We live in a multimedia world. Consumers today have more choices than they’ve ever had when it comes to media consumption. Where fifty years ago virtually everyone was getting their information from one of a few newspapers or TV stations, now consumers have access to everything from social media to YouTube to news blogs. As a result, audiences are more fragmented than ever.
But for a startup that’s trying to tell a story—as you should be with with any sort of marketing or PR campaign—that fragmentation is an asset, so long as you’re informed enough to take advantage of it. Niche audiences with a high likelihood of being interested in your product used to be difficult to target because everybody was reading the same newspaper, but now it’s easier than ever to precisely target almost any interest-based group or demographic based on their media consumption habits.
Precisely where to target your stories and campaigns is beyond the scope of this article—you’ll need to make those decisions based on a careful consideration of your message and its target audience. But you can get a good idea of where to start looking if you have a solid understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of the major “platforms” for media consumption: the regular web, social media, and the print media.
The regular web
Whatever your target demographic is, they’re on the web. That’s the good news. The bad news is that you’re going to have to do a lot of research to determine precisely where they are and what media outlet might be best for approaching them. There’s a niche blog with a significant following for virtually every interest on the web, and that can make targeting a dream but it does sometimes require some research to find.
One major problem you’ll have to overcome is that web traffic isn’t public, and there are ways of gaming the system. That only works to a point—a site that’s getting 500 comments per article is a genuinely popular site even if a few of those comments are spam bots— but it still means you’ve got to do your due diligence to ensure you’re not being misled. Sites like Alexa can give you a rough estimate of traffic, but the truth is that you may never know for sure just how big the audience on the site you’re targeting is.
That said, audience size doesn’t always matter. If the site is a major influencer in your industry—most industries have sites like that—then the specifics don’t matter much. If you’re a tech company, you don’t need to know TechCrunch’s precise unique visitor count to know that it’s a worthwhile place to try to place a story.
Demographically speaking, social media is only slightly less broad than the web as a whole, although certain platforms—Instagram, Snapchat—skew younger than the regular web. Unless your target audience is elderly, they’re probably on social media, but precisely where they are will depend on who they are. Older political junkies will likely be following the policy wonks on Twitter. Middle-aged and younger parents are likely to be on Facebook, swapping baby photos with friends. Teens are on Instagram, or Kik, or whatever tomorrow’s next hit social app turns out to be.
Once you’ve found your demographic-to-platform match, you need to find influencer accounts. This should be relatively easy since most social platforms have a very public count of “followers” or “likes” (or whatever the audience-measuring metric buzzword of choice happens to be on that platform).
With social media, the problem is more about placing your story. On the regular web, the traditional approach is a lot like what’s worked in print media for a century: you find the relevant reporter, you send them a release, you hope they write it up. But nobody writes tweets based on press releases.
PR via third parties on social media is difficult to do. On social platforms, you’re better off building up your own brand and following; that can be leveraged to attack your PR goals in a way that third-party accounts probably can’t. If you must work through third-party influencer accounts, though, you’re better off using them for marketing than PR. An athlete who tweets about a new jacket’s release is just going to look like a paid shill. Better to work them into a marketing campaign that’s more subtle and try to get a photo of them in the jacket onto social media (even if it’s not on launch day).
Another downside of social media is that the storytelling format can be difficult to navigate. Many social media platforms have hard limits to the length and type of content you can post. And even those that don’t, like Facebook, have de-facto limits. You can post a five-paragraph press release on Facebook if you want, but nobody’s going to read it. For social, you typically need to figure out a much more condensed and visual-focused way of telling your story.
The one exception to this is video and video-friendly social platforms like YouTube or Facebook. Video may be the clearest and most direct form of storytelling for marketers and PR people, because it allows you total control over the message, the visuals, the tone, and even the mood of the story through manipulating elements of the video like the soundtrack or the cinematography. There’s no easy one-to-one way of converting a press release into a video, of course, but if you can figure out how to tell your release’s story in video form and get that in front of a video-embracing and demographically relevant audience, you’ll be in good shape. The only downside is that the cost of producing a high-quality video is quite high—astronomical when compared to the price of having a press release written.
For years, this was really the only choice when it came to placing a story or doing other sorts of media-based PR work. But the print newspaper industry is dying, and today the audience for print-only media is [typically over 50 years old].
But that’s no reason to turn your nose up at print media, because today it typically isn’t print *only* media, and placing your story at a highly respected newspaper is also likely to give it high visibility on the web.
Even if you don’t have the kind of connections or a burning-off-the-page hot story that’ll get you into the *New York Times*, though, there are still a couple of reasons you might want to look at print media.
The first is if your audience is local. Outside of major cities, location-specific audiences typically don’t have location-specific blogs or other online sources that are widely followed, but they do almost inevitably have local print newspapers (the larger of which will also have web versions that locals read).
The second is if your audience is likely to read magazines. The daily print newspaper may be dying, but there are niche magazines that are as popular as they’ve ever been. If your company operates somewhere in the outdoor/adventure space, for example, getting something into *Outside* could be every bit as valuable as getting it onto a major outdoor lifestyle blog.
Making the choice
Ultimately, if you have the time and resources, the best option is to push your PR story on all three fronts. Get your message out on the web via blogs, echo it with your own social media channels and place it in front of any important local audiences you need to access via the print media. But if you do have to make the choice, consider the pros and cons of each platform carefully in the context of the story you’re trying to tell. If it’s an emotion-driven story, an audiovisual platform like social media might be best. If it’s news or data-driven, blogs on the web are likely a better bet. If it’s got a local flavor that you’d like to capitalize on, print media could be the way to go.