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Friday, July 27, 2012

Construction marketing and journalistic integrity

Late at night on a summer weekend, I'm thrashing through a business and marketing challenge.  Is there a way to employ "sales journalists," that is, individuals with a good sense of journalistic and writing (and videoing and new media) technology, who are not afraid to think about things from a business as well as journalistic perspective?

Our business challenge is content creation:  We have several websites which need frequent updating with solid content.  (We also have print and e-publication media for the architectural, engineering and construction community.)

Plenty of people want to be journalists/writers.  Some have real talent, others not.  Not so many people want to be sales representatives.  This is because, I suppose, to be good at sales, you have to have a rather special personality -- to be confident enough in yourself to work with really senior people; and the strength to combine a sense of what needs to be done with enough thick skin to handle rejection.

Of course, "pure" journalists can be expensive for a media company.  The costs of paying for the writing, plus supporting services, has to be absorbed somehow -- and that is usually from advertising.  However, direct revenue generation from new media is a fraction of what can be earned traditionally.  In other words, you need to be able to generate a lot more content in the web-world at a much lower cost than you would in the old conventional media.

Problems are compounded by the shift in advertising revenues, meaning traditional media is under increasing stress, resulting in job loss and a serious decline in conventional journalistic quality.

Hence, my thinking about the "sales journalist".  A web search for this phrase comes up with some advertorial-type publications in Singapore.  It also suggests there is a slippery slope of integrity issues here.

I've never seen these issues as being life-critical, in part because effectively I've been a "sales journalist" for more than 20 years, from the day I started my own publishing business.  I realized quickly enough that writing abilities and journalistic integrity can be combined with the actual leadership and operation of a business, if you own the enterprise.  Yet I know quite well that selling the company's soul for some quick cash and never covering issues of real concern or newsworthiness, without worrying about adverting, is the kiss of death for a publication.

So how does new media compete? Well, consider Facebook and YouTube, for example.  The key is "user generated content."  People upload their own stuff, with minimal if any publisher's editing, and this traffic/audience generates enough eyeballs to interest the advertisers.  (Google has taken things a step further by paying a revenue share of upwards of 70 cents on the dollar to its media contributors -- in essence, sharing the advertising revenue with the contributors who provide the content.)

These concepts work on very large -- and very small -- scales quite effectively.  The challenge is for the business somewhere in the middle.  Can we make it work by setting up some sort of user-generated advertising share reward program within our regional construction publications?  In other words, in place of a fixed, guaranteed hourly pay or freelance fee, the writer/journalist would receive a "cut" of the advertising revenue, much like a sales rep receives a commission.  What would be a fair share, in that case.  And how would we "market" this opportunity to make it appealing and enticing to the potential sales journalists?

Food for thought, I suppose, early on a summer Saturday morning.  If you are a journalist and would like to take a more business-focused approach to the work/life challenge, please communicate with me.  You can also visit our advertising sales site at

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