Selecting Media Venues

When you are considering media outlets to deploy a story, there are so many choices. How do you know which digital and traditional media venues are the right ones, and how do you prioritize them? The following is a short primer providing a method to select media venues to distribute content in an outreach campaign or a larger initiative. It is based off a presentation I gave last week at the International PRSA Conference.

First, let’s assume you have a message, and that your customers or intended audience will actually care about it. Let’s say the media is unlikely to pick up the story or concept, at least until the market validates it. So your organization elects to use its own content to communicate the concept with customers.

You need to determine your primary distribution point. It’s critical to have a focus. Too many people make the mistake of using every media possible to publish a major piece of content.

Every group of customers have a primary venue or medium they prefer to receive content. Hopefully, your customer data is deep enough to help easily determine your customers’ primary media channels. Using analytics, you can identify those channels and determine what type of content will work.

Your website is unlikely to be that choice, particularly if you are not an actual media company (Red Bull aside). Instead, your website is home base and it should include owned content, but it is unlikely to be the primary communications point that your customers frequent.

Let’s consider Star Wars.com as an example. StarWars.com extends an incredible media universe, as you can see from the many options on their site.

However, we know that movies are the primary Star Wars vehicle. Every other media property dovetails back to the movies, and the movies drive interest in the other media properties. No other Star Wars media property is viewed by as many people as the movies are.

Dovetailing Back to the Primary Asset

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Some people choose to post their media across different properties. But more and more brands are looking to differentiate content across media channels by extending their story. They use secondary media choices to amplify and extend the experience. This is called transmedia storytelling in academic circles.

Consider the above chart and how Star Wars uses its many secondary outlets to continue the story. The Star Wars franchise supports itself between movies with unique stories that offer its most enthusiastic customers an extended experience. Each piece can stand alone, but in the end the work around the narrative proposed in the movies.

Disney manages the Star Wars narrative closely so there are no conflicts. In fact, Leland Chee, the Keeper of the Holocron, is an employee whose sole job is to maintain story integrity.

Disney invests in the media platforms that are most likely to be used. You can see the website promotes all of these properties.

In areas that are not as well viewed or consumed, Disney allows third parties like Lego and publishers/novel writers to license the brand, and extend it. While not directly promoted on the Star Wars home page, these properties are also managed by Leland Chee and fit in the master narrative.

This is distributed storytelling at its finest, creating a cascading effect across a wide variety of media.

Applied to Corporate Content

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The same principles used by Star Wars franchise can be applied to any serious content initiative. Of course, none of them will have the budget of Star Wars, but even a small campaign can make use of transmedia channel selection methods.

Consider the recent Vocus (now Cision) Brian Solis/Gapingvoid eBook my company helped produce and promote. What If PR Stood for People and Relationships was distributed on SlideShare as the primary medium.

Secondary choices included select social networks, a live event at Google HQ that extended the SlideShare presentation, blogs that extended the book’s logic, and native ads. These were the channels that Cision/Vocus customers usually interact on. Each of these content choices featured different takes on the book, from analysis and live commentary to quotes.

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Tertiary choices included a fantastic Canva user -enerated contest that had more than 60 entries. I had my doubts about this, but Cision Community Manager Adrienne Sheares stuck to her guns, and this turned out to be a very good content extension. I included this and influencer blogs as tertiary as they were content pieces that were beyond our control.

Tertiary media choices are tough. You don’t know what you will get, but investing them is important. Many times they can take an effort to a new level. At the same time, if unsuccessful tertiary efforts can just burn resources. I like to use tertiary choices as acknowledged risks and to experiment, as Cision/Vocus did with its successful Canva effort.

It’s important to experiment. You learn what your true brand advocates enjoy. Test new media and see how they can benefit your relationships and overall storytelling capabilities.

How do you approach media selection?

You may also like “Transmedia Writing” and “Transmedia: Multichannel Storytelling Transcends Platforms.”

5 Tips to Liven Up Long Stories

We live in the tl;dr (too long; did not read) era of the Internet. How do you make traditional text stories and content succeed in an online world where attention spans are dwindling and success necessitates visual media?

Over the past year at Tenacity5, we’ve learned a few tweaks to drive more traffic to text heavy copy. Here are a five formatting methods and writing tips to liven up long stories.

1) Build Modules

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We know stand-alone long copy doesn’t perform well. Instead of writing essays, build out posts and white papers with sections or modules. In the old day this was creating subheads to break up a story. In a well engineered content piece for the current visual media era, I would say each section must be its own multimedia module.

Each module has its own mini-thesis or message and can stand alone as a small content piece on the Internet. Modules have both a visual communication of that message and supporting copy. Every module works together to tell a story or support an overarching thesis. Individually, they are unique. Together, they stand as a powerful piece.

Note the architecture of the visual in context with the text. Ideally, the picture, video or infographic can serve as the lead for the story or even tell it. They should work hand in hand. Do not make “snacks” here. There are many resources on the Internet to find free pictures.

Bleacher Report does a really nice job of building module-based feature stories.

2) Architect Visuals from the Beginning

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One of the biggest issues with content today is simply slapping on visual assets to create a multimedia or rich media post. There’s more on content strategy in point five, but when you add visuals after the fact, you are creating content that serves the words. And that may be OK if you are great photo researcher and can clearly understand your thesis and message.

However, more often than not when visuals are added after the fact, they have tangential meaning. When visuals are bolted on haphazardly, they don’t help content discovery and the overall meaning is less understandable.

When you know what you want to say, figure out what the right visual media is from the beginning and build it with the text in mind.

In some cases, you may illustrate points in the text after the fact, like Gaping Void did with Brian Solis’ What If PR Stood for People and Relationships. Nevertheless, GapingVoid was part of the content from the very beginning, and the content was created knowing that we needed sound bites that could be illustrated.

