PR and News

Another way to buy news coverage

A while back, I posted about companies buying their way into the news.

Well, it turns out there’s a way regular folks like you and me can buy our way into the news too.


See, unless you’re famous, it turns out that you have to pay to have an obituary printed in the newspaper. (Technically, you pay for death notices; obituaries are news items written by the newspaper about newsworthy individuals. Practically, though, they appear in the same area of the newspaper and are less distinguishable from each other than are paid and free search results. (Wikipedia has a good history of obituaries here.)

In fact, according to NY Times Obituary Editor Bill McDonald (quoted in 2006 and cited in the wiki above), death notices are actually handled by the classified department, and compete for space with the news department’s obituaries. The news department gets half a page, more or less, depending on sales of death notices that day.

I’m sure many of you know this already. In fact, 3 out of 5 friends I’ve asked about it answered me sadly and said, “Of course,” barely able to conceal their surprise at my naivete. Then again, many of you may not know this. As I’ve said before, I am still amazed by how many people don’t know that the “sponsored links” search results on Google are paid for by advertisers!

But if  you’ve never been through the process, like my family went through these past few weeks, it may come as a shock to you.

And it’s not cheap. Prices range from tens of dollars per column inch to hundreds. And there aren’t even any guarantees the paper will have enough space to print the obit on the day you want it there. You have to pay for the online versions, too.

Of course, there are some places where you can get coverage for free. The smaller papers still do it. I guess that their desire to serve their community and their desperate need for relevant content outweigh the business opportunity.

But I wonder, in this day of declining circulation and profitability at traditional news organizations, if that same thinking shouldn’t prevail? Maybe, if these papers did a better job of doing the things they can do better than new media, they would stay relevant.

Now, I am not going to join the online battles about what newspapers do best (exemplified by Jeff Jarvis’s post last year) except in this one area: people still read their local newspapers to find out who died — even if their local paper is the NY Times.

The local broadcast or cable news won’t mention your mother-in-law’s death. CNN certainly won’t, unless she was a Kennedy, over 100, a rock star, or somone equally important like a celebutante (contrary to popular belief, an old description first used in 1939 by Walter Winchell in his On Broadway column).

Your RSS feed isn’t set up to bring you news of the deaths of people you didn’t know died. (Well, most people’s feeds aren’t, anyway!) It won’t show up on The Huffington Post, Digg, YouTube, AOL, MSN or MySpace. (Maybe Twitter will start an obituary service. Hey, you never know.)

So newspapers, listen up: you’ve lost the jobs section (even the NY Times Jobs section is a partnership with Monster). You’ve lost the real estate section. Fight for this one piece of journalistic real estate you can hold on to by providing a free service to those bereaving family members who are getting milked by every other aspect of the death industry. Maybe even give more than half a page to it. At the very least, you’ll increase your circ by everyone who had a relative who died in the last few days.

That said, can someone please explain to me where the names are inscribed of the multitudes who have shuffled off their mortal coil and disappeared from this earth with no public notice of their passing because their relatives were too poor to pay for the death notice or who had no relatives at all? (Because, contrary to what I naively thought, it sure ain’t the archives of the-former-paper-of-record, the NY Times.)

Social Media

Did The Energizer Bunny Think We Wouldn’t Talk About This?

Sometimes, when I’m talking with a prospect or a client about internet marketing and online brand/reputation management, and I tell them that there’s probably a conversation going on online about their brand or product, they dismiss the subject. I’ve had responses like “Nobody pays attention to bloggers” or “Our audience isn’t online” or “So few people will ever find out about this that we don’t need to worry.”

In response I trot out cautionary tales like Dell’s Burning Laptop Story or the Dell Hell story by Buzz Machine blogger Jeff Jarvis or the disgruntled Spirit Airlines passenger story I first found out about on B.L. Ochman’s wonderful What’ There’s also a good list of other “Brands Punk’d by Social Media” on the Forrester Interactive Blog.

So anyway, I found this photo-investigation by Mike Adams the other day about Energizer rechargeable batteries. It seems that buried within a D-sized case is a smaller rechargeable battery with the same power as a AA. Now, the post looks at this from the point of view of a possible conspiracy theory intended by the battery companies to sell inferior rechargeable batteries in order to push people back to the more profitable disposables, and I’m not going to touch that one at all.

But what I am curious about is why it seems that Energizer has ignored the online conversation about this product. Why they haven’t posted a response on blogs like this thread titled “Energizer “D” Battery Exposed” on the According to Quantcast, has a rank of 3,194 and gets over 2 million visits per month from over 803,000 unique people. In other words, an audience worth talking to. And the thread itself is wonderful. It gets 35 Stars, which seems like a good number of stars to me. Lots of data about batteries, and lots of discussion about the kind of marketing Energizer is engaging in. The general consensus (but by no means the only point of view) of the thread is that even though Energizer was honest on the packaging as to the charge, the D-shape of the outer casing of the battery would lead people to the conclusion that the battery functioned the way they thought a standard D-Battery would. There’s even some disapproval of the how the writer, Mike Adams, used his investigation to also sell a competitive brand of rechargeable batteries at the end of the article, and whether the article was in some way compensated.

All in all, an intelligent, sober, enthusiastic, and mutually-respectful conversation all about batteries, charges, chemicals, durations, branding, marketing, packaging, pricing, reporting, blogging and more. This is exactly the playground Energizer should be playing in. Did they join the conversation? Not that I could tell from reading the 5 page long thread.

Here’s a review on Amazon from last December. Did Energizer post a comment? Not at the time of this writing.

At this point in time, it amazes me that there are still professional marketers and advertisers out there who fail to recognize the importance of the internet and the conversations being had in tiny groups of 20 or 30 or larger groups of thousands and millions.

And yet, there are. Intelligent, successful, marketers who think Energizer is following the right strategy.

What I’m hoping is that one of them reads this post. Because I just don’t get the reticence to embrace social computing, social media, Web 2.0, whatever you want to call it. (By the way, Dell learned from their mistakes, engaged their community, took the hits and came out better for it!)

So, can someone please explain to me why Energizer didn’t engage this community, and why similar companies continue to make the same decision.