Sunday, October 3, 2010

New Media: Big Firms Often Come Up Short

It has become clear that organizations, movements and businesses across the globe have increasingly recognized that they need a new media presence or program, while simultaneously recognizing that they have no idea how to go about doing it.  It's also increasingly clear that there are many public relations and "new media consultants" working diligently to separate those entities from their money and provide little in return.

I don't know a lot about automobile maintenance and the functioning and repair of my car.  But I know enough that I need my car to be maintained and serviced when there is a problem.  I've learned that my ignorance makes me vulnerable to those that want to separate me from my money.  It's no different in the still emerging field of new media consulting.  I've worked for over two decades in politics, government and government relations.  In that time, I'm proud of the creative solutions I've devised to meet challenges that occur in a legislative setting.

In order to successfully confront those challenges, you need to understand your audience, the specific history and rules of the venue in which you're operating and how to successfully develop meaningful coalitions that strengthen your position.  It's also helpful to identify the proper way to message your issue and motivate key stakeholders in the public doman to weigh in with legislators.  As President of Brownstone Communications ( I'm good at managing those issues and challenges after doing so at a very high rate for over 13 years for highly-targeted industries under very intense pressure.  Admittedly, there are others who are excel in this field.

There are also folks who excel at internet marketing and messaging.  There are very few that excel at government relations, political campaigning, issue advocacy and effective online communications, but there are a great number of firms professing to be able to do so.  In my most recent experience, most of those firms excel at neither.  These firms are generally media firms or public relations firms that operate under the old model of taking a news story for a client to the mainstream media (whether it be print, radio or TV) and pitching the story in the hopes that someone will run with it to the benefit of their client or cause.  Rather than creatively use new media to message effectively, these firms fall flat.

The "new media consultants" or media/PR firms that profess an expertise in "new media" or "online marketing" generally have little or no expertise in all the tools available to benefit their clients and causes.  Instead, they simply practice the same model of "pitching stories" in an expanded universe that includes a variety of different blogs and other non-traditional venues.  I applaud them for expanding the universe, but I caution potential clients not to see beyond the limitations of these firms.

When pitching potential clients, these firms are at the same advantage as the auto mechanic is in pitching me.  I'm a sitting duck when my engine is making a funny noise and so are the potential clients of these media firms.  One certain warning sign to look for are any firms that claim to have been experts in this emerging field for the last decade.  The field hasn't seriously existed in the last decade.  The 2008 Obama campaign is held up as an example of great use of online marketing.  And to put it in perspective, the Facebook and Twitter we know today didn't really even exist two years ago.

Whether your challenge is providing a profile for your business that allows you to maintain relationships with current clients or customers or expose your business to potential new customers, you need a firm that will allow you to make news and noise with your targeted audience, not simply use the old model of pitching the occasional news story and allowing yourself to be heard only at the whim of others who control the information gate.  The current new media environment gives you the keys to the information gate.  Unfortunately, too many firms are ill-equipped or too lazy to use those keys.

There are opportunities for businesses, political campaigns, issue advocacy campaigns and any organization to use existing websites and blogs, to create websites and blogs, to take advantage of online radio and terrestrial radio, YouTube and other video formats and use Facebook groups to promote your unique story and messaging with audiences that need to hear it.  Social networking such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook and advertising there and with Google and other locales provide other unique opportunities.  It's still useful to use relationships to pitch stories to mainstream media and prominent blogs that reach targeted audiences.  But you can strengthen that pitch dramatically by making your story a true story that is attracting attention and interest and action before you pitch it to more traditional media outlets.

It's a dramatically changing world.  The world today provides extraordinary opportunities and few have the expertise to take advantage for those in the public forum.

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