Today’s new media tools such as mobile, social media and improved television technologies are changing what media network currently looks like (Jones, 2011). New abilities for audiences to interact, engage and even participate in the media made media network look as a single linked unit, rather than a media consisted of separate channels (Jenkins, 2001). Empowerment of audiences and facilitation of media use introduced a new term for this phenomena – media convergence. In addition, increased number of media channels also provided audiences with a variety of choice and freedom when choosing the media to use. This has caused another issue, especially for media related industries, called – media fragmentation (Webster & Ksiazek, 2012). Media convergence and fragmentation has influenced all media related industries. This post will focus on how media convergence and fragmentation has influenced public relations (PR) and advertising agencies. The first part of the essay will introduce conventional PR model and will explain how media convergence and fragmentation have affected it. The second part will discuss this influence on advertising sector. The critical view of audience fragmentation will then be provided. Lastly, conclusion and an idea for further discussion concerning this topic will finalise the post.
Conventional Public Relations Model
If we had to describe how PR looked like twenty years ago we would have to mention five main roles PR specialists had to be capable of doing:
- Organising press or other public events.
- Writing press releases.
- Preparing speeches or teaching business people to talk in public.
- Writing newsletters for organisations’ employees or its stakeholders.
- And finally, communicating to the members of press.
Of course, as ever, it is necessary to sustain consistency between all of these roles (Haywood, 1991). In other words, it is crucial to make sure that the things a member of an organisation is saying in public are consistent with a tone and facts which are reflected in press releases (Haywood, 1991). As we can see from the conventional PR model (Figure 1) almost all parts of PR are linked to each other and it may look like a very difficult task to keep all of them consistent. However, media convergence and fragmentation quite drastically changed a perception of PR capabilities and responsibilities. It turned PR to a difficult network (Figure 2) which now must work across different media and different platforms within each medium (Buddenhagen, 2012).
Media Convergence and Fragmentation in Public Relations
Introduction of new online platforms made it much more difficult for PR agencies to represent the company across different media in a way it would please all of the readers or viewers (Scott, 2011). Five basic PR sectors have now transformed into eight and some of them; for instance, social media can be again divided in a few different platforms. The audience is now fragmented and spread across many different channels; therefore PR agencies have to make sure they are communicating with the right audience in a right way (Scott, 2011). In order to be more specific, four main issues caused by media fragmentation and convergence in PR will be now presented.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
Nowadays it is crucial for companies and organisations to have strong online presence and visibility. At this point PR agencies are becoming responsible for not only writing interesting press releases, but also for making those press releases visible on the web (Buddenhagen, 2012). PR practitioners now have to think of the key words and frequency of their repetition in order to achieve higher ranking on search engines and to remain interesting and not weird for readers (Scott, 2011). In addition, PR agencies have to make sure that the same key words are used across different online media and that those keywords are specific to that company (Buddenhagen, 2012). This does not mean that PR agencies have to do SEO, but knowledge of it would definitely make PR more effective.
Another concern media convergence has brought up is multi-platforms. A press release or another kind of message has to be reported and produced for a multi-platform audience. A single version of a story is no longer enough (Huang et al., 2006). Due to audience fragmentation, the same tone of voice across different media is no longer effective (Rust & Oliver, 1994). For instance, the blog articles are supposed to be less formal and more personal than articles published in newspapers. What is more, in order to reach the audiences PR practitioners also have to introduce or advertise the message for different audience across the channels. A press release published in an online newspaper must be linked to social media websites (i.e. Facebook, Twitter) and presented to the audience in a most convenient and attractive way (Scott, 2011). It is now a standard in the PR agencies to do that as otherwise a significant part of the target audience might not be reached, consequently making PR agencies inefficient and not effective enough.
In addition, instant communication on websites has brought a lot of intimacy into the relationship with the audience. It is no longer enough for PR agencies to publish a well written press release. Now it became crucial to track the comments (response) of the audience and react to it accordingly (McKirchy-Spencer, 2011). Nowadays audience is playing an active role and tries to extend the message or seeks their message to be extended (Buddenhagen, 2012). This brings us to another phenomena caused by media convergence and fragmentation – audience engagement.
