Edelman’s Steve Rubel on content disruption

August 6, 2013

The way that media consumption is changing today presents an “even bigger disruption to our practice than social media,” Steve Rubel, chief content strategist, Edelman, said at the 2013 Digital Impact Conference during his lunchtime keynote, “The Content Imperative.”

“I have been a communicator for eight thousand and sixty-two days,” Rubel said. “What I’ve seen take place in the last six months has surprised me by its spread and by its acceleration.”

Media is “the ground we walk on” as PR professionals, Rubel explained. But right now, “that ground is not stable.” And if the media is changing, then we must change also.

Despite this disruption, Rubel remains optimistic. However, he says practitioners must adapt and embrace new opportunities as the media converges.

“The Awareness Test”

“Everyone has a very different worldview of media,” Rubel said. “But the problem is that there is too much content and not enough time.”

Audiences are getting more fragmented, which means even the greatest stories can fall through the cracks. Traditional media outlets have lost their former resonance. “It requires a lot of rain now for people to realize they need to buy an umbrella,” Rubel said.

To illustrate this point, Rubel showed a YouTube video called “The Awareness Test,” which instructs the audience to count the number of times the team in white passes a basketball. Distracted by the choreographed routine, no one notices the moonwalking bear that passes through the 15-second scene.

“It’s easy to miss something you’re not looking for,” Rubel said. “We are all moonwalking bears.”

As a result, communicators need new strategies to stand out.

PR practitioners can take a cue from how journalists are adapting to this new landscape. Rubel discovered a stylistic divide in the way the media industry tells stories that communicators should replicate in their own programs.

“There’s a difference between news you read and news you say you’re reading,” Rubel said. “One is to elevate your private self, and the other is to elevate your public self. We have to be thinking about that constantly in the way we tell stories.” Egos drive the sharing economy on social sites.

The business of content

Today, more media companies are willing to collaborate with brands to place sponsored content — even the AP started posting paid tweets on their Twitter feed.

Rubel discussed three economic trends that demonstrate how the media business model is changing:

  1. The Internet thrives on abundance, while the media loves scarcity. There is little mass-reach media anymore, Rubel said. Even Oprah struggles to “aggregate a lot of eyeballs” at the same time in one place. Consumers are in a state of constant partial attention.
  2. Media companies can’t monetize Internet subscriptions. The cost of online ads has also dropped, making it difficult for the media to generate revenue via digital content.
  3. Brands and corporations now feel confident that they can tell their own story their own way. Organizations are more confident in their social channels, and believe they can bypass traditional outlets to communicate their message directly to the public through a converged media model.

As a result of these shifting economic realities, the lines between media, public relations and marketing will continue to blur. While it may be uncomfortable, PR professionals have to embrace this change in order to thrive.

“In this environment, content is no longer optional. It’s imperative,” Rubel said. “It starts with good storytelling. But I advise you to think about how it becomes part of a paid strategy because that’s where the future of the industry is going.”  — Kyra Auffermann

Check out #PRSADIConf as told through social media posts here, or follow @PRSAevents for news on upcoming PRSA events.


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