In public relations, like just about every other field, we like sorting things into buckets, an exercise that is especially pronounced when we engage in media relations. There are all kinds of ways that we categorize the journalists and writers we deal with: by beat, by geography, by readership, but — most often — we sort by medium.
There are good reasons to view different media differently (and to treat them differently). Television relies on visuals; effective pitching requires b-roll or on-camera interview opportunities. Wire services rely on speed, meaning that the embargo system is hugely important. Magazines bank on design and depth. And so on.
But the revolution of publishing over the past 10 years is turning on its head the idea that format dictates content. While we still try to group writers in the online space — this one is a blogger, we’ll say; this one is active on YouTube; this one is a Wikipedian — those are increasingly meaningless distinctions. The New York Times‘ “Prescriptions” blog is a totally different animal than Len Lichtenfeld’s blog at the American Cancer Society or Kerri Sparling’s “Six Until Me.” All have top-quality content, but each has a radically different approach to information. Lumping them all together as “blogs,” does a subtle disservice to all of them.
The future of media relations, then, needs to focused a lot less on the media, and a lot more on the personalities that use the media. It used to be, if you had a list of newspaper science writers, you didn’t have to do a ton a homework. You could pull a few clips and have a decent idea what they covered and what they needed. Now, if you get a list of bloggers or other “online influencers,” the work only begins. There is a tremendous amount of read and research needed to drill down and understand what makes each author click.
It’s an exhaustive process, and the inability to automate media relations — even in this era of automation — means that the practitioners of the future will have to be more broadly read and more nimble. Ignorance will be harder and harder to hide. Sorting writers in certain, predictive buckets will be less and less effective (and spamming huge groups of reporters with the same pitch, which was never a good idea, will become more of an evil). Putting Kerri Sparling in a “blogger” bucket is a lot less useful than putting her in the “Kerri” bucket.
* I realize that Marshall McLuhan’s concept of “the media is the message” is a good deal more subtle than I make it out to be in this post and that I may have bastardized the general concept. To McLuhan fans: I apologize.