The New Rules of News and Content Values

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Thinkstock

The line between news and content is rapidly blurring. As many BuzzFeed readers will attest, it’s no longer strange to see an article on Hillary Clinton’s approach to campaigning beside a list of 22 (very important) questions Muggles have for wizards.

An increasingly social and searchable web mixed with commercial pressures has seen online news publications with softer, more positive and humorous voices emerge. At the same time, brands now have the ability to complement media relations programs with content published on owned channels, making brand stories and content more discoverable and shareable that ever before.

As media look beyond traditional news values the amount of news articles featuring cat exploits and brands celebrating 4/20 will only increase. However, the craft of storytelling, journalistic inquiry and understanding of traditional news values remains an important core competency for the modern PR practitioner.

News values, as articulated by Galtung and Ruge (G&R), continue to form the backbone by which media judge the newsworthiness of a story, and should continue to be factored in when developing angles, pitches and media materials. This criteria is also great for keeping corporate blogs grounded, engaging and relevant – lest they become the home of shallow self-promotional waffle and puff pieces.

So if you’re producing content for a brand’s blog or developing a pitch for media, here are some of the modern news/content values you might what to consider:

  • Frequency: An event that occurs suddenly and fits neatly within the content schedule (think Haley’s comet) is more likely to be selected than a one that takes place over a long period of time – sorry, evolution. When it comes to your content calendar, don’t linger too long on a topic.
  • Threshold: According to G&R, events have to pass a threshold before they are news/content worthy – the greater the intensity (the bigger the acquisition or the greater Grumpy Cat’s book deal), the greater the impact.
  • Proximity: How close events are to an audience will have an impact. The smaller the intensity of the story, the closer the news has to be to the audience. From a content perspective, remember where your primary audience is located.
  • Unambiguity/Simplicity: The more clearly a story can be understood and interpreted without multiple meanings, the better. When it comes to content, you are always going to be able to say more, but is it really necessary?
  • Meaningfulness/Familiarity: News/content should be culturally familiar – be kind and keep your audience in mind.
  • Consonance/Predictability: Does the story align with media’s experience? If there are predictable elements they’ll be more prepared to cover the story. Similarly, what stories/content is your team in a good position to tell?
  • Unexpectedness/Unusualness: Unexpected, rare or unusual events/stories are more likely to pique media interest. At the same time, these stories make great blog click bait. Just kidding, but seriously.
  • Continuity: A story already in the news has a good chance of remaining in the news (even if its impact has been reduced) because it has become familiar and easier to interpret. A blog post on a hot topic is a great way to get a brand involved in a conversation where they may have expertise.
  • Composition: Editors often look to find balance – they don’t want too many Apple Watch follow-up stories. In the same vein, your brand’s blog should be mixing it up and adding some content diversity. Variety is the spice of life.
  • Reference to elite nations/people/companies: G&R are talking hard news so references to global superpowers will increase the newsworthiness of the story. From a PR perspective, the same could be said in terms of referencing elite companies. Is there a partnership with a large company you can mention to make your brand more interesting? How many blog posts can you name-drop Apple in?
  • Reference to persons: According to G&R, the best stories are presented in terms of individual people rather than abstractions. Bill Rundle agrees with this statement. Quote and profile customers and partners on your blog, and attribute posts to actual people.
  • Conflict/Negativity: Bad events are generally unambiguous and newsworthy, and opposition or viewpoints that conflict are more likely to hold the media’s ear. Similarly, a blog post with a contrarian perspective will often find favor with like-minded people.
  • Exclusivity/Niche-knowledge: Content that helps solve specific problems in an area that doesn’t receive much media coverage can quickly find an audience and drive search traffic to your blog/website. These posts can also build credibility and position a subject matter expert as an essential source of commentary.
  • Humor/Quirkiness: Newer digital publications are increasingly including funny and quirky stories, which often get widely shared on social channels. When it comes to owned channels, even corporations are allowed a sense of humor.
  • Kids/Animals: ‘Never work with kids and animals’ has become ‘Always work with kids and animals.’ The Internet loves this stuff; give it what it wants. What’s your misbehaving Llama strategy?

