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Quickly Noted: What’s Your Niche?

December 11, 2009

I’ve argued, in this space, that PIOs and their ilk face a new landscape where the media is no longer the be-all, end-all. Citizen journalists, bloggers, twitterers, and Flip camera wielders have a distinct role in this new information economy. To get a little meta, information broadcasting is being democratized. Nothing new there.

I did, however, want to pass along an interview that is only tangentially related to the work we do. The tech blog, TechCrunch, recently interviewed Tim Armstrong (no, not of Rancid fame), the CEO of Aol (which has a weird new set of logos) about his plans for Aol now that it’s  been divested of its relationship with TimeWarner. I found this (long) interview interesting, because Mr. Armstrong hints at the future of broadcasting (or maybe more appropriately, narrow-casting).

Aol. is being set up as a content company. They’ve been buying up lots and lots of out of work reporters, small niche websites and blogs that appeal to very specific audiences. What does that mean for us? Well, if they succeed in their plan to build a narrow-casting empire, your crisis comms plans that say, “contact the media, send the press release,” will be utterly useless. The media will no longer be some monolithic entity that “broadcasts” information to millions of people. No longer will you be able to show up with a list of a dozen email addresses and four news stations on speed-dial and call yourself a PIO. You’ll have to know who reaches 18-24 year-old males in your area. Who are the mommybloggers that can press out messages about flu clinics in your city? Divorced women? Recent immigrants? From southeast Asia? Who don’t speak English?

In Philly, you can hit a huge portion of the populace by pushing your message to the four local TV affiliates and the two newspapers (which share a website, a building and an ownership). I think it’s possible that in five years, those broadcast mediums won’t command half of the eyeballs they do now. Recent history shows signs pointing in that direction. People choose which cable news station they watch based upon their political beliefs. Hyper-local news/blogging outlets are starting to pop up, and get funding. Aol’s whole business model.

Folks like Gerald Baron are (rightly) concerned about the rise of the citizen journalist and how crisis communicators will deal with new sources of on-the-ground footage. And I don’t think he’s wrong. I just think that in addition to that, there will be a whole new industry of consumer-broadcasters of information that we’ve got to account for. They might not be providing the information (like some guy streaming live video of your disaster), but they provide outlets for our information (by publishing those on-the-ground reports, AND your official releases). They can provide access to those eyeballs that have gone missing from our newspapers and local TV news programs. And there is no time like the present to begin building those relationships.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. December 11, 2009 9:15 am

    A good post. This new state of affairs can be quite intimidating for PIOs. However, as I adopt new technology and new methods to reach different audiences, I always keep a key fact in mind: we don’t have one audience but an increasing variety of audiences.

    Each of those has its own particular concerns, risk perceptions, ways of getting info and acting (or not) upon it. As PIOs, our planning must reflect this. Complicates our lives a bit but crisis communications plans are now much more detailed than simple lists of procedures.

    The whole notion of how to engage with these audiences is as important as the messages we’re trying to convey. You don’t enter a room to deliver key messages … you join in multiple conversations as you move around the room … the same applies for social media platforms.

    The right tone is key. As well, you have to take advantage of the current traditional media environment (dwindling resources, increased reliance on info from their own audiences) and tailor your products accordingly, make your spokesperson available to fill the info gap and much, much more.

    Again, situational awareness and the ability to listen are critical to be able to adjust your response and its effectiveness as you go along.

    • December 11, 2009 9:23 pm

      Patrice: Once again, you’re spot on. There are so many moving parts and new things to consider — and frankly, those things that matter today might not matter tomorrow. I wonder, you seem like you’ve been doing this for a while, was it like this when crisis comms and PR really started in this field?

  2. Valerie Z permalink
    December 11, 2009 7:25 pm

    That blog should interview Tim Armstrong from Rancid instead, as he is more interesting and more successful.

  3. December 11, 2009 7:45 pm

    Certainly agree with your point about a new kind of broadcaster. There are some great examples already of broadcasters or publishers emerging from blog sites–what is Huffington Post, really? And TechCrunch? Not even sure how you can distinguish mainstream media and major media from sites like this–seems pretty major to me. Will be interesting to watch these kinds of new publishers/broadcasters emerge, the niches they identify, and how they solve the business model challenge.

    • December 11, 2009 9:50 pm

      Media, in my word-play fantasies, is merely the plural form of medium.

      Are we experiencing that now?

      Media that is no longer monolithic, but is now multi-modal and multi-faceted. It can be anyone and anything.

      The next five years will either be a great washing out of all of these new mediums for transmitting information, or an explosion of millions of broadcast mediums into cacophony.

      Interesting times. =)

  4. Tony Toews permalink
    December 12, 2009 9:14 pm

    I do not listen to commercial radio at home. I also work at home. I do not own a television. So I have no way of easily being alerted by those traditional means.

    While I do have a cell phone I try to limit my calls to two or less a month. I do not want SMSs. I’ve sent two or three mostly just to test the funcationality.

    I recently downloaded WeatherEye from the (I think it might have advertising on it as I do see a white space where such could exist. However I generally have ad websites blocked on my system.) It has a little icon in the system tray in Windows XP And I can click on it to get at extended And it’s now telling me of a wind chill warning. It does have one or two quirks but it is unobtrusive and works well.

    Now how go you folks get your message on that kind of icon? That’d work very well for me.

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