Notes from a dying medium

After last week's information session where representatives from Prince George's traditional media outlets met with local non-profit groups to discuss how TV, radio and print could help market their fundraisers and community events, there was a talk Wednesday about what digital marketing can do for local business.

To open her talk, the RTown sales rep cheerfully referred to traditional media and specifically newspapers as a "dying medium." To reinforce her point, she included that phrase in her PowerPoint presentation.

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So here was someone giving advice to business people about knowing their audience who clearly either didn't know or didn't care about the three Citizen employees in the room.

She then trotted out a whole bunch of statistics in some nice slides about how online marketing and social media engagement with customers is the cheap and easy way for businesses large and small to reach new customers and boost sales.

People are now on their smartphones for five hours a day, she told the audience of 25. One audience member was so amazed that she took a picture of the slide.

But if only it were true.

People are, indeed, on their smartphones for four hours and 48 minutes per day... in Brazil.

A quick online search found the source of the RTown rep's claim and the deeper truth behind it. Canadians actually spend an average of two hours and 10 minutes per day on their smartphones, not five.

OK, so she misinterpreted some data and incorrectly reported it to an audience. The Citizen does that all the time! Throwing stones from your glass house, aren't you?

Fair enough but the RTown song and dance didn't stop with a dismissive wave at a "dying medium" and misquoting data.

The bulk of the presentation was how the incredible reach of Google and Facebook connects businesses with customers. Look at all the fabulous statistics Google and Facebook provide to show the depth of their audience, with specific numbers to show that an advertiser's message has reached its intended target, based on their age, sex, income, search queries and so on.

Amazing!

Just one question...

Where does this data come from?

Google and Facebook, of course.

So, let's get this straight. Google and Facebook are selling access to their audience and backing up their claims with their own data to show it works. In other words, they're saying everyone should take their word for it that those numbers are correct, even though it's obviously in their best interests to boost their numbers so customers will spend more.

Isn't there some third-party analysis to back up their claims?

Nope.

Google and Facebook guard their algorithms and audience data with as much secrecy as Coke guards its soft drink recipe. Google and Facebook are black boxes - huge amounts of information goes in but only what Google and Facebook want to share with the public goes out and obviously only what's good for Google and Facebook.

Meanwhile, traditional media hire independent third-party researchers to study the marketplace to discover who their audiences are, where they are and how frequently they listen, watch or read. The Citizen, as well as our friends at The Jim Pattison Group (CKPG, 101.3 The River, 99.3 The Drive, CKPGToday.ca) and Vista Radio (97 Country, 943 The Goat, myprincegeorgenow.com) openly share that data with their customers.

We do that because we're local businesses and we recognize that when local businesses succeed, we all succeed, even if we don't make the sale. All three local traditional media outlets, including this "dying medium," have sophisticated digital marketing strategies and knowledgeable staff to help deliver not just Facebook likes and a top ranking on a Google search but customers and sales, the only results that matter in the end.

All three local traditional media outlets also pour millions of dollars back into Prince George every year, not just through the wages of their talented and devoted employees, but also through corporate generosity, sponsorships, in-kind giving and employee volunteering. One, two and sometimes all three outlets are partners behind every major arts, sports and fundraising event in Prince George.

What about Google and Facebook?

Just like with the data, the money goes in but nothing goes back out to the communities they supposedly serve.

Well, not quite.

Google is great about helping people find violent pornography and Facebook will happily host groups for racists who think no one with brown or black skin should be allowed to immigrate to Canada.

RTown and every other digital marketing company see no value in the traditional media because all of the cool kids and their dollars are online.

Well, since we're a dying medium with no value, the folks at RTown shouldn't care too much about this editorial because no one read it, right?

-- Editor-in-chief Neil Godbout

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