This list is by no means exhaustive, and every news publication and blog will give each of these a different weighting depending on the audience. We’re curious to hear from other PR pros and journalists – what are some other modern news / content values? Tweet us @BlancandOtus.

The Post-PR Era: Embracing Content, Intimacy and Collaboration

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Thinkstock

Technology has had a profound impact on our profession. While the basic art and science of storytelling has remained relatively unchanged, the channels and content via which those stories are told have been transformed.

As a result of the changes to the different communication channels and the emergence of new forms of digital and social content, brand journalism has emerged as the new standard. In fact, an organization’s owned and earned channels are now becoming increasingly important outlets for news, content and ideas.

Rethink Content

With increased focus on corporate publishing, modern PR teams need to be able to move beyond traditional programs that revolve around press releases and instead understand ever-evolving news values, have an eye for a story and always be exploring new ways to engage audiences.

While PR practitioners tout the benefits of brand journalism, marketers have been singing from a similar hymn sheet and content marketing has become a key element in lead-nurturing campaigns that go beyond transaction to establish an ongoing digital dialogue with their audiences.

In tandem, consumers are increasingly looking for relevant, timely content that offers insights into trends, as well as more granular content that provides answers to their specific questions.

PR has traditionally had high-level trends and thought leadership covered, but effective content strategies today go beyond traditional media angles to provide useful content that anticipates questions and pain points of customers.

For example, one of our clients (Oracle Marketing Cloud) recently shared an example of a customer that began posting answers to frequently asked questions from customer service emails on the blog. The company now ranks in the top 3 search results for 360 keywords, and now 70 percent of its revenue can be tied back to its online content.

Embrace Intimacy

Digital channels and the social Web have enhanced an organization’s ability to communicate directly with its audiences. At the same time, cross-channel marketing technology, social media management platforms and data services are enhancing customer understanding, and giving organizations the ability to engage their audiences with a whole new level of intimacy.

Contributed articles, blog posts, and a full range of digital and social content generated by PR and marketing teams can now be targeted at very specific audiences using a combination of internal and external data sources, and used to nurture prospects and mobilize brand advocates.

But the intimate communication that digital channels allow also demands a different style of communication. The modern consumer of media is a connoisseur of content, doesn’t respond well to the hard-sell or broadcast-style communication, and is looking for more of a dialogue with organizations.

The less-controlled, relationship-based communication of traditional PR placed the industry in a strong position to deliver on the promise of customer dialogue with the emergence of social media. As organizations build on this intimacy with new digital marketing tools, the PR department is again well-positioned to contribute content that drives discussion and fosters two-way communication between an organization and its audience.

Stop, Collaborate and Listen

With both marketing and PR pushing for more content, the ability for both groups to repurpose, reuse and recycle, makes collaboration and interdepartmental integration essential.

The content-savvy consumer expects message consistency at every touch point. In fact, according to a recent study by Accenture, 58 percent of consumers are frustrated with marketing inconsistency between channels.

While the trend toward content-driven marketing and PR cannot be ignored, the essence of PR hasn’t changed. Our goal is still to develop and share compelling stories, and to quote the PRSA, build “mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” However, digital communication platforms and changes to the media landscape are transforming the way we deliver on this goal.

To be effective in this modern era, PR programs can no longer rely on only traditional media channels. Instead, today’s successful communicators must work collaboratively to create a consistent voice across different channels and develop content tailored to specific audiences.

B&O Street Insights: Christopher George Latore Wallace

Credit: Bad Boy Records
Credit: Bad Boy Records

Continuing the Blanc & Otus tradition of looking to the streets and old school rap innovators for PR insights, this month’s B&O Street Insight comes from Christopher George Latore Wallace – also known as Biggie Smalls/The Notorious B.I.G.

The larger-than-life Wallace often peppered his work with advice for enhancing brand perception and media relations, and he was a staunch advocate for street-based educational programs. A great example of this is found in one of his popular works titled Juicy:

Living life without fear
Putting 5 karats in my baby girl’s ears
Lunches, brunches, interviews by the pool
Considered a fool ‘cause I dropped out of high school

Mr. Wallace recommends that brands ignore their position in the market, the limitations of their product and realistic evaluations of their financial position and engage in fearless communication programs that tell consumers “it’s all good.” He uses the example of adorning an infant with five-carat diamond earrings (which must be worth at least $50,000) to give the perception of affluence, enhancing brand equity.

