Beyond PR

Jan 26, 2011

When it comes to content, distribution matters


My first content distribution mechanism: my Burlington Hawk Eye paper bag

Or, Everything I Know About Content Marketing

I Learned from my Paper Route

I’ve always been a news junkie, and I put my money where my mouth is, subscribing to three papers – a daily I get on my Kindle, and two weekend editions of local papers delivered in hard copy.

Fact is, I would gladly subscribe to both local papers on a daily basis if they could guarantee delivery reliably before I have to leave for the train, and if they could ensure that the carrier would chuck the paper onto my porch.  They can’t do either, so I just get the weekend editions.  If they made it easy for me to access the content when and how I want it, I’d buy more.  I would subscribe all seven days!  But they don’t, so I don’t.   Simply put, I’m not going to get out of my car and fish a paper out of the ditch or dig around in my bushes to retrieve it as I’m on my way to the train.

When I peered out the window for the first time this morning to do the obligatory visual check of the weather, I noticed a bright orange bag at the end of my driveway.   A newspaper.  Today is Wednesday.  Why is there a newspaper on my driveway?

I fetched it, and called to report the error.  There was no error, I learned, I was now receiving the Wednesday – Sunday paper free as part of a promotion.   Great, I said, can I now subscribe Friday – Sunday, the option I would prefer but wasn’t previously available?  Well, no,  you can’t do that, I was told.  May I continue subscribing to Sunday only?  Yes, the agent said.  Then I’d like to continue doing that, I told the her, asking to decline the promo and just stick to my current subscription.  I knew from experience that unless I was explicit in these directions, my subscription would magically be “upgraded” at the end of the trial period, and I’d start to receive papers when I didn’t want them – after I had left for the train, and on a more regular basis.

This big paper continues to ignore a key aspect in the value chain, namely the very delivery of the content it so carefully crafts  — and the advertising it so desperately solicits.  I come by my expectations of newspaper delivery honestly:  I’ve been in the news distribution business since I was in seventh grade, when I became a paper girl for the Burlington Hawk Eye.   I delivered fifty papers on foot, pedaling to my route on my Schwinn Varsity, and then tramping around to each individual house.

Each customer received bespoke service, and I knew them all.  Mr. Wells preferred that I knock on his door and hand-deliver his paper (except  on Sunday mornings.)  Elderly, and living alone, I think he appreciated having someone check in and chat for a minute.  He was a really nice guy, and I happily obliged.   Mrs. Olson had me put the paper on a chair that sat on her enclosed front porch.  Mr. and Mrs. Francis (and many others) had a mailbox for specifically for the Hawk Eye, to protect it from the elements.  Many had me put the paper just inside the screen door.  Mr. Bray, terrifyingly, had no screen door, and asked that I just open the front door and flip the paper in.   I never got comfortable with that – it seemed intrusive – but that’s what he wanted, and that’s what he got.

Bespoke delivery was one part of the service.  My customers also appreciated my timeliness.  I got out of bed early on Sundays, flitting around my paper route in the dark, delivering the news before the first coffee pot was filled.  During the week, I was like clockwork.  Mr. Wells wasn’t the only retiree on my route – and many awaited my arrival and commented that they could set their clocks by my appearance.  When the weather was wet,  I wore a humongous raincoat, and slung my paper bag underneath, keeping the news of the day dry – my route pre-dated individually bagged papers.  Without question, the service I provided was part and parcel of the ‘customer experience’ if you will, of subscribing to the Hawk Eye.

Which brings me back to today, and the orange bag at the end of my driveway. Newspapers – like all the digital stuff we PR and marketing types create – are content.  And while producing interesting things your audiences wants to read, view and share is undoubtedly a keystone to any successful content strategy, the distribution piece is important too.    You have to give people what they want, when they want it,  how they want to receive it.

PR Newswire operates according to this principle. Our content is open and un-gated, easy to access.   We’ve taken the time to get to know our audiences (for details, see the recent series by Sandra Azzollini.)  PR Newswire for Journalists, in operation since 1997, is the only service of its kind in our business, enabling credentialed journalists and bloggers the ability to create highly customized news feeds for themselves on the fly.   We know they like it – they tell us when we talk to them, and over the last year, PRNJ users have viewed our client’s press releases more than 17 million times.  (On, the press release section had more than 44 million views last year.)

Comparison of traffic referred from search engines to major news release distribution web sites

The point is simple.  Distribution matters, whether you run an international wire service, a local newspaper, or are finalizing plans to distribute content online.    Know what content your audience wants, when they want it and how they want to receive it — and deliver accordingly.

Authored by Sarah Skerik, VP social media, PR Newswire, and paper girl emerita.

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