SABEW explores building audiences and working with companies

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sabew03042010

Panel discussions at the fall Society of American Business Editors and Writers conference in New York touched on topics ranging from how to increase revenue and audiences to social media best practices.

Nearly everyone agreed that the best way to attract and retain audiences was to produce quality content and deliver value. Sitting on the panel were Josh Tyrangiel, editor of Bloomberg Businessweek; Nik Deogun, senior vice president and editor of business news at CNBC; and Gary Silverman, U.S. News editor at the Financial Times.

“People don’t read out of obligation anymore,” Tyrangiel said. “You want to use everything you’ve got to impress people that you care.”

It’s important for business organizations to smartly explain business news, especially complicated stories, Deogun said. Journalists are paid to analyze events and present balanced facts.

The conversation turned to advertising and placement online. Tyrangiel said his vision was for fewer ads on the page and higher quality views for advertisers. He said companies need to consider building more customized ads in order to better engage audiences.

On the social media front, all of those on the panel talked about how to engage people in the conversation, especially on their mobile devices. Bloomberg created a specific social media policy and trained every reporter on it. Everyone agreed that social media created another important way to reach an audience and integration into current platforms would happen more quickly.

Journalists and public relations executives discussed the best way to work with each other in one of the day’s later panels. Author and New York Times reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin and Vanity Fair contributor Bethany McLean were joined by Bill Hensel of Invesco, Ben Deutsch, vice president of public relations at Coca-Cola; Herbert Winokur, CEO of Capricon Holdings, and Stephen Labaton, former New York Times reporter and partner at RLM Finsbury.

Much of the conversation was about the state of distrust between companies and the financial media. Labaton said the level of cynicism had increased, partly due to the rise of some journalists as pundits. Since the line is being blurred between reporting fact and analysis, it can lead to a lack of access or mistrust.

Some of the mistrust comes into play when companies try to front-run stories or keep reporters from breaking news. All on the panel agreed that it is important to establish a relationship. Over time, that’s what helps public relations people make the case to their executives for talking to reporters about stories or sitting down for interviews.

Panelists also discussed the recent controversy over quote approvals. Deutsch said that he would never ask for approvals, but appreciated it when reporters would review what was said for accuracy.

Sorkin said the real reason for quote approval was to limit what was published. Television is always on the record, while those who ask to do interviews on background and review quotes are trying to limit what is published.

McLean said she had real sympathy for executives who have no incentive to speak on the record. She said she would rather have the conversation and not use any of the information on the record than not know what the interviewee thought.

Several of the public relations executives also agreed companies were struggling to find the right way to use social media. Blogs and other tools should be additive to the coverage and not try to front-run stories reporters bring to them.

Most of those on the panel agreed that there should be a shift back to more dialogue and openness on the part of both companies and journalists. While the adversarial relationship was built into the relationship, both sides agreed people should listen and remain open to having a conversation.