Today the reality is that people connect with each other on various social platforms to share their lives and access the internet daily in order to satisfy their informational needs. All of this daily communication on social platforms must be tracked and evaluated in order to understand views, opinions or attitudes on specific organisations that PR agencies are responsible for (Scott, 2011). The empowerment of an individual on the web allows target to express what is on their mind with a global microphone. This causes an extreme discomfort in most corporations. The many is now the customer and the one is the company (McKirchy-Spencer, 2011). The process of media convergences made it very easy to spread ones view, attitude or opinion across the world. Things being watched on TV, read in newspapers or just seen on the street can be easily spread by people to people in a very short amount of time. Consequently, this creates a very challenging task for PR agencies – to quickly identify the most relevant facts, news or stories created by the audience and act immediately to defend the company (Napoli, 2010).
In January 2013, the Telegraph released an article saying that a secret Coca-Cola recipe is discovered and revealed. Plenty of comments appeared demonstrating people‘s aversion about the drink (Henderson, 2011). Or, for example, the movie ‘‘Super Size Me‘‘, which was created to demonstrate harm to people‘s health caused by McDonald‘s food, was not only awarded in various festivals, but also attracted attention of online communities (The New York Times, 2003). Short clips and movie trailers where shared online, blogs and forums where also actively involved in this hot topic. PR agencies had to put a significant amount of work in order to protect the company and its product across different media (Zoromski, 2004). Such a huge corporations as Coca-Cola or McDonald’s are constantly facing criticism and rumouring and media convergence made it way more difficult for PR agencies to face it and defend their clients.
PR or ‘Brand Journalism’
All of the discussion above brings us to a question: so what is PR and what is a PR professional? Is he or she a blogger? A content provider? Reporter? Researcher? Probably the more we name the closer we will get to the right answer. However, some companies decided to choose another way and rather than trying to cover media with its presence they decided to become media (Coffee, 2012). Rather than trying to get through media gatekeepers HSBC and American Express created their own content delivery systems. HSBC’s ‘Business Without Borders’ and American Express’s ‘Open Forum’ legitimate media outlets where designed not for selling or marketing products, but for providing the target audience with relevant and valuable information via original content, media partnerships or guest writers (Coffee, 2012). This move seems to be an effort to forestall the events and rather than acting with the press, start acting as a press.
Conventional Advertising Media Model
Conventional Advertising Media
Since the middle of the 20th century untill the last decade of the 20th century media for advertising mainly covered television, press, outdoor, radio and direct marketing (Yeshin, 2006). During that period advertising practitioners understood the importance of consistency between the media, interaction with the audience and a need to make advertisements more preeminent in order to stand out and get people’s attention (Yeshin, 2006). Remaining consistent as well as outstanding across these five channels was perceived as a crucial and difficult challenge for successful advertising campaigns, however appearing media convergence and fragmentation at the end of 20th and the beginning of 21st century introduced more challenges for advertising to cope with.
Media Convergence and Fragmentation in Advertising
As we can see from figure 4 media options for advertising have increased significantly. Nevertheless, the need to remain consistent across media still remained. Media convergence also introduced a number of new ways to engage and interact with the audience and, in order to be successful, these ways have to be exploited, preferably in a creative and preeminent way (Bergstrom, n.d.). Consequently, the process of media convergence and fragmentation influenced the way advertising is being created and planned by introducing new challenges for advertising agencies.
One of the main models to be introduced when talking about audience fragmentation is a ‘Long Tail’ effect (Anderson, 2006). ‘Long tail’ effect suggests that the larger share of audience (population) resist within a tail of probability distribution, in other words, a sum of many small markets may worth more than a few large markets (Hagel, 2006). According to Anderson (2006), ‘Long tail’ and technologies are leading to an explosion of variety of choice which consequently leads us into tribal eddies. It does not reform the culture into different mass, but turns it into millions of microcultures. At this point the challenge for media planners and creative departments is to identify those micro-cultures in order to produce the most appealing message at the right time, in the right media, for the right audience. That seems to be more difficult as ever before, because even in the same media audience can be still widely distributed across it (Bergstrom, n.d.). For instance, in online media, target audience may gather at social networks, blogs, forums, video-sharing websites or even use all of them at once. Hundreds of television channels with thousands of different programmes also make it very challenging to indentify in which corner your target audience is hiding at the moment. In other words, audience can now be found in non-intuitive places (Morgan, 2012). Audience fragmentation also made media buying process more risky and difficult not only because audience is spread across many different channels, but also because of an ease for audience to quickly change their preferences on media choice.
