For more than 20 years, Sam Whitmore has been one of the best friends a PR pro can have. His Media Survey bundles reporter profiles, industry analysis and custom research, providing invaluable insights to help practitioners better navigate a rapidly-changing media landscape.
Kicking off his fall 2018 visits to practitioners and members of the press, Sam stopped by InkHouse’s Waltham HQ last week and sat down with me to talk about the evolving world of technology journalism, paid media, and the future of investigative journalism, among other topics.
Q: Why is it harder to secure earned media these days for B2B tech companies?
A: Well, there are the obvious reasons — with consolidation, there are fewer publications and fewer reporters who have to cover more. But we’re at an interesting point in the timeline of technology — there’s all sorts of amazing things going on, things like drones, futuristic medicine, the colonization of space. The challenge is that none of that is stuff you can buy today.
But the people who have money to spend for communications are not mining copper on the moon — it’s the cloud companies, EHR providers, things like that. It’s definitely harder to get coverage because there are so many bright, shiny objects right now. If I’m a reporter, am I going to want to write about what’s amazing tomorrow, or what’s available today?
Q: The paid media landscape has changed. What advice would you give for companies considering dipping a toe into paid media opportunities?
A: Like anything else, I would start with asking what are your goals? If your goals are to deposition a competitor, paid media isn’t the place to do that. But if your goals were to recruit talent or change your brand by 45 degrees, that might not be a bad way to do it. If you really analyzed it, not a lot of busy reporters are going to write stories about incremental brand change — which is why paid media would make sense.
Q: Can you tell me a bit about the MuckRock Sam Whitmore Media Survey fellowship? What inspired it?
The Fellowship helped establish a year's worth of employment for a young, aspiring journalist who wants to specialize in the Freedom of Information Act, which is still on the books. With the Freedom of Information Act, you can petition federal, state or local authorities to release documents that are relevant to communities, to businesses. Basically, if the taxpayer paid for it, it's the public's right to be able to see it.
There are exceptions. Things are redacted, things are held, but for the most part, any public document ought to be retrievable and read by the public. The Fellowship is an annual outlay, annual contribution that I make to help pay for a young person to specialize in this particular kind of journalism.
The first fellow is Jessie Gomez. She worked in politics in LA and moved to Boston. She is posting Slack events and sharing tips and tricks for how you elicit documents from state and local governments who don't necessarily want to get rid of them. Sometimes they'll charge you. Sometimes they'll tell you to go take a hike. This organization, Muck Rock, will help people get around the obstacles that these bureaucrats throw out there.
If anybody wants an example of what's cool about this thing, every slide deck that was submitted to Amazon in the competition for HQ2, those are public. Muck Rock is building a page on their website that you can go and just page through, slide by slide, what various cities promised Amazon. You wouldn't believe some of the things.
You can unearth stories that are very important. We don't want to live in a world where [investigative journalism] and other things we took for granted suddenly go away. There's certainly a heightened appreciation of it.