Even though going direct-to-consumer is in vogue, we remain dependent on the media to amplify our messages. Likewise, even though the press has begun to dabble successfully in digital subscriptions, it still relies on advertising to generate most of its revenues. That symbiotic relationship will live on.
That said, the proliferation of mobile devices and social networks means the press looks and acts differently than it did a few years ago. This has rendered some questions (even basic ones like "What's your circulation?") largely irrelevant.
Keeping that in mind, here's a list of "rip and refer" questions you might want to whip out during your next planning meeting. These are critical queries that are designed to elicit the answers we all will need to make marketing more effective and efficient.
How much time do readers/ viewers spend with your individual units of content?
The media love to throw around such metrics as page views, streams and downloads. They're all irrelevant. Traffic is cheap and relatively easy to attain. Some sites are pulling every trick in the book to get eyeballs.
Time spent is the holy grail now. The data, especially if verified by a third party, tell you a lot about audience engagement and therefore can point to how likely it is that your ads will resonate. Consider asking smart questions that unearth how many minutes/month the media has of a user's time. Don't settle for murky answers.
What is the breakdown of how consumers engage with your content: search vs. social vs. brand?
According to Pew Research's outstanding State of the News Media report, there are three pathways to content: search, social and brand. Pew reports that search remains the key way that consumers reach media sites on desktops. But the desktop is yesterday's war. On mobile, brand choice (direct app downloads and usage) and social rule.
Marketers need to deeply understand the psychology around how audiences engage with media. The modalities are different based on device and context. This means that the value of an ad on a site that is rocking tablet downloads and usage is arguably more valuable than one on a site that gets most of its traffic via long-tail keyword queries via distraction-ridden desktops. This is the kind of information we need to demand of our partners.
What kind of programs would you do if only you had funding?
The media's appetite for innovation is bottomless. Everyone is investing. And the body of work is impressive.
However, there's probably even more here than meets the eye. All it takes is an advertiser to scratch the itch. Ask publishers and editors what kinds of products and programs they wish they could pilot. This, I have seen, can unearth all kinds of new creative opportunities. Don't just take what they're selling.
How and why do people share your stories on Twitter and Facebook?
News we read is sometimes different than news we say we read. The latter comes with an emotional payoff -- an "ah" that feels good. The former doesn't necessarily. But it can.
News organizations understand more about what gets shared and why than anyone outside of the platforms themselves. By asking critical questions about the ways readers and viewers share content, and why they do, you will gain insight into your prospective media partner and about digital culture.
Can you teach me your ninja tricks for creating compelling content?
No one knows more about content than the media. With more marketers creating their own content, we must turn to the oracles for insight.
Don't go it alone. Ask to get under the hood at your partners and take notes. How much does distribution guide decisions about content? What kind of data are being collected, and how are they used? Be a sponge.
You might get resistance when you asks these questions. After all, they are probing. But not all traffic and eyeballs are the same. In a digital age we need such deep diagnostics to ensure that our messages don't get lost in the sea of options.