The effect of the printing press on the world was a documented big deal, but history may show that it was nothing when compared with the advent and advance of the internet as a mechanism to disseminate content instantly around the world. While the printed page and book allowed the number of readers to be expanded massively, the emerging internet allows there to be millions of writers. Where in times of old publishing and broadcasting required huge capital investments, today’s aspiring media mogal need only access to the internet.
I believe that the ability for fans, experts and entrepreneurs to develop new channels and outlets benefits niche sports, but change produces different reactions. Not everyone is ready to accept the new self appointed media.
Inspired by a great series of blogs by Christy Hammond, I decided to ask a few sailing PR people about the importance of bloggers.
Blogging has different meanings to different people, but sailors should understand it better than most. Rather than a captains-log, the word blog is derived from web-log and early examples were not much more than diaries published directly to the internet. Today, blogs can range from 140 characters of ‘what am I doing’, popularised by micro-blogging site Twitter, to online magazines. For the purposes of PR and sport, there are three main types.
- Fan or personal Blogs – produced by individuals who are so passionate about their favourite sport, team or hero that they share their enthusiasm online. Some are humourous, some are critical, some are just an outlet. Many of these fans are highly knowledgable and influential. Sailing has some a couple of big ones like Valencia Sailing, but not so many ‘fan’ blogs.
- Competitor or Team Blogs – Often instigated by sponsor marketing teams who ‘get’ the media more quickly than some PR companies, some sports properties are cutting out the media altogether and publishing straight to fans and stakeholders. The competitor blog, like Mike Golding’s has been one of the things that has made offshore sailing relevant, with recent examples from the Vendee Globe and Volvo Ocean Race making compelling reading.
- Expert or Journalist Blogs – Many publications, especially those published monthly, accentuate their printed opinion with smaller online stories in the form of blogs. These can include ‘personal’ comments by journalists or material that just didn’t make it into the printed edition. Some freelance journalists also publish stories directly to their own sites like Andy Rice’s Sail juice Blog
My question to the great and good of Sailing PR didn’t make a distinction between different kinds of bloggers. I was just curious to know how important they are to the promotion of sailing.
In fact, my quite unstructured question was….
Of the people you send press-releases to on sailing related matters, how many would you class as ‘bloggers’? Any other thoughts you have on the importance of bloggers to PR would be welcome too.
The responses were a real mixed bag and most of the PR people who responded requested not to be quoted.
On the question of numbers, the responses ranged from 0% to 25%, but it was the perceived value of those people where opinion was different. Bernard Schopfer from MaxComm makes a great argument that the technology platform is irrelevent to the debate saying:
Some bloggers are real opinion leaders and we value them a lot. I think that many mainstream media have underestimated the importance of Internet and left a gap that is now being occupied by other media (individuals, bloggers…). If you look at the word “media”: it means an intermediate between the public and the source of the information.
At the end of the day, it’s really only the reputation of the people and their consistency in supplying valuable information over a long period that will make them credible. Those who do a good job can become a real source of information that even the professional journalists will use for their mainstream publications.
Others are more cautious. Many of the respondants are happy to have their press-releases picked up by ‘bloggers’ but make no active effort to develop relationships with them the way they might do a ‘real’journalist. Some consider bloggers a complete waste of time and waste no effort on them. Some equate bloggers with those who comment on forums or message boards and therefore associate them with extremist viewpoints and, dare I say, anarchy.
Many respondants also don’t include coverage by blogs in numbers when reporting to clients or provide clippings suggesting that without the recognised masthead the coverage is somehow diminished.
As a brand guy, I want to know that my message is being consumed by my target audience. To my mind, being featured on an influential blog could be more important than getting coverage on a generic news platform. Many PR people still don’t make any distinction between quality and quantity or understand that that influence and reach are not the same thing. It’s not how many people are reading or watching – it’s who are they? Actually it is how many AND who they are.
The fact is that there are relatively few people who blog about sailing as a sport. I don’t suppose that any sailing events are overun trying to process media credentials from bloggers, unlike other sports where media relations teams have specific blogger policies.
I’m not sure yachtsponsorship.com is a blog, but it is a non-traditional outlet. I have always found that sailing PR companies, on the whole, welcome my interest in the properties they represent. When I started this site there were several PR companies that pro-actively sent me press-releases while others are more than happy to accredit me as media when I make the request. A couple consider the site irrelevancy and do their clients a dis-service by refusing to present requests for interviews or consistently respond “no comment”.
If you are in PR then you need to make it your business to know who the influencers are online, just as you would make it your business to know the feature editors of the magazines in your industry or the beat reporters that cover your sector (if they still exist).
The media landscape will continue to change. Media relations and PR people need to understand how to use online channels the way they understand traditional media. Bloggers can be allies and evangelists. In 2006, Ted Leonsis, owner of the Washington Capitals, discovered offwingopinion.com, a hockey blog, while searching for information on his team. He was so impressed with the writer’s hockey knowledge that he invited him to a game two days later.
NHL policy denied independent bloggers media credentials, but Leonsis’ invitation gave the offwingopinion.com writer access to the owner’s suite and the owner himself. In other words, more access than any other media-person leaguewide could hope for. That visit became the subject of a blog on offwingopinion.com, and it highlighted what Leonsis believes will be the next way for teams to use the ever-expanding world of new media.
“Traditional media is being marginalized with shrinking circulation and tough ad-sales climates at the same time blogs are growing in importance and reach,” Leonsis said. “It makes good business sense to welcome in new media.”