Tuesday, October 21, 2008

PR 101

Most tired debates of all time:
5. Creationism v. Giant Spaghetti Monster
4. Tastes Great v. Less Filling
3. MLSE: Giant Evil Corporation v. MLSE Meddling Ruinous Corporation
2. Toilet seat up v. down
1. MSM v. blogosphere

Yeah it's number one on the list and in our hearts, it’s overdone, and here's 1500 words on it…(sorry, as a communications consultant there are certain topics on which I just can't help myself).

Dave Berry v. Edmonton Oilers

Back story is here. Interesting take from Edmonton Journal reporter David Staples here and CBC's Eliot Friedmann here. Mirtle weighs in with a sane approach, Staples has some more good reporting on the Oilers’ side of things and, as always, there's great additional commentary at MC79Hockey.

Now you're all caught up and it's time to go all the way back to first principles here...

PR 101: What does it mean to be credentialed?

In short, media credentials enable organizations to screen and select the media that are invited to cover a news event.

Depending on the organization or the news event, the credentialing process can be as short as asking for a business card or it can involve filling out forms in advance, meeting pre-set criteria, requiring a photo to be taken and issuing a typical laminated pass (oooh, and a branded lanyard).
More formal credentialing usually happens with federal and/or provincial legislatures, law enforcement agencies or for events where there is a great deal of media interest and limited space.

The vast majority of media events have a cute 20-something PR staffer sitting at a table with a stack of media kits and a photocopied sign-in sheet (Name, Media outlet) hoping that some media actually arrive.

Why Issue Credentials?

Organizations issue credentials to filter who gets access to events and, by extension, to help control or shape the resulting coverage. No credentials means no access.

Usually the two main criteria required to get credentials are subject knowledge (is this a beat or topic the applying media regularly cover) and circulation or reach numbers (and the bigger the number, the quicker the media will get their press pass).

Once the lanyard goes around the neck, can you take it back?

Organizations may have the right to screen and select the media that can attend their events; however, once the credentials are issued, these organizations do not have any right to dictate what that resulting coverage might be.

Journalists are expected to observe the rules of the event and or organization – e.g. hold your questions to the end, wait for scrums and one-on-one interview opportunities; certain topics may be off-limits (SEC investigations are always a good place to start) and please stick to your allotted time for the interview.

There are credential rules all over the net, and they're pretty much all the same.

I’m not sure if live blogging or real time reporting changes any of this. The expectation that the rules will be followed remains, just as the media shouldn't expect their copy or coverage to be censored.

In 15 years of working in communications, I’ve never seen credentials get pulled and I’ve never seen media ejected from an event. (The ACC has wi-fi in their corporate boxes, I’d love to see what would happen if a fan live blogged the game from their luxury suite… )

There’s a reason they call it “earned coverage”

For most organizations, earning media coverage is tough. Really tough. Media consolidation may have increased the number of news outlets, but it has decreased the number of journalists and access to the tools of their trade. Toronto may be the number four or five media market in North America, but you can count the number of radio reporters on your fingers and TV stations have very limited access to cameras and staff.

There are fewer and fewer journalists and more and more organizations are competing for their time and attention. Generating media coverage, even on-line or blog coverage, is a key part of generating revenue, be it in the form of increased sales, sales leads, raised profile, brand enhancement, third-party validation/credibility etc. Even in the public sector, NGO and not-for-profit organizations seek earned media coverage to raise their profile, to validate their causes, build awareness, increase funding, etc.

It’s Different for Hockey

The one place this media relationship or framework doesn’t exist in Canada: professional hockey.
There is so much demand for NHL content and such limited space available in the press boxes and locker rooms that Canadian NHL teams can exercise extremely tight controls over which media gets access, and more importantly, who gets to keep their access.

This is something to keep in mind (yeah, goes for me too) when one wonders why the media are willing to harp about decades old ownership woes but don’t say boo about current roster decisions or locker room toxins.

Mittenstrings and Media Relations: It’s All About Revenue, Stupid.

Just like their corporate brethren, revenue is the core of media relations, but for professional sports teams there's a bit of a twist. Unlike the relationship between conventional organizations and the media, external coverage for professional sports franchises actually represents potential lost revenue. From the follow-up piece on the Oilers-blogger mess:

Part of the reason that no media outlets are allowed to blog live from Oilers games is that the Oilers want to have this kind of information only available on their own official website, Watt says.

Watt says many of the blogs are trying to get increased traffic so they can make money, but the Oilers don't want to give up that traffic. "We spend $100 million a year to create NHL hockey in Edmonton and there are some things that we think we own. This is one of them (the live blogging rights)."

Perhaps some blog company will come along with $10 million a year for the exclusive rights to live blogging, then the Oilers would look at that. "That's the business we are in," Watt says.
In other words, eyeballs that go elsewhere for information deprive the teams of click-throughs and ad dollars; grey-market on-line streaming reduces audience numbers for TV and PPV. Declining consumption of traditional media (the team-preferred source for news) means potentially less rink-side advertising from the newspapers and fewer paid cross-promotions in the local Sun (be sure to collect all your favourite team medals!).

