Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Print Stains on My Fingertips are Starting to Fade

I know a big secret. A lot of people know about it, but few are willing to talk. It could throw the entire newspaper and magazine publishing business into turmoil. Here it is: An increasing number of publication houses are making more money from their online versions than from their print editions. The media won’t publicize this story because it could result in the beginning of the end for many print periodicals.

It started happening last year, but really picked up in the fourth quarter when online advertising became more popular, hip, cutting edge, and savvy. Corporate marketers and the advertising world started experimenting with strategically-placed ads on search engines, newspapers, and magazines, and found very high responses. All of a sudden the ability in a digital publication to dynamically place an automobile ad next to editorial about the car industry became very sexy.

The advertising industry has fallen in love with the concept of buying space next to online stories that are associated with their client. For example, if I was the ad agency for General Motors, I could ask the New York Times to place my client’s ad next to any major or minor automobile story in their business section for a certain period of time. That means if any competitor to my client scores an editorial announcement, General Motors is right there, too, reinforcing its message.

This new means of advertising is driving companies with smaller advertising budgets crazy. Every time they manage to get an editorial hit, they can expect their deep pocket advertising competitors to be right next to them reminding the world of their existence. HWH PR/New Media is getting calls from current clients, former clients, and potential ones asking us if we can help them beat the new system. Two days ago, a client that is in the digital signage business issued a major funding press release. The good news was that it got picked up by their hometown’s online newspaper. The sad news was that their major competitor -- who they have been trying to beat to death for years -- magically displayed their multimedia ad right next to the story.

Advertising tricks like this one, plus so many others, are causing online sales to soar like crazy. Plus, a lot of publishers have privately told me that their costs for printing and distribution are at an all-time high and they’re losing more money than they would ever admit. Digital publications cost relatively little to publish, are much timelier (most publications are issuing minute-to-minute online news with the post time so readers immediately know how fresh the story is), and never run out of editorial space. Stories that used to get cut because of editorial space considerations are now prominently listed in a much more current and fashionable style.

Another major element that is causing the print death of certain publications is the ability to use a search engine for information that we all formerly secured from our print informants. I personally am finding it less and less important to get my decorating magazines by mail each month when all I have to do now is Google “minimalist contemporary furniture” and receive thousands of pages of information. Yes, I still like getting the monthlies, but the need is just not as great. A friend of mine used to rely on his monthly computer mags to tell him the hottest trends for his trade. Now he reads everything online and has cancelled his subscriptions.

The digital frontier has certainly changed the lifespan of print. Many of my friends who told me a year ago that they would never read a newspaper online are now turning on their computer in the morning with their first cup of coffee. The minute publications start to figure out a way they can shut down their print versions without signaling a major negative spin on themselves, you will see a lot of empty spaces on the newsstands.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Desperate Actress

I just can’t imagine what Kirstie Alley and her PR reps were thinking when she created “Fat Actress” (Showtime, Monday, 10 p.m.) It’s one thing to resurrect your career with a comedy about being fat, but it’s another thing all together to portray yourself as being fat, dumb and trashy. I know this new series is not reality TV, but it is semi-autobiographical. Her performance almost makes Anna Nicole Smith look scholarly. Has Kirstie Alley lost her mind?

From my PR perceptive, it’s okay to tell the world you are fat and you can’t stop eating. But why let the world know that you have a trailer park mentality and have no intention of changing? Everyone will think that’s who she really is and assume she just got lucky with Cheers and Look Who’s Talking (1, 2, and 3).

A few years from now, if Kirstie manages to lose some weight, she will look at this series and cringe. I can see it all now… Press releases will be issued -- “Scientology made me do it,” she will scream. “I didn’t know what I was doing. I was in some other dimension.”

It might already be too late. Perception is everything and no one will ever forget this. Even the most ardent PR agent is going to have trouble erasing images of Kirstie tossing her weight around, trying to seduce anyone who will look her way and eating anything that is not nailed down.

I also don’t know who advised Jeff Zucker, President of television for NBC Universal, that it was good for his image to appear on this show using the F-word (not fat) after seeing Kirstie for the first time in years. “She is so F-ing Fat,” he repeatedly said (in character) to other NBC executives after meeting with her to discuss a possible TV series. Zucker is supposed to be a man of decorum, smarts, creativity, might -- an award-winning television executive. He looked and acted like he was in the ‘hood.

It upsets me that USA Today and the New York Times gave decent reviews to indecent programming. “Fat Actress” should have had an R rating for Raunchy and Ridiculous. I don’t understand how Robert Bianco of USA Today can compare “Fat Actress” to the partly improvised “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” One is clever; the other is desperate. Someday, Kirstie will understand the difference.