Big Ideas Machine Director, James Kaye, investigates the current state of B2B PR and comments on the way forward...
Once upon a time, B2B tech publications had enough cash to employ a team of journalists, sub-editors and, if lucky, fact checkers. They even had designers and (sometimes) plush offices. Get your story in the top media, and that message would end up hitting the places inside a company where the people you want to influence are likely to be.
Part of the reason many of these publications could afford such luxuries was ad revenue. But as more channels started popping up, ad revenue began to dwindle. This change led many outlets to start looking at other sources of income - whether it was events, advertorial or content creation.
Recent redundancies at IDG remind us of the challenges that face B2B publications. It’s not like this is a new trend. Across the board, hundreds of titles have shut down.
This change has resulted in many journalists moving into PR, going freelance or abandoning the profession altogether. For the few B2B publications left, time is often not a luxury. While many publishers tried to hold onto their print titles, a huge number that survived went online. And with the move online, the days of forward features or long-form features virtually vanished.
There are still some sites that are driving revenue through subscriptions. In the marketing space, there’s Campaign, B2B Marketing and eConsultancy that have all moved back behind paywalls.
But it’s not just legacy publications that have gone down the paywall route. Take B2B tech publication, The Information, founded by former WSJ alumni Jessica Lessin. It was established as an ad-free publication, behind a paywall, focused on long-form content - only publishing a few articles per day. It is a publication built on the belief that people will pay for good content. And it is working. Today, The Information’s staff of journalists reads like a who’s who of tech journalism. But, The Information’s business model isn't one that can be repeated by everyone. Plain old economics dictate that there’s only a limited number of people prepared to pay for news.
While some media have become more open to contributed content, the problem is that much of this content feels like a sales pitch and it is often too time-consuming for these sites to find a diamond in the rough.
One online publication that seems to have found a happy medium between contributed content and revenue is tech news site Diginomica which is supported by some vendor partners. For partners that support the site, they get to host content next to the site’s content with the expectation it ‘meets the interests and expectations’ of Diginomica’s readers. Partners also have to agree that Diginomica’s coverage can be independent.
The reality now for most B2B PR agencies, especially ones in tech, is that they can no longer rely on media relations to justify the monthly retainer. Anyone PR practitioner who has read Gini Deitrich’s seminal book ‘Spin Sucks’ now understands the necessity to adopt a wider skillset that also encompasses elements outside of traditional PR. These include an understanding of SEO, content marketing, inbound marketing and more. Conversations that relied on media relations have now shifted towards the client having a direct relationship with their customers, and PR agencies are facilitating that move.
Savvy B2B brands have adopted a content-first approach to solving this dwindling media problem. Some have even become publishers, One good example of this is the site ARC (Application Resource Center) by mobile app testing company AppLause.
ARC is a free publication dedicated to providing expert analysis, information and research on every aspect of today’s app economy. The news site, led by former ReadWrite.com mobile editor and senior writer, Dan Rowinski, publishes interesting well-written content on a daily basis. In essence, it's no different to supermarkets and health insurers producing free magazines full of useful information.
This lessening opportunity for what many call ‘earned’ media for B2B PR presents agencies with a new set of challenges. Agencies that may have been recruited to secure media placement must now try and convince clients that a wholly media-centric approach may not be the best one. Clients must now also be convinced that to ‘earn’ media placement they need to invest in creating high-quality content typically based on research or insight.
Convincing clients to invest extra budget into writing blogs, researching and designing ebooks is easier said than done when they may not have factored in additional costs over and above the monthly retainer. The truth is that this is the reality of modern B2B PR. Where the media was once the only channel for a B2B PR agency, it is now one of many.
The days of putting out releases on new products, appointments and offices are numbered. If PRs continue to peddle news announcements about a new product that lacks any form of market insight, or validation, or market need, how can they expect a journalist to write a story? Unfortunately, so many companies fail to get even the basics right these days. Worse still, many more companies are still living in a world of old media instead of new media.
Focusing on a good story is not new, yet, it is where so many companies go wrong. In part, that is because too many businesses think that just having their name there is enough to warrant coverage. It’s not. In part, it’s also because a good story is hard to come by and often the part that makes it compelling is not what a company wants to discuss.
There is little doubt that the world of B2B PR has changed. The ability to access the media on a regular basis has diminished to the point where monthly retainers based solely on media pitching will likely end in tears. We’ve seen it too many times.
The good news is that there are more opportunities in B2B PR than ever before. The aim of any successful PR campaign is to identify influencers and tell them your story in a way that encourages them to tell other people. It just happens to be that that the media are no longer the only influencers out there. The growth of other channels such as Linkedin, SEO, and marketing automation means that B2B PR agencies must learn new hybrid marketing skills and begin to think more about creating direct conversations with prospects if they are to succeed beyond the media.
The B2B PR Blog is a resource for both PR professionals and people working in B2B industries on how to devise and implement successful B2B PR campaigns. The blog is managed by b2b pr specialist Heather Baker, founder TopLine Comms, an inbound marketing, B2B content marketing agency and proud HubSpot partner agency and takes contribution from anyone sensible in the industry with something intelligent to say. Follow Heather on Twitter @TopLineFounder or contact her via email on [email protected].
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