Martin Waxman

Six Digital Media and PR Lessons From 2013

By: Martin Waxman | November 27, 2013 | 

PRBy Martin Waxman

OK – maybe I’m jumping the gun – but I’ve been caught up in the U.S. Thanksgiving/holiday spirit and I must have fast-forwarded to the end of 2013.

Have no fear, it’s not my final post of the year for Spin Sucks.

But I thought I’d kick off the annual round-up season by reflecting on six things I’ve learned in the past 11 months about digital media, social media and PR, from both a personal and business perspective.

1. Mobile first is harder than you think!

Yes, we know it’s important and soon mobile is going to be the primary platform for work, discovery, and communications. But many business people are acting like Hollywood moguls in the ‘50s.

And, like TV, mobile is not simply an add-on. To truly embrace it we need to shift our mindset, the way we conceive and share stories, and how we interact with our communities. Our idea-generation process requires a total makeover so we can dream big by imagining small.

2. Your website is like a classic car.

I redesigned my blog this year and when it was all done, I wanted to sit back and admire it. But I couldn’t. Because there were a ton of adjustments I wanted to make. Some tightening here, a new image there, a fresh category, changing the content flow. It didn’t stop.

That’s a different attitude from a few years ago when you got a new web design and that was that. Instead, let’s adopt a car buff’s mentality and realize the tinkering is never going to be done.

3. Social amplification has given publicity a new life.

Media relations… not so much.

If we think about publicity as the act of making something public, it has a real resonance with social networks. Because social channels are tailor made for distribution, conversations, and relationships. That’s what publicity is all about, too. And why social is so powerful when you integrate it with a publishing strategy.

4. Transmedia storytelling is coming to business.

You hear entertainment people talk about this a lot. Transmedia storytelling is all about bringing a story to life across and through a variety of digital platforms.

That’s different from simply repurposing content. It means understanding which parts of a narrative are best suited to which medium and then bringing it all together in a single, seamless experience.

That’s a challenge and opportunity for PR, and another reason we can no longer just rely on words. (Note: This may be more of a prediction.)

5. A state of feeling perpetually behind.

The pace of social media hasn’t slowed at all and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed (I sure do!).

But instead of feeling lost, let’s agree that in our new world, we’ll never be able to completely catch up. Rather than feeling snowed under by that realization, we can accept that not catching up is the new way of life. And that’s OK because we’re trading complacency for lifelong learning.

6. It’s really time to retire news releases.

I’ve said this for a while and so have a lot of other people. But maybe this is the year to take the PR mainstay out of our tool kits.

What do journalists and bloggers feel about them? I think we have a pretty good idea, but has the industry as a whole bothered to ask influencers how they like to receive information? It’s time to do that and adapt.

As you can see, this is a list of six. I’m hoping you’ll help me in the comments section by adding four more things you’ve learned.  Then, by the time the end of the year actually rolls around, we’ll have a solid top ten!

What have you learned this year that’s changed the way you look at the profession and storytelling?

About Martin Waxman

Martin Waxman is president of Martin Waxman Communications and conducts digital and social media training workshops. He’s a and LinkedIn Learning author, one of the hosts of the Inside PR podcast, and past-chair of PRSA Counselors Academy. Martin teaches social media at UToronto SCS and Seneca College and regularly speaks at conferences and events across North America. Find him on Twitter @martinwaxman.

  • Lara Wellman

    First – I LOVE the classic car analogy.  Genius 🙂
    6 made me think of a post someone I know wrote and the response it got.  
    She wrote

    and the response was:
    It’s definitely an interesting conversation 🙂

  • Lara Wellman Thanks Lara. And thanks for sharing the links. I guess you could put me in the Maggie Patterson camp on this one. And I’m not sure a business defending it’s product against bigger changes is necessarily the way to go. Think about Polaroid…

  • JohnMTrader

    Quite an insightful post Martin, thanks for the insights. I particularly liked the clip on transmedia – it resonates with me as someone who continually tries to tell a story to an international audience across myriad channels all suited to their particular tastes. It’s tough.
    If I may, I disagree with the notion that news releases should be retired. I continually see this cookie cutter interpretation of today’s news release as a tool that has the same implications and repercussions across all industries and geographies. This needs to stop. I work in an industry where our products are marketed all around the world, not just in North America. Almost all of the international audience I serve (journalists) gets their news and information from the news release circuit. In fact, when pitching a lot of these international reporters, I am often asked where the news release is that goes along with the pitch. While it may be safe to say that news release may need to be retired in certain industries that serve certain audiences, saying that they should be “retired” in the aggregate is short-sighted and caters to the Western notion that they aren’t needed any longer.
    Let’s stop thinking about the news release in terms of a North American tool and start thinking more globally and what news releases mean outside of our borders.

