The New Media Relations

When you pull up your media list to do story pitching for a client what information are you looking at? A phone number? An email address? Maybe even the occasional fax number? What about links to their professional (and not so professional blogs)? Are you friends on Facebook? Have you been chatting on Twitter?

My guess is it depends on the client and whether you’ve made that leap yet. (If you’re vying for JetBlue as a client you definitely are because they don’t even want to hear your agency pitch if you can’t find their VP on Twitter.) As clients both big and small start to appreciate the value in a blog post that makes its way steadily through the Twittersphere as much as the 200 word write up on the launch of their new service we will have to rethink what it means to communicate with journalists and which ones we really want to reach in the first place. Is it the guy at the local news desk or the popular local blogger that finds her way to the hippest events in town and brings the crowd with her?

Some big companies are starting to bet on the bloggers. The obvious, and much talked about example, is Chevy’s unabashed attempt to take social media by storm with a South by Southwest invasion that included road trips to Austin in Chevy vehicles by well-connected social media users who shared their experiences via Twitter, blog posts, Flickr, and YouTube, as well as a flood of Chevy vehicles offering free rides to conference goers. Chevy even invited some geek superstars like Robert Scoble and Guy Kawasaki to an exclusive test-drive of their teched-out Chevy Volt and probably got the best SXSW endorsement of the year, Scoble saying “The geeks will love it.” The idea? Provide an influential, prone to sharing group with the Chevy experience, hope they love it, and hope they get a couple thousand of their closest digital friends to check it out.

By most accounts Chevy has been lauded for their effective influencer marketing strategy and ability to leverage others’ social networks to change perceptions and build awareness of the new line of Chevy’s, rather than going the traditional trade publication and auto show route (which I am sure they will still do, but it’s significant that the launch focused on social media). I agree that it was fantastic digital media relations outreach that showed the multi-platform, far-reaching impact of stories shared on social media outlets. Chevy also gets props for doing their homework and understanding their audience. No hard sells here, no press releases, and no “you can share this, but you can’t share that” legal documents were handed out to the participants. Instead, Chevy accepted the loss of control for the big payoff of being readily accepted by a group of users that tend to be pitch and brand skeptical.

What I feel uneasy about is Chevy’s vitural non-existence on these platforms before they dished out big bucks for an SXSW sponsorship, hauling a fleet of cars to Austin, and organizing interactions with top influencers who did the engaging for them. I get that they’re playing catch up here, trying to insert themselves into this space in time for the launch of their first line of cars that make sense for the typical social media users. It would have taken time to build an authentic, loyal community and the influencers already have that (Chevy has 3000 followers on Twitter, Guy Kawasaki has over 200,000).

But this is a bad lesson for your average brand that doesn’t have the resources to buy their way into the space. The same rules of listening and actively engaging your customers have to be followed, even by the big guys. Hopefully in the next couple of months Chevy will start participating in the conversation in a more active way, capitalizing on the jump-start they got from a digital media relations blitz at South by Southwest.

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