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Guest Blog: Fire Your PR Firm, Hire a Journalist



Things are bad in the traditional print media universe. Newspaper readership is declining, papers are downsizing, veteran reporters and editors are accepting pay cuts or, worse, being laid off. And it sure doesn’t look like the situation has hit bottom yet.

But there’s some good news in all of this, at least for all those reporters and editors who are wondering what to do with the rest of their lives. In the new media landscape, where brands and companies talk directly to their customers and consumers without the filter of the traditional media, there is a dire need for good writers, people who know a good story and can tell it in ways that captivate an audience.

In the PR field, “owned media” – a company’s website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter account, etc. – have become at least as important as paid and earned media. (For the difference between them, see the video below) And the significance of owned media is growing, all because of the web and the dominance of search engines, especially Google. More and more people get their information by searching the web. And it’s not just cat videos and “Gangnam style” dance moves. It’s everything, from finding the best pizza to hiring a lawyer or doctor, to planning a vacation.


Every company today is a media company, or will be soon. They need a robust, active presence on the web in order to be found when their potential customers are looking for whatever it is they offer. And in order to attract and keep those customers, they must have compelling and creative web content that gets updated regularly.

That’s where all those laid-off journalists come in. Who best to tell good, captivating stories than people who have been trained to do it for a living? In fact, in the era of “brand journalism,” I expect to see more and more companies creating positions like “content editors,” people whose job it is to manage the company’s various owned media channels full time. And they'll be real writers. Not IT guys and web designers who can create nice looking websites but as far as interesting, readable content rarely get more creative than lorem ipsum, that Latin placeholder text where real words are supposed to go.

Now, I know what those journalists are thinking. "Me, shilling for a corporation? So it’s come to that? Why don’t I just go on TV and sell ginsu knives?"

As a former journalist myself, I can tell you the transition from traditional journalism to a PR firm and brand journalism isn’t as stark as one might think. Everybody has a story to tell, and I’ve come across some great stories working in the PR field that were just as compelling as anything I wrote as a news reporter. And anyway, brand journalists don't have to hype their product or company. They're not copywriters. They write stories and profiles about their company that are virtually indistinguishable from stories you'd read on the business pages of any newspaper, or in Fortune or Forbes.

What’s more, in an age when everyone is connected, “shilling” is losing its effectiveness. Try selling a crappy product and you’ll get outed in an instant. With social media (the new word of mouth), a bad review can reach thousands of potential customers in a flash and carries more weight than any paid ad. And consumers actually trust branded website content as much as they do newspaper articles (see chart).

IMG 0458

That’s why I think social media will actually have a profound effect on improving the quality of goods and services generally. With a billion Facebook fans talking to one another all the time, bad products and bad service just won’t be able to survive.

Journalists can easily find good companies and good products that they are proud to work for and promote. Of course, they’ll have to broaden their skill set. A good brand journalist has to be more than a good writer. They also have to understand social media, SEO, HTML, search marketing, analytics, video editing and posting, etc.

But that stuff can be learned. It starts with a good story. So if your PR firm doesn't have a nose for news and a solid background in journalism (such as, ahem, Savvy, Inc. or DBMediaStrategies Inc.), consider bringing on a real journalist to handle your social media and web content needs. Whatever business you're in, you're also a publisher, whether you know it or not. And that's why, despite what you read in the newspaper, journalists have a very bright future. 


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