Are You Pitching to the Page View Led Newsroom?
Last year I discussed the idea of pitching to the page view led newsroom as something everyone on both sides of the agency and client divide must get used to.
As the media industry fragments and struggles to find a business model that can replace revenue from dwindling print sales, circulation and advertising, I believe that page views will become an important aspect of every PRs’ pitch. If you don’t yet consider the page view value of your story, now is the time to adapt your approach.
Fall of the newsroom
We all know newsrooms are reducing headcount as they explore strategies to generate digital dollars. Nothing seems off limits (robots writers, anyone?) and a range of remedies from paywalls to metered-access to community journalists have been mooted. But the reality remains that we’re no closer to the mythical Rusbridger Cross moment, and until that time, the media will need a sharper focus on page views. It’s an arms race for eye-balls.
While the long-term future of several national newspapers may be uncertain, the situation is even worse for regional and local publications – many are surviving day by day. Only recently we said ‘goodbye’ to the Liverpool Post and I expect to see more closures in 2014 and 2015. Some blame the BBC for this trend and how its ‘omnipresence’ distorts the market and while there is some truth in this, it is the media owners and management teams that have spectacularly failed to devise a sustainable business model.
Economics of media
Some journalistic purists may recoil at the thought of chasing page views and by extension profit. But publishing is a business and you don’t have to look far to see media outlets that have come to this realisation too late. One thing is clear however: people are willing to pay for niche publications or those which offer insight and analysis, but not news.
The Harvard Business Review and the Economist are two shining examples of publications that fall into this category, and have pivoted their business models to thrive in the digital age. They recognise we now live in a multi-screen era where news is shared, mobile and social and they have put this understanding at the heart of their business. The successful media brands in the future will have multiple revenue sources including online advertising, content partnerships, as well as offer consultancy, research and events.
Despite these success stories, the reality is that you wouldn’t recommend anyone opens a new newspaper if they want to make money. This does pose the question about who do we want owning our media? Must it be billionaires like Alexander Lebedev and Jeff Bezos or groups like The Scott Trust which can afford to publish and not make a profit? Or is there another way?
Opportunity for brands
The media landscape has changed. Traditional media are no less powerful, but they are in many cases less well-resourced than previous generations. While traditional public relations (PR) was based upon the premise of pitching a story at a particular angle you knew a news editor would find appealing, there are now more factors to be considered. The monetisation angle.
We’re seeing it already, and the opportunity for marketers is to consider page views in their pitch. This means crafting stories that are not only unique and fresh, but also have great appeal and will drive high search volumes. Online publishers understand they write for three people; editors, readers and search engines – but PRs typically only pitch with the first two in mind. My former Edelman colleague, Philip Trippenbach wrote an excellent article back in 2012 about the importance of packaging news for journalists that is designed with sharing and searching in mind – ‘the air and the water of the internet’ as he puts it (the comments are worth reading too).
Leading the (page view led) way
It’s not difficult to find companies which are leading the way. Just think where do you spend your time online? Huffington Post, BuzzFeed and Mashable are just three examples of media which excel at producing excellent content people will search for. Searching and sharing are key components within their content strategy with the overall goal being eyeballs to drive ad revenue and I expect some native advertising in the future.
This departure from the craft of news towards towards monetisation will upset some journalists, but making sure news can be found and searched is what drives page views, earns advertising revenue and keeps publishers in business. It’s important to recognise that many online copywriters are measured by the success of their post too. This means page views, social shares and comments, as well as the usual considerations, such as structure, clarity and grammar are used to define success.
The Daily Mail is another fine example of a site which reels people in with expertly crafted headlines and keep them there with its mix of trending news, cutting comments and celebrity gossip. Despite the vast editorial differences between say Mashable and the Daily Mail, they both share a similar strategy that has improved search visibility, leading to increased readership and revenues.
The newsroom of the future
Newsrooms in the future will look very different from the way they do currently. They will also require new skills. SEO, video production, data analysis and design won’t overtake journalism in importance, but they will crucial components to its success. Newsrooms will need these broad range of skills if they are to be successful.
Take a look at the Guardian’s Firestorm: The story of the bushfire at Dunalley for a glimpse of what the future will look like or their content strategy around the NSA story. Tools such as those which suggest keyword rich titles that can then be A/B tested to increase page views and sharing will become commonplace. Upworthy’s team of curators find something that interests them and they come up with at least 25 headlines for that piece of content. Its use of data to guide creative has helped Upworthy grow to 104 million readers each month – a circulation that many newspapers can only dream of.
All of this begs the question, when you talk to the media, do you consider the page view value of your pitch? If you haven’t, now is the time to change.