This is why NHL executives, when they talk about blogs, play the “blogs are such low-quality and can’t-be-trusted” card. Or they talk about how hard it is to separate the good blogs from the bad.

Sure, this attempt to disparage and conquer blogs is a short-sighted and likely a losing strategy, but when was the last time the NHL or an NHL executive did something that made you think they were ahead of the curve?


I’ve argued in the past that the NHL could do a much better job with their team web-sites or they should let individual teams take over (I think the Leafs site could be miles better, but I have no idea what constraints their staff are working under). I’ve also applauded the Leafs PR staff for offering unfiltered access to press conferences, interviews and other events. That’s the type of stuff that will get eyeballs as it’s content fans can’t get elsewhere.

But the traditional concept held by the NHL and the media that access in the form of meaningless player quotes and bland blog entries on team sites is a primary source of traffic is curious. It certainly isn’t the golden ticket to eyeballs and ratings that teams believe it to be, no matter how hard they want to make it so:
Watt says that when it comes to interviews with the players, the Oilers now want to go direct to consumers. "We would like our website and NHL.com to be places where people can find that information exclusively as possible, and as a result of that, traffic, and as a result of that, monetization.
The NHL is missing the key point that fans want, and many blogs deliver, insights that the media and NHL teams can’t or won't match - whether it's advanced statistics, legal insight or profanity (and in many cases all three).

The NHL appears not to understand that, while fans want quality content and interesting information, they’re savvy enough to know good sites from bad and they’re not too concerned if the site is run by a monolithic corporation or a guy procrastinating during his day-job.

The NHL appears not to understand one of the biggest shift in the consumption and transfer of information is that more and more news providers are providing information not to inform their audience but to confirm what their audience already believes (Case in point: Fox News and HuffPo).

The final, and perhaps most important, point that the NHL doesn't get (or doesn't want to get) is that information is so easy to access and transfer that hoping to hold eyeballs at a team site is antiquated at best and a fool’s errand at worse. Chuck Klosterman put it best when he was asked what blogs he reads:
…there is no single blog that is “required reading” every day, or even every week. This has become more and more true as the blogosphere has expanded. All the information is shared. If something legitimately interesting happens on any specific blog, it’s immediately going to be linked to on 200 other sites, so there’s no need to consistently go to any one source. That’s the biggest philosophical difference between old media and new media: If a sportswriter at the Washington Post breaks a story the New York Times doesn’t have, the Post wins that day — the NYT will have to play catch-up the following morning, and readers will start to see the Post as a better product. But blogs aren’t like that. If something on The Big Lead gets linked to Deadspin, nobody who finds it on Deadspin gives a shit how it got here or where it came from originally. Following the link is no different (and no less efficient) than reading the original content in its original setting. The experience is identical. Both sites win, as does any other random blog that connects to the content. They all share the same traffic. Unlike journalism, blogging is not competitive — its cooperative. Networking is far more essential than writing or reporting. Which is why I don’t need to read any specific sports blog on a day-to-day basis; I will eventually get all that information without even trying. It aggregates itself.
So What’s Next?

In terms of policies and formal media relations, Mirtle said it best and it’s clear that NHL organizations require clear, modernized media relations policies that are supported by effective open communications between the media relations staff and the media they are credentialing.

Other than a free invite to a game, I can’t see any value in bloggers seeking formal credentials from NHL clubs and I don't see any reason for Canadian NHL teams to ever offer them.

As for the future of coverage, the NHL may want to be the on-line destination of choice, but they’re not going to make it if they continue to offer what they’ve been offering. And more importantly, this is true for the sports pages.

The Star has become a destination for Leaf masochists (I'm boycotting them. So long as the fans support that organization, they have no impetus to change). Joe O'Connor is a good read, Hornby provides the straight goods and the Hat is money, but - to Klosterman's point - I can get all my other Leaf info distilled from the beautifully named Barilkosphere (nice work Chemmy!) complete with a side of humour. Best of all, none of it insults me for supporting my team, feels the need to mention 1967/42 years in every piece, or relies on limo drivers for insights into how to run a multi-million dollar professional sports franchise.

Of course, it may all be moot. Apparently blogs are so 2004...


  1. Anonymous11:53 am

    Great post. You obviously spent some time writing it as well, so hats off to you.

    The only reason that I started to read blogs was because I was unsatisfied with the knowledge that I was receiving from traditional media sources, and I wanted to see if anyone else shared my opinions and views, and to read others views. something you don't get with the mainstream media.

  2. Anonymous12:14 pm

    Lets get this straight: you are a communications consultant and you love the Replacements. Are you actually me? Or am I you? Weird.

    Great post, as always.

  3. Anonymous2:15 pm

    When someone has grown tired of the same message being repeated year in and year out in the main stream media (msm), where else could one turn to other than to the bloggers?