If you don’t already have a visual media library, start building one or research photo libraries for relevant images before you begin creating content. Drawing from a wide variety of assets makes life easier.

3) Use Lists

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When building modules, or at least creating subheads and sections, number and title content with a list. A list signals an easier more digestible content experience to your reader. Should every piece of content you write be a list? Probably not, but lists make long content pieces much more likely to be viewed and read

I used to sneer at list posts as the “BuzzFeedization” of the Internet. That was until I dug deeper and started re-engineering BuzzFeed posts. Then I built a few of them. I titled some with the numbers and others with a traditional headline. Then I watched the numbered post traffic go crazy.

I was little disappointed in this, but the fact of the matter is we are living in the tl;dr era. Breaking up long content into digestible lists and bullets just makes it easier. Or, you can run the gauntlet and try to architect the perfect long business essay that will actually be read.

(Original image by Ian Muttoo)

4) Write Ad Copy

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A writer with advertising training will fare better in the current content environment than a PR or literary writer. Ad writers focus on tight punchy headlines, snappy subheads (or module titles), and short compelling short body text.

If you go my the maxim, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter” then your copy is going to fail more often than not. People don’t have time for long blathering posts. Write short, tight compelling copy.

When I analyzed Buzzfeed’s style, more than anything it read to me like ad copy. In that regard, it is concise and brilliant.

In the same vein, do your readers a favor and edit the bejesus out of sections. Make all copy as tight as possible.

5) Composition

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Last but not least, composition is becoming a critical focus for communications, in my opinion. Some would say it always has been. In large part this is because of data. We have so much data, we are either lost in it and don’t know what to communicate or we are over-informed by it, allowing our communications to become scientific and lifeless.

When we have more data — or even better — precise data, we can inform composition. Creativity infused outreach provides the opportunity to wow people. Or we can fail, amused with our data-inspired bells and whistles. Let me give you a photographic example.

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I liked the above photo when I took it. I thought it was so cool to get all of the Cleveland Flats industrial grid iron works AND also include the bright fountain, too. After all, people love bright colorful lights in night settings.

Except one thing: Though it hit all of the data points that I know people love in night shots — long exposure, color, industrial details, bright luminescent orange fountain, etc. — the composition sucked. The fountain overtakes the rest of the photograph, and because the fountain is not well placed in the image, it doesn’t work. The composition failed in spite of the elements.

We cannot fly blind with our communications just because we know people like certain aspects of them or because we satisfy some data requirement or messaging requirement. Any communication — written or visual — must have meaning. That is why we must be intentional about composition.

What is the thesis — the message — of the conent? What are we trying to achieve with our outreach? How are we accomplishing that goal? Does the data we have support that the approach will work? Does the approach inspire our intended recipient? Composition is an area that can always evolve and improve.

What tips would you add?

Other posts you might like:
4 Storytelling Methods
12 Ways to Boost Your Visual Media Performance

Only Mindful Action Can Help the Gulf

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There have been many acts of anger towards BP over the past week, including protests to seize the company’s assets, using apps to create oil spills on browsers viewing stories mentioning BP, and efforts to tarnish the company’s logo. It’s totally understandable. Punishing this company for its clear and continuing wrongs relieves a very human need.

Yet, such acts fail to help the Gulf marine environment, suffering wildlife, and the many fisherman and local businesses getting decimated by the Deep Horizon catastrophe. Only mindful actions and protests can successfully and positively benefit those people that need us the most.

One of the greatest heroes of all time — Mohandas Ghandi — demonstrated that you can topple an empire by taking spiritually grounded mindful political action. It seems paramount to remember Ghandi’s lessons as we move through this crisis.

What Actually Helps

Seizing BP’s assets strikes me as the exact wrong thing to do. The company needs to remain viable so it can actually pay for the reparations it owes.

Further, as a moderate Democrat it’s been easy to laugh at cries from extreme elements about a socialist administration. That’s because it’s clear that these elements possess a great ignorance about what socialism and Marxism actually are. But a government seizing a company’s assets meets the text book definition of socialization. That kind of action will not benefit anyone, in my opinion. The U.S. government can’t effectively regulate the oil industry much less run an oil company.

BP (as well as Haliburton and Transocean) must be held accountable. I totally agree with this logic. But the situation remains more complicated. As this New York Times article demonstrates, the Obama Administration — specifically MMS — had many missteps that enabled the poor infrastructure that caused the oil well failure and ensuing catastrophe. Further, the oil industry regularly causes these types of incidents in other, less modernized parts of the world frequently!

Protests against the Obama Administration’s questionable relationship with BP and shoddy first five weeks of Deep Horizon oversight have yielded results. Witness President Obama’s remarks on Friday: “”What I don’t want to hear is, when they’re spending that kind of money on their shareholders and spending that kind of money on TV advertising, that they’re nickel and diming fishermen or small business owners here in the Gulf who are having a hard time.” As BP’s behavior and PR machine demonstrates, this oversight will continue to be needed, and that means citizens need to keep the pressure on both BP and the Obama Administration.

From a governmental reform standpoint, protesting further off shore drilling helps the environment. Demanding that elected officials run clean campaigns that disclose or eliminate corporate funding — effectively getting special interests like the oil lobby out of government — helps. Writing Senators to ask for a progressive clean energy oriented Climate Bill helps.

From an action standpoint, there have been a variety of organizations that have assembled volunteer efforts, from their action from afar via computer to on-site action. Here are three articles to consider:

Whatever you decide to do, please be mindful. Remember Gandhi’s lessons. Ask yourself does it help the Gulf and those affected? Does it improve the government or industry so it doesn’t happen again? Will it help the environment?

Also see Jennifer Windrum’s How You Can Truly Help the Gulf Now.