Media with no originality

December 15, 2007

in media

Last monday I was at a MilanIN event talking with my french super-PR friend Axelle on the state of pr and media relations in Italy. We work in this market from different sectors and with different approaches (she has her own PR company, I do marketing and work with the most important business media in Italy to promote HSM‘s management events) but the conclusions were more or less the same:

  1. Many (if not most) bad or non-professional-enough journalists
  2. Printed media with no original identity (copycats)
  3. No transparency

Let’s dig into it:

1. Research is disappearing as a characteristic of journalists. Very few of them make it a priority to do research prior to writing an article, talking about a product or making an interview. Just shallow reproductions of what is said everywhere, wikipedia stuff. Even fewer prepare themselves before an important interview. My company organizes events with well-know guys like Henry Kissinger, Jack Welch, Michael Porter, Malcolm Gladwell, and in some cases it has been pretty embarrassing to have the guy arriving and asking me what had these people done in their past, and even which questions to ask or what did certain concepts mean. Moreover, I assisted as translator/facilitator in some (english knowledge is another huge handicap of local journalists) and when I read the published stuff, it had little or nothing to do with what was actually said.

I find many bloggers (professional and non) to be much more original and trustworthy sources of information that normal journalists.

It’s a well known practice to send products to journalists to allow them to “try” it and maybe write an article (someone said bribery? oh c’mon, don’t be childish 🙂 ) And I would consider it good manners to receive an answer saying “thanks, I got your product” and sometimes a feedback like “I really like it” or “It actually is not what I expected”. It shouldn’t be a taboo to say that you don’t like a product. It’s all about courtesy of course, and during our discussion it came out that it seldom happens that you receive any kind of answer (even the “don’t send me any more stuff please”). In fact, some times the guys told me they never got the stuff, and that it was normal that bumpy packages got “lost” at the registration desk.

I understand journalists point of view, that they cannot answer to all the things they get, so this is something to work out. I’m not talking about unsolicited stuff, but when you anticipate the guy that you’re sending something, you never get a “no, don’t bother to send me things”. Chris Anderson recently published on his blog the list of pr people he was blacklisting because they were spamming him… and it provoked quite some reactions. I agree with him that unsolicited emails are an everyday problem, and that commercial “contact lists” suck. Maybe it’s time for someone to create a new social networking site for helping journalists and pr/marketing people to exchange information, etc.

For the record: I’ve met some very professional journalists, charismatic, great researchers and with strong language capabilities. But they are the exception, not the rule.

2. In the past, Italian media had a very strong identity but with competition and the loss of some emblematic journalists (e.g. Indro Montanelli) and charismatic editors/directors, they have all tended to the same image and content. This is happening worldwide, and there are only a few of them which have maintained a differential factor (be it quality of contents, seriousness, etc) and some newborn (mainly magazines) that present new ideas. When a product is not selling well, or is losing market share, the usual solution is a graphic restyling, but the insides remain the same.

What I don’t get -or unfortunately I have some hints- is why do advertisers still invest so much money in them. The idea I have is that it is because of lack of courage to make something different. If you advertise in the printed editions of Corriere, Repubblica and/or Sole (depends on your target of course, but now I’m talking about a generic business product/service), and your product/service fails, you can always raise it as a shield: “It’s not my fault if it didn’t sell, I advertised on the most important Italian media”. Also when presenting mediaplans to your board, it’s easier to make them pass through if you have these power-names in.

Something similar tends to happen with TV, the most budget absorbing media in Italy (but I don’t have much experience with it). With a small percentage (say 15%) of what you spend in paper-media, you could do a “disaster” working with online and non-traditional media… but as it’s all pretty new (or not so much really, the internet has been around for 10 years now), the experience on these is not so well consolidated, the offer is much more vast, and guys with a real knowledge of this sector are just a bunch. Age is an important factor, though not the best excuse. I met many 30 year olds that saw internet as a divertisment and not as a real tool.

