want, you’ll have to have subscriptions with Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO Go, and dozens more. Cable might be simpler and less expensive.
  7. IoT will continue to be victim to cyberattacks. This hasn’t gotten a lot of attention but we think it will. As reported by a friend in a recent issue of Bloomberg Businessweek, recently a cruise line offered “a proprietary mobile app, which unlocks your cabin door and lets you book activities on and off the ship….(A passenger’s) roommate used it to prank her, remotely flashing the lights and opening the blinds in their cabin.” Seems like a harmless prank but it speaks to more nefarious possibilities. We’re worried that there will be more IoT cyberattacks, as IoT, Smart Homes and virtual assistants go mainstream. Perhaps the only advantage of having to get up and walk over to a light switch is that hackers can’t hack your home.
  8. There’s still not enough cybersecurity protection or privacy. They say millennials don’t care much about privacy but we think that will likely change as they get older. There’s certainly not enough of cybersecurity.
  9. Cloud computing will stay strong. This may be the one tech trend that has yet to experience a backlash. Cloud computing remains an important paradigm, and we don't see that changing in 2019, which means that it's a trend that may not get that much ink because editors are always looking for stories that answer "What's new?" and that move the story forward. That said, for business press, there's still interest in the horse race between Amazon's  AWS, Microsoft's Azure and Google Cloud Platform. We expect to see more about "cloud agnostic" or “Not Amazon” as a key message that will help lure customers that compete with Amazon to look beyond AWS. 
  10. Driverless cars will generate attention but still won’t appear at local dealership. Closer on the horizon is more electric cars, with China’s plans to eliminate all new combustion cars and trucks by 2030. There are lots of challenges to be addressed either way, like having are enough charging stations for electric cars and investing in the type of infrastructure – in urban, suburban and rural areas – that can enable driverless cars to operate including in bad weather. Oh, and there will continue to be a lot of coverage of Tesla.
  11. E-Scooters will become more of a thing in 2019. Some of us first heard about a vague problem of e-scooters like Bird that began cluttering up sidewalks in some cities. We expect them to gain more attention in 2019, becoming a full-fledged trends, much the way urban bike share and bike lanes did (it seems to us) in 2018. (They were around before 2018 but people began talking about bike lanes much more, we feel.)
  12. Corporate boycotts and consumer boycotts will continue. These are boycotts by companies in order to demonstrate distance from controversial programs and personalities. We also expect boycotts of companies that are boycotting those controversial people and programs.
  13. Drug pricing will continue to get a lot of attention. The problem: it’s expensive to develop new drugs – on average it costs $2.6 billion – and pharma companies need to use successful drugs to fund future development. There won’t be an easy solution so we don’t expect much from Congress except outrage.
  14. Wearable tech will still not be as mainstream as people in the industry were hoping. But wearable will make quiet inroads so that before you know it (probably not in 2019, though), lots of things will have built-in technology.
  15. The need for more Americans to pursue STEM education and careers continue to be important. With a looming labor shortage (in some fields), businesses are looking for employees with a firm grasp of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). We think funding for STEM will continue to keep U.S. businesses competitive.
  16. Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality still won’t be everywhere yet. VR and AR still aren't fully mainstream because people still don't yet have a strong-enough need for it. Watching a basketball game on Oculus is cool but not practical in how many people watch content these days, on their phones while in public spaces. (Can you imagine a subway car filled with people wearing heavy headsets?)
  17. 3-D content and 3-D printers will still not be as popular as they are cool.
Let us know if you disagree or agree with us selection. Did we miss something? Overstate things? We're happy to hear from you.