  • JohnMTrader Thanks for sharing your perspective, John. As I said on G+, I think too many people in PR are still using this as a crutch. It wasn’t that long ago when the answer to any PR question was, issue a news release! Of course, that’s a simplification, but you know what I mean.
    Can you share some more details about your industry and why you think so many journalists are asking for releases. Also, do you send them individually or post on the wire?  I’m interested to hear.

  • stevesonn

    Good lessons learned, Martin. Although, as others have said I wouldn’t retire news releases just yet (though some organizations probably should as they depend on them too much).
    Here are four lessons that came to mind for me from 2013:
    1. Short-form video offers great potential for those that can use it effectively.
    2. Google updates are changing the game for search, with a new focus on quality content and authority.
    3. Print and other “traditional” media are not dead, just evolving.
    4. Journalists and media professionals need quality PR and communications professionals now more than ever!
    Thanks for the post…

  • JohnMTrader

    martinwaxman Thanks for the feedback Martin. I work in the tech industry, specifically biometric identification management technology. Our products serve international markets from Asia to Europe to Latin and South America. I think the reason that so many international journalists ask for news releases is that they still place a lot of credence in the release as an official tool to announce news from a company. Perhaps it’s a question of them being laggards to understand the true value of a news release (or not) but it doesn’t seem to be official “news” to a lot of them unless it’s on your company site in the Press Room listed as a release. 
    I actually deploy a dual approach to their distribution – I send it out over the wire and then individually to targeted international journalists I have identified over the years in the markets we serve. 
    Hope this sheds a little more light on it. Thanks.

  • tnfletch

    I enjoyed reading this blog post, thank you. I 100% agree on your website analogy, I feel like the work on our website is never done.
    I think 2013 has been the rise of the PR professional. Companies big and small, nonprofit organizations, even local governments are seeing the need and investing in a professional to guide their communications strategy across all platforms. I live in a small town and five years ago there were very few jobs in public relations and now I am seeing new positions and opportunities being created all over. Currently the hottest agency in our region is a PR-only firm. It is a really exciting time to be in our industry!

  • BethanyEastPR

    This is a great post. 
    As a boutique agency owner I’ve found a few hacks for spreading news to more diverse portals, without a press release – but I don’t think it’s dead.  I’ve begun to use a variation of web tools to create more dynamic releases.  
    Also, I’ve found that while traditional PR requires for you to seek out what is “newsworthy” about a campaign or issue – social PR, I feel, is evolving to identify “newsworthy” as a even mixture of being life altering and share worthy (especially when dealing with bloggers).  Simply put if your niche audiences don’t feel a piece is important enough to share to their friends or colleagues when it isn’t in press release form, it is not likely a source will pick up the story or angle.  
    I completely agree with #5, our job is to stay ahead of the curve – but with the 24/7 access to broadcast portals, it’s basically impossible.  Instead, taking a “get in where you fit in” mentality accommodates at the moment.

  • LouHoffman

    Enjoyed the post Martin. While I agree with your point on transmedia storytelling, the concept can sometimes overwhelm the PR team. Simply embracing visual #storytelling and thinking in terms of visual assets can make for a good first step.

  • I like your transmedia take even though the transmedia braintrust don’t like the term anymore. We saw an evolution with the internet that has allowed people and brands digitally at least to tell a story across multiple platforms. No different than the Star Wars toy in the McDonalds Happy Meal during the Summer release leading to the next generation of toy, gear and video game offerings based on the franchise. Now I can have a blog. chat on twitter, publish an EBook, give a talk or video talk. And we are starting to see brands understand this. Just curious if we want it. Busy with enough stuff in my life to be chased by Kraft Mac and Cheese across my life trying to thread a story about elbow macaroni. But they can. 8)

  • LouHoffman everything in marketing and PR is easier said than done. Everything for the most part can be measured, tweaked, improved across many very different industries, jobs etc. Like a doubling of computer processing speeds. Technically every business can experience everything but so many things are pure luck like a viral video. So nowadays with most businesses having to create content and message across so many mediums it’s like everything qualifies as transmedia but few do it well. It is a big project and takes a lot of planning especially for larger organizations. Maybe that is the first step Lou? To understand it’s a big project?

  • Insightful post Martin! I particularly like the part where you talk about how mobile is not simply an add-on. You see a lot of companies wanting to jump on mobile marketing, which is great if that is in fact the way your target audience receives their information, but they often just convert existing platforms to become “mobile enabled”, which is not effective, in my opinion. 
    You’re communicating with a new audience that receives information in a different way so your approach has to change.
    The lesson I would add is on the topic of multitasking and my advice is to simply Prioritize.
    Most of us hold a mobile device in our hands through which the world communicates with us and we communicate with it through dozens of different channels, and it is easy to become bogged down in the weeds. We need to re-learn how to prioritize in a digital age. Do a scan of all your social networks and email accounts and decide what really needs your attention now and what can wait. Take one step at a time. If you’re not giving you complete focus to one thing at a time, you’re not doing your best work.

