Sort out who suits an online medium

In the course of planning PR activity, clients often ask ‘What is the value of online media? Is it as valuable as its print equivalents?’ The question is often phrased assuming there is some kind of intrinsic difference in value between one form of media and another. But this assumption misses the point about what the media is and how it works. Its value is entirely wrapped up in a) its effectiveness as a route to a group of people you want to talk to and b) the level of influence it affords you in reaching that group.

In our last Advice Shop, we looked at how an accurate assessment of your key audiences comes before selecting your target media and gunning for specific editorial options. In other words, the need to have a precise fix on who these people are before deciding how best to reach them. Assessing online media channels needs to be done as an integral part of this process: it is not a separate exercise.

In assessing the most appropriate media to promote your company to existing and potential clients and candidates, the proliferation of online outlets presents major challenges.

Firstly, the market is still developing — and fast — in terms of the new online platforms. Secondly, ‘traditional’ print and broadcast media are developing their own online outlets, some of which are now in their third or fourth generations. And finally, the impact of these first two developments on reading and viewing habits. The picture is changing all the time.

In a recent roundtable on digital media, Peter Birch, who heads ITV’s interactive sales department, pointed out that people today expect more information to be available to them at the touch of a button. “Whether that button is on a remote control or an iPod or a mobile doesn’t matter: people growing up in this cross-platform society don’t distinguish, they just expect content,” Birch says.

Panellists at the roundtable also pointed to the survey last year by Google, revealing that people now spend more time on the web than watching TV, with the average Briton spending around 164 minutes online each day, compared with 148 watching TV. However, at a similar time that the Google survey was released, Unilever was announcing a £200m airtime deal with ITV, showing that traditional media are far from dead. The point is that as more channels for information and content become available, people’s reading, viewing and/or surfing patterns will change. The challenge for any business is to be in close touch with the channels favoured by their particular target audiences.

The answer comes down to some simple things: make sure you are clear who your target audience is; look at the different ways to cut your audience (eg by job title, geographical area or industry sector); and develop a real understanding of how they search for jobs or suppliers of recruitment services, and what they read, view or surf to keep themselves up-to-date and in touch with news.

If you are unsure which channels your target audiences prefer, a simple way to start is to ask existing clients and candidates, and then ask your PR consultancy to validate this list for you with the various online and other media tools they have at their fingertips.

The more ambitious protagonists of online media are experimenting now with blogs, webcasts and podcasts. But even with these ‘edgiest’ forms of communication, the same principles apply: a medium is only as good as its efficacy as a route to your target audience and the level of influence or credibility it affords you as you reach them. A good PR never forgets this.

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HR, information, job, jobsearch