Newspapers: read into Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica and tell me what’s the difference between them. Even Il Sole 24 Ore, which traditionally was a financial newspaper has been turning more horizontal in the last 4 years. The reasons to pick one or the other are mostly based on which one your parents used to read or because you like one of the editors (or senior journalist).

In particular business magazines in Italy are converging to the following model:

  • “best of the world” or luxury products section. But none like Tyler Brule’s Monocle.
  • who is going where. nominees are usually published with several MONTHS of delay, making it not an useful work-tool.
  • who is who ranking. But none like Time’s ones.
  • local gossip. But as they are weekly or monthly, they’re usually no longer fresh news (blogs have taken pole position in this)
  • dedicated geographical reports or dossiers. But none like The Economists world reviews
  • some finance
  • some local and world economy
  • some collaboration with foreign magazine. Usually not the most interesting stuff.
  • tech section (on gadgets or other technological products). But none of them has a Walt Mossberg.

The balance between these sections is not always well equilibrated, and in most cases they aren’t even adapted through an original local view, but are pale copies of the original sources.

They all seem to privilege volume (number of pages) as opposed to quality and briefness of content. We are all exposed to several mags so who can (or wants) to go through 100+ pages n times? Furthermore, almost all of these business magazines have no real web activities (apart from publishing the cover, the magazine’s index, and making some sales-newsletter).

I “have” to follow a series of papers and mags (from 10 to 20) because of my job, which requires me to keep under control what’s happening and what media says is happening in the country/world. But most of the times I fin that I just read across titles and dedicate the extra time to dig into some “authors” that I consider valid. But most of the time, for those people I’m really interested in, it’s easier to go to their blogs (most of them have one, personal or collective) and read them through my newsfeeder.

So if publications and in particular weekly or monthly ones don’t longer offer fresh news, you can read special reports and insight analysis online, why buy the paper thing? Prestige. Here in Italy it is mainly about that. Being published on the paper object is still regarded as much more prestigious, authoritative and… real.

3. On transparency, this is more related to pr and advertising activity. It’s difficult to get media-plans in advance to make some programming on when to place and advertisement (you only get this info if you have good account managers inside the media advertising bureaus). Statistics on publications are also confusing. The other thing is that there’s no direct line with the people who write the news. It’s us here and them there, and nothing in the middle. How about who’s investing where? Why can’t we know about it? Special sections, based on collaborations, are also tricky. They are not official “Special Advertisement Sections”, but they act as that. And the last thing… the “redazionali”, articles written by the media’s staff. So many times I have been offered space for an article if I invested in advertising. So in the end, they talk about you if you pay… and some mags are all about redazionali. And people know it, and content loses its value. But these mags still live!

Follows a list of media (mainly magazines) that I consider have a strong personality (in no particular order):

Monocle (and Tyler Brule is surely an expert on giving personality to a publication. This mag was born 1 year ago and it’s already a bestsellers)

Wired (I seldom buy the paper edition, as it’s crammed with advertising and I find the info online anyway. They do have a strong personality, and the quality of the paper and print is great, and they do cool cover design too).

7th Floor (the first Italian free s-corporate press. Very original and with a great online integration through the blog).

International Herald Tribune (European version, a classic. not too thick, just the basics and half a page of comic strips!).

Time Magazine (another classic!).

The Economist (someone said classic?).

L’Internazionale (It’s based on the french Courrier International. It seems paradoxical that it has its own personality, as L’Internazionale groups the best articles published during the last week all around the world. It’s all about the editor’s capacity to find, select and translate relevant worldwide articles).

Nòva24 (Innovation supplement of the Thursday edition of Il Sole 24 Ore).

La Gazzetta dello Sport (I don’t read it, except when I find it in a bar. But it still has a strong personality, starting from the pink colored pages).

Wallpaper* (Started by the guy from Monocle I mentioned above. Still a classic though it has lost some of its edge in the last years).

So tell me, which are your favourite (paper) media and those you think that have a strong personality?

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