Once brand perceptions are in the “Baller” quadrant, organizations need to maintain the illusion of grandeur by organizing long boozy lunches with top tier media, analysts and influencers. Never one to forget his humble roots, Wallace also recommends keeping tier two influencers in the loop with less formal brunches to save on budget. From this point on, all media interviews must be conducted by a pool – preferably an infinity pool to add to the mystique.

There’s a fine line between the “Baller” and “Vomit-Inducing Wealth” quadrants, so after “Baller” status has been achieved, organizations should begin rolling out Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives to win the love and respect of their less-affluent brand advocates. In Wallace’s case, he became a vocal crusader for street-based education programs and would often speak at events, sharing his own experiences with alternative tutoring.

Insights:

  • Don’t let realism hold you down, reach for the stars
  • Consider the environment for all media/influencer engagements. What’s your swimming pool strategy?
  • Deliver a one-two punch: Create the illusion of affluence and follow up with the illusion of caring about others

If you don’t know, now you know…

Neil Torres also contributed to this post.

The State of Opinions on the Social Web

Screenshot from state.com
Screenshot from state.com

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been playing around with the State app. Pitched as the global opinion network, it gives users the ability to state their opinions on a range of topics, organizations, people and current events – from PSY and Snoop Dogg’s latest collaboration to gun control.

As people input their opinions, the data from keywords generates a graph that maps out user sentiment, along with a keyword cloud showing the most common terms associated with the subject.

Opinions of friends are displayed on the user’s home page, so it’s easy to add your two cents to a relevant topic. State has also taken a leaf out of Twitter’s (recently revised) book and allows users to mute (or tune in to) selected friend’s opinions and specific subjects.

The company has grand visions to democratize online discussion, and cofounder Alexander Asseily has positioned the platform as giving everyone an equal voice – in contrast to platforms like Twitter where a small number of opinion leaders dominate conversations.

“You don’t need to be famous or savvy with hashtags. The only requirement is expressing an opinion and we connect you with others who share the opinion”

– Alexander Asseily, State co-founder

From a PR perspective, the platform has the potential to act as an important reputation indicator and source of feedback for brands, politicians and enterprises who are willing to listen. For example, a search of Starbucks shows 362 opinions (at time of writing), which are collectively balanced. However, looking at the user-submitted keywords, it’s clear that a significant percentage of users have a low opinion of the company’s product and consider it overpriced.

State also has the potential to become a go-to source of social media insight for journalists. The platform displays the collective opinions of users in a simple and clean format, and allows users to drill down into comments under specific keywords. If State becomes the shiny new thing online (a big if), expect media to ditch the obligatory quote from Twitter and Facebook in favor of comments, keywords and stats from State.

All of this sounds great – in theory. However, the platform is still in its infancy, with a small user-base. The other downside is that the opt-in nature of the platform will not always make for accurate brand sentiment metrics.

State has gone to the trouble of adding more than 10,000 expressions to make it quick and easy to for users to state their opinions in a way that reduces complexity, making it easier to graph data. While convenient, the various ways in which cultures use words within the English language is likely to create further inaccuracies. For example, Australians’ use of the word ‘sick’ is wildly different from the way it is used by many other English-speaking countries.

These suggested options for response will also have a significant impact on the results, and it’s highly likely that most users will select from the first couple of options available (the most popular ones) rather than searching for a word that accurately reflects how they feel, further tainting results.

Faults aside, the team at State should be applauded for their efforts to create a global opinion network that people might actually use. If it was to garner widespread adoption, it could have a significant impact on proceedings in the court of public opinion. With the 2016 election on the horizon, State could be a dark horse. Watch this space…

Wait! What? 6/13: The World Cup busts on ghost goals and Bay Area employees are feeling themselves

Credit: Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5
Credit: Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5

While Marcelo’s own goal in Brazil’s opening match against Croatia took a nation’s breath away, the stories below provided their own level of shock value.

It was a week filled with interesting news, but we know you weren’t paying attention because of the World Cup fever that’s going around. Hit us up with your thoughts or futbol predictions at @blancandotus.