Chris Sullivan
Managing Director @ MacMillan Communications

First, there was a kind of atomization of the media – traditional outlets saw readership decline amidst a proliferation of online vehicles. Readers went in a thousand different directions, attracted by new outlets that were optimized differently – with more specialized content and features generally designed to appeal to a younger audience.

Traditional media responded by moving online. Some were effective in maintaining a subscription-based model. Others experimented with different metrics – readership demographics and number of visitors, for example.  Some made money, some went out of business, but all agreed that the old way of doing things was gone forever.

As is often the case, public relations experienced similar challenges, though for somewhat different reasons. The proliferation of outlets meant there were lots more places to go with news; more tailored outlets created the opportunity to pitch more niche stories. But at the same time, it made it more difficult to find an aggregated audience, diluting the potential impact of any one story. It was  now necessary to be in more places, with more frequency, to achieve similar results.

This matters in some areas more than others. With investing and retirement products like ETFs and mutual funds, the goal is generally to reach as many middle and upper middle class households as possible, the so-called mass affluent. Millennials are good, too, as they are considered to be the next generation of investors. Perhaps most important of all for the fund world are advisors, who can quickly drive significant assets. But this is getting harder all the time. The digital revolution started it rolling, but mobile has now come along to add a whole new layer of complexity.

For several years, research has shown that fewer and fewer visitors arrive at most news websites through the homepage. They come from all points of the compass – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google, and elsewhere – following references to specific content, or references from trusted influencers. Marketers have identified “last touch attribution” as one way of trying to track these pathways. This flags the site visited immediately prior to the destination site. But even that is now outmoded, as it’s increasingly clear that the path to that “last touch” is a winding one. It may include websites, but it is also influenced by social media, offline interactions, and even traditional outlets like print and broadcast. In other words, when it comes to leveraging media to reach investors (or any audience), we’re increasingly living in what might be called a non-linear world in which a story in one outlet may or may not be seen based on the influence of a not easily understood broader network of connections.

This insight is having a significant impact on how marketers approach their work, but it also applies to public relations. It essentially says two things, one known, one still evolving: 1) there are fewer places to find large, desirable audiences, and, 2) the individuals who find their way in numbers to these places do so through a circuitous route.  As such, it’s increasingly necessary to generate visibility across multiple channels to truly establish an idea in the marketplace.