As Media Market Shrinks, PR Passes Up Reporters, Pitches Directly to Consumers

Best Buy, MasterCard Among Those Creating Their Own Content

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NEW YORK ( -- At a time when earned media is so highly sought after by marketers due to its (relative) low cost and the credibility with consumers, brands that rely on it are faced with the growing challenge of finding news outlets for their messages.

BRAND CHANNEL: YouTube helps brands broadcast their own messages.
BRAND CHANNEL: YouTube helps brands broadcast their own messages.
As the body count of magazines and daily newspapers continues to rise and the once-robust news and feature holes of surviving publications shrink along with reporting staffs, some marketers have given up on the traditional path to media coverage: pitching journalists. According to the website Paper Cuts, which tracks layoffs and buyouts at U.S. newspapers, nearly 30,000 reporters have left the industry since the beginning of 2008. So instead of pitching their stories to reporters, a growing number of marketers are directly engaging consumers through original content they and their agencies are creating.

"The traditional one-way media model has definitely had its day," said Sam Lucas, chair of U.S. brand marketing at WPP's Burson-Marsteller. "So agencies are talking to clients about these engagement models much more."

And while they haven't completely abandoned traditional media outlets, big-name marketers such as Procter & Gamble, Best Buy, MasterCard and Coldwell Banker are among those who have taken matters into their own hands by creating content and bringing it straight to consumers.

The other Tube
Mark Hass, CEO and partner of MH Group Communications, said one of his automotive clients is using YouTube very aggressively and sees it as a way to get its product messages out directly to consumers.

"They still have the usual car-and-driver folks drive and write about their cars, but that's becoming much less important than [it] used to be," Mr. Hass said. He said aside from controlling the message the other upside to creating and managing the dissemination of content is the potential to reach a wider and more diverse audience than just newspaper or magazine readers.

"You build a channel on YouTube and you get millions of views," Mr. Hass said. "And these people are coming from all over, and it's more about their interest in your product, as opposed to the readership and viewership of a particular medium. It's horizontal. If you wanted to reach that many people using traditional media, you would have to pitch and place in dozens of outlets."

Here's a sampling of what some marketers are doing on their own:

  • In May, Coldwell Banker, with the help of its PR shop Cooper Katz, launched a YouTube channel called Coldwell Banker on Location. David Siroty, senior director for PR at Coldwell Banker Real Estate, said the company uses the channel to post educational videos about the housing market and purchase process as well as house listings.
  • "We can bypass the media and do videos from our CEO, brokers and agents talking about what first-time home buyers should do," Mr. Siroty said. "You have a consumer that needs and wants to be re-educated on the nuances of housing. So we post the videos and drive traffic through social media."

    The channel launched with 300 videos and is now at 5,000 with just under 500,000 views.

  • Best Buy's Geek Squad has been creating its own content for a few years now, according to Geek Squad's Paula Baldwin. Her title is telling: mistress of propaganda. "As a company, we began to get more serious about it roughly two years ago, creating editorial-style videos of our agents on-site at a variety of events," she said. These agent correspondence videos are aimed to bring viewers into the "Geek's" world and provide information and access they otherwise wouldn't have. Over the last year Geek Squad has begun producing tutorial videos on everything from computer support to iPods in cars to one on the DTV transition called "Two-Minute Miracles."
  • "For [Geek Squad], the move to create content was partly about filling the void left by the change in the media landscape," Ms. Baldwin said. "But it was also about filling a willingness we perceived in our customers for more access to Geek Squad's knowledge."

  • MasterCard has also taken to the web with video interviews of its executives. Andrew Foote, senior VP in the digital media practice at WPP's Cohn & Wolfe, MasterCard's PR agency, said unlike three to five years ago when web content had to be polished and professionally produced, MasterCard has gone the low-production route. It's taping its executives using Flip video camcorders, editing the video on laptops and uploading them to YouTube.
  • "They're realizing they can comment on issues and get the points of view of their experts out there and on the record," Mr. Foote said. Once the videos are up, the company will often tweet the links and follow up with reporters letting them know MasterCard commented on the topic.

    "Sometimes those videos end up on the blogs of those publications and [it] leads to building online relationships with reporters, analysts and industry influencers," Mr. Foote said. He said MasterCard isn't "necessarily becoming less reliant" on mainstream media; the company just realizes it's not the only game in town, and, when speed is of the essence, creating its own content or relying on digital channels is the best approach.

    "Sometimes mainstream [media] can't keep up with the needs of the company to get stuff out," Mr. Foote said.

    Some marketers are going further, creating the communities in which they distribute that content. Renee Wilson, managing director, New York, of Publicis Groupe's MS&L, said her client Procter & Gamble's Rouge magazine is an example of how to circumvent the reporter. But for clients, including P&G, she said MS&L has been tapping into existing niche communities or creating communities from scratch that marketers can speak to. For Ferrero Rocher chocolates, the agency circulated content about the brand and new products through numerous online properties. "Consumers still get brand information but it's not filtered by a reporter at a traditional publication," she said. For P&G's Oral-B Pulsonic, it formed a partnership with Elle/Hachette and created fashion content that was delivered to the consumer by Oral-B Pulsonic and hosted on And for SmartOnes, the agency created an online community for fans to share product info, rather than going the traditional food-media route.

    "Everyone is now looking at tapping the right communities or creating them," Ms. Wilson said.

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