  • Martin, I can completely relate to number five. I too follow the philosophy that this field requires lifelong learning, but I sometimes miss the old days when accomplishment was long lasting! One aspect I do love about this era of ever-changing technology is that it helps level the playing field.

  • LouHoffman

    I hear you Howard, but to take a given campaign and ask the PR team to brainstorm visual assets for the campaign isn’t such a big project. It’s more a case of PR pros being conditioned to think in terms of words when it comes to narrative.

  • Don’t know if I can come up with four, but your six are insightful! One I would share has to do with the extremely squishy and non rigid boundaries between what is work and what is personal when it comes to social media usage. I used to be shocked if I happened to be home sick or something and would see a coworker who I knew was at work post to Facebook. My view on that has relaxed a lot but … I still saw a coworker terminated this year based on what she posted on Facebook (about her side business and how hard she was working on it) when SHE was ostensibly home sick (which is a whole different thing but …). I’m gonna leave it at just the one (which sort of turned into two) now! Gotta get back to work of course. 🙂

  • Great thoughts about the year so far, Martin! 
    I definitely agree that we should start feeling comfortable with the sensation of being behind schedule with social media, SEO and the like. With all of the recent changes in Google and social platforms across the board, it seems like everyone will be in this state of mind perpetually. 
    Katie already added a good one — get rid of news wire services from your PR functions. She made very good points on it on SpinSucks today. 
    If you want one from me, I would add in how important online reputation management (ORM) will be in 2014. With companies like Wiki-PR  in the crossfire for creating and maintaining the image of their clients, you can see how it’s becoming a serious business.
    Any agency working in ORM will have to make sure their practices are still considered respectable and honest, especially since accusations like the Wiki-PR scandal could jeopardize not only themselves but all of their clients. 
    But anyway, that’s one from me. Hope you like it!

  • JRHalloran Thanks! I like online reputation management, which ties into a lot of the things ginidietrich writes about, notably ethics and transparency. It’s funny I didn’t think of that as I teach an online reputation management course. So I appreciate your suggestion – but my face is a bit red…
    Agree that kateupdates’s take on newswires is a good one. It really ties into my thoughts about releases.

  • biggreenpen Thanks! Personal and professional worlds colliding is a good one – that always reminds me of George Costanza’s world’s colliding explosion on Seinfeld when he sees Susan and his friends… I think we’ve all come a long way accepting that things have changed along those lines – but it’s still a tightrope many people are walking and it’s too easy to slip into the proverbial non-appropriate abyss.

  • martinwaxman That sounds cool! I didn’t know they were already teaching that in the schools! Sounds like something I need to follow you up on. 
    Would you be interested in doing an interview with us about ORM?

  • JohnMTrader Thanks John. Your comment about traditionalists wanting something ‘official’ makes sense. Hope we can educate them on other possibilities…

  • stevesonn Thanks Steve. All good suggestions. And re point 4, hopefully they’ll continue to need us because of the way we’re able to help.

  • tnfletch Thanks. Interesting to hear that the hottest agency is PR-only. I imagine they offer a full digital and traditional suite of services. Interested to hear more about them.

  • BethanyEastPR Thanks! You make a great point about news/stories needing to be sharable. I guess that’s one of the things I don’t like about the traditional release, the form doesn’t lend itself to sharing. And great practitioners, as you say, are adept at telling their stories on many platforms.
    Oh – I’m interested in hearing more about your hacks…

  • JRHalloran I’d be happy to anytime! Feel free to send me a note or dm on Twitter. Thank you!

  • Man, you’re right, it really does sound like we had a discussion over coffee before writing our respective posts today! 🙂 
    I really, really want to hear journalists weigh in on their actual use of news releases and wire services. I do find that regional media make more use of releases than national media.
    OH and I totally get the website thing. I released in January and I’m still tweaking too.

  • KateFinley Next time we both post, we’ll have to have that coffee – virtual or otherwise.

  • jolynndeal I know what you mean about that sense of accomplishment. I used to feel that when the releases were packaged up in their crisp folders – all waiting for a courier to pick them up. That’s when I knew I could take a breather before the second part began… These days, I feel better knowing I won’t ever cross off every item on my to-do list…

  • Quietglw Thanks Amy. I was in the middle of responding but I got caught in the act of multitasking :).
    I like what you say about prioritizing. Even in our world of constant partial attention, if we don’t stop and pay full attention to the things we’re working on, it’s hard to get anything done – or anything of worth.