Transformation from involuntary to voluntary (autonomous) audience
Another major issue media convergence has brought is a shift from passive to active audience (Rust & Oliver, 1994). With a new technological innovations and wide range of converged media, audience can now decide by themselves what to watch and what to skip, also what time to watch or where to watch a particular television programme. Advertisements created for television are no longer shown on television only and it is up to a viewer to decide what does he or she wants to do with these TV advertisements (Mueller, 2010). This does not necessarily mean that people are going to skip advertisements on TV and ignore them at all. It means that audience may see an advertisement in very different context than it was planned by media buyers (Napoli, 2010). Advertisement might be seen on a video sharing website, social networks, blogs, online TV and on variety of devices: TV, smartphones, laptops, ipads. Audience in engaged in different media and may share their interests across it. The challenge arising for advertising agencies is how to create advertisements which could travel across different contexts and reach target audience on different media (Napoli, 2010). Even though this challenge seems to be very difficult, some advertising agencies have successfully dealt with it by creating brilliant advertising campaigns. ‘’Gorilla’’ campaign launched for Cadbury Schweppes in 2007 proved that it is possible to exploit media convergence and become successful and prominent across different media. The advertisement was first showed during popular United Kingdom reality show Big Brother. It was watched by around 14% of British viewers. But not only television was a key factor to success. Shortly after it first aired, Gorilla advertisement was uploaded on YouTube video sharing website and was viewed by more than half a million people in a first week. In addition, about seventy social network ‘Facebook’ groups appreciating the advertisement were set up (Sandison, 2007). Furthermore, people also started to upload parodies of the advertisement on video sharing websites and discuss the Gorilla advertisement on blogs and forums (Sandison, 2007). This example proves that even though active and engaged audiences have made it more difficult to please them, if an advertisement manages to surprise and involve the audience, reward might be significantly bigger than it used to be.
A Different View on Audience Fragmentation and Convergence
A research conducted by Webster and Ksiazek (2012) brought to the table a little bit different view on audience fragmentation than it is widely perceived. The research was concentrated on two media: television and online. It basically tried to detect the relationship between distribution of audiences across TV channels and online brands. Results revealed that the ideological segmentation in media use is not that significant. The growing evidence is that despite a variety of choice, media content tends to replicate across platforms, consequently audience is overlapping across it. Thus, the way people move across media does not seem to produce highly polarized audiences (Webster and Ksiazek, 2012). Authors also suggest that audiences are likely to remain concentrated because of three main factors: different quality of media products, social desirability of media selections and media measures that inform user choices.
Increased quality of media products (i.e. digital video recorders) or ability to download content has provided audiences with an opportunity to avoid less desirable offerings. Audience will tend to concentrate on consuming only what the market has best to offer. Consequently, this reduces number of choices and concentrates the attention (Webster and Ksiazek, 2012). However, at his point it is arguable if the audiences have the same quality standards and perceive ‘the best’ in a same way.
Social desirability may affect audiences in a way they will gather at the most popular and common online communities. After watching a programme or sports event people now tend to express themselves and see what others are talking about it. This leads audiences to visit most popular social networks as Facebook or Twitter and fulfil the need for discussion (Nilsen Wire, 2010).
Lastly, media measures concentrate audiences by directing attention to the most popular products or outlets (Webster, 2010). Currently users are highly dependable on search and recommendations systems. Search engines are exposing the same ‘’best’’ results for a different audiences if their searching key words are similar. Salganik et al. (2006) study has demonstrated that audiences are highly affected by recommendations of products by other users. The results showed that downloaded music is powerfully affected by the choice of music songs of others. That is to say, media measures forms a kind of ‘’wisdom of crowds’’ which makes audiences more concentrated.
This different view of convergence and fragmentation does not drastically tell us that audiences have not changed and are concentrated at the same level they used to be. The increase of media choice undoubtedly makes public attention more varied than it was in the past. However, despite the variety of choice, there will always be the most popular or just common ways of interacting and using the media.
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