by Pam Baker, veteran journalist and business consultant
Old media has been shattered but new media is full of just as many shards. Anyone that believes you can do the job – be it distribute the news or deliver the corporate message – with any one piece of that jagged mess is either delusional or a swindler. Either way, the shards will cut you just as deep and the hemorrhages will be just as bloody reekin’ red.
Yet it is the shards and the New Media charlatans that are hailed as the saviors of the day. Go figure.
New media is fast but often faulty. Old media is slow but usually correct. TV is no longer bound to a TV set, but is still TV. Newspaper is more than newsprint but hardly news. Social Media is a mix of gossip unleashed, eye witness testimony and Hail Mary plays. Radio is beamed and streamed but still consumed in narrow waves. Blogs are rarely more than rants but often are the sole source for the most intriguing news. YouTube can make you a viral sensation but you have better odds winning the lottery.
So where among all this media dilution is the scale of attention one needs to make a profit?
Back when I owned a PR/Advertising agency, we bought scale. In TV you buy chucks of thousands of viewers, in radio chucks of hundreds. You bought local, regional or national media exposure in a carefully calculated mix of mediums, but you always bought the numbers (based on ratings, circulation etc). You also attempted to get coverage -- which cost you nothing but meant everything -- from mainstream media and bloggers to establish your credibility. The goal was to get your message before as many qualified buyers as possible for the money you spent. Same goal as today, actually.
I’m now on the other side of the fence: I’m a writer/journalist. Guess what? We still have to chase the numbers. The name of the journalism game: Digg, Slashdot, Twitter, etc., anything and everything to get the page views up and up and up.
Numbers. That is all there is or ever was in the game of profits.
New Media alone often can’t deliver numbers big enough for corporate paydays much less stockholder payouts. Yes, I know about the exceptions in terms of start-up funding and brand successes, but I’m talking about new media as a one-size-fits-all corporate communication strategy. It does not, and cannot, totally replace old media.
For example, if you think news (and ads) can only be distributed in digital form then you better take another look at census data: the U.S. demographic is heavy on the older baby boomer side – a huge but splintered group, many of whom are tech savvy but just as many or more still either don’t surf the ‘Net or barely do so. Yet this group has HUGE disposable income. So what, Corporate America’s gonna write off that major market without a second glance? Not bloody likely. Then there’s that whole digital divide problem (which rising unemployment is worsening): many advertisers want to reach these people too. Remember, the game is to capture the BIG numbers (market share, qualified/interested buyers, number of readers/viewers, etc and aka scale).
Next there’s the whole touchy-feely Social Media thing. Personally, I love social media but it doesn’t scale well. As a journalist, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media are perfect vehicles to find story tips and expert sources. But that’s a one-on-one game to begin with. For Corporate America that needs huge scale, it could be a money drain outside of CRM usage. The prevailing problem: in this day of massive layoffs to cut operational costs, how much staff do you have to add or overtax to hold hands with every potential client or squawking complainer on Twitter alone? Hmmm?
Now flip the problem over: how long can Twitter, or any other social media for that matter, stay in business with no profits in hand? So, how smart is it then to bet your whole business strategy on any communication vehicle that may or may not exist -- or be in vogue -- tomorrow?
So, no, new media can’t carry the load alone. But neither can old media. The answer is to take the shards of splintered media and make a mosaic tool uniquely suited to the job you have at hand. Then use it as a whole and not as a grab-bag of broken pieces.
As to me, that’s why I write in many forms and in many mediums for a variety of publications and private corporate clients (but I never mix the two). My work, too, is more stained glass window than mere shimmering splinter. I suspect many successful journalists, PR and marketing people are doing the same.