  • martinwaxman That’s great! Thanks so much! I’ll DM you on Twitter soon.

  • LouHoffman Howie Goldfarb – Boy, I go away for meetings and practically miss this good discussion! 
    Agree that it’s tough for PR people to think beyond words, but we need to do that and not, as Howie says, have our eyes solely on the viral component. 
    I have a doctor friend who actually created a viral video and a bunch of others. He says he understands that not everything goes viral and he’s OK with bacterial – that is more targeted.
    Agree about the Happy Meal analogy – now our challenge is adding a digital component to it that extends the story farther…
    Thanks to both of you!

  • I get so super excited when I start thinking about transmedia. I was really involved in a transmedia project a few years ago and it is such an amazingly fun and deep area to dive into that it makes the creative side of my brain go A-Bombs crazy with endless ideas and the strategic side start plotting and scheming. So.many.opportunities.

  • You totally had me at transmedia. It’s always interesting to hear the different perspectives about what *makes* transmedia from experience designers vs. marketers.

  • livwhit

    Interesting post! #3 “Social amplification has given publicity a new life” is a great topic. Social networking has made publicity much faster. People can build relationships with the public and maintain them on a regular basis. I also like that information can be distributed within a matter of seconds. It will be interesting to continue to watch how publicity is impacted by social media.
    I also like #5 “A state of feeling perpetually behind”. Social media is very hard to keep up with. There are so many sites to use and not enough time to keep up with all of them. Great point that are accepting of it!

  • Quietglw martinwaxman   My first thought as well Amy when I read  5. A state of feeling perpetually behind. 
    With so many channels and so much content it is very easy for one to become distracted from ones goals. (Right now I should be preparing blog posts for a school assignment… )  
    Talking of falling behind, this post references 3 other posts and a Wiki entry. Book marked for future reading…

  • LauraPetrolino Thanks Laura – I get excited about it too. Because it’s going to challenge us to think across the various media we use – and use traditional, real-life and digital to interweave stories.
    And also, I just like saying the word!

  • jasonkonopinski Thanks Jason. See below for my thoughts on why I used that word.
    Personally, I’m excited about having a challenge from a client and offering them a cross-platform storytelling concept, I mean transmedia. Too bad spellcheck doesn’t like the word yet. It will have to learn.

  • livwhit Thanks! I’m fascinated by the notion of the reinvention of publicity on social channels and how it seems to have so much more to offer than media relations – and also that it swallows media relations up.
    And re accepting always being behind, that’s what I feel when I do a guest post on Spin Sucks and see the comments. Can I ever catch up? Yes, when another couple of posts push this down in the stream…
    And, while I’m on it, thanks to everyone who’s participating! That’s what makes writing here a real pleasure – and honor.

  • Digital_DRK Quietglw So many links… so little time 🙂

  • hhamner

    I agree that we need to embrace social media and always
    incorporate it when publicizing something. This is obvious by now; but some
    people, usually older, more traditional professionals are still hesitant to use
    new platforms. I am the first one to admit I’m not crazy about social media,
    but I understand its importance for networking and increasing awareness of a
    brand or product. Social media is ideal for receiving feedback and giving a personal
    touch to a corporate. Corporations are treated as people through the eyes of
    the law and should be seen as from consumers’ perspective as well. The easiest
    and most acceptable way to do this in the modern age is to reach out via

  • hhamner Thanks! As one of the older people, and like so many others, I saw the potential for transformation early on. It’s sometimes tough to get people to admit the proverbial cheese has been moved. But it has, and it’s so important to adapt…and continue to adapt.

  • An excellent analysis, Martin. Points 3 and 5 really resonated with me. I’m fascinated with how social amplification works. And yeah…I’ve given up on feeling “ahead” or even “on top” of content. I read and absorb what I can, but also try and be minful about what I allow in to my brain pan. Thanks for this, and glad it isn’t your last of the year!

  • RebeccaTodd Thanks Rebecca! I like your advice about being careful regarding what you let into your brain and what you don’t. 
    Over the years, I’ve binged on too much brain-junk and I’m still trying to rid myself of a bunch of old radio jingles that seem to have melodies made of crazy glue.

  • livwhit

    @martinwaxman Yes social media really does! And the comments do come in very quickly! It’s a great community of followers on here!

  • livwhit +1 to that!

  • stevesonn It sill amazes me how many PR professionals seem like they are writing for the medium, instead of for the people who will be reading (regardless the medium).

  • thomasknoll stevesonn It comes down to being able to create an amazing, funny, true, entertaining, informative story people want to share. The medium is the vehicle not the idea.

  • Struggle with #5 constantly…and I need to continue tinkering like #2.

  • dbvickery I’m with you on both of those. Thanks!

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