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How to stay ‘above the fold’ in a digital world

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With most publications migrating to a digital-first strategy, PR professionals have been left to determine what constitutes “above the fold” treatment for the stories we pitch. Unlike the days when media was largely made up of newspapers, magazines, TV, and radio, the definition of premium coverage is no longer clear. Does it mean having a story run as the first item in an e-newsletter? A story that gets reshared multiple times across a publication’s social channels? Being interviewed for a video as well as a written story?

Let’s dig deeper.

Being ‘above the fold’

According to Amy Laski, principal of Felicity PR in Toronto, the concept of above the fold comes down to whatever content attracts the biggest audience. While it may not seem obvious at first, the shift to digital may provide opportunities for us beyond hoping our client gets on the front page of a newspaper, she suggests.

“Thanks to better tracking, we know people will scroll and spend time on a site they like, looking for content that matches their interests,” she tells the Ottawa Citizen. “For PR people to figure out the best exposure for their story ideas, they need to start by knowing where their audience turns to first, the proverbial fold or front page. There’s no point investing in Facebook, for example, if your audience is primarily over on Instagram or YouTube.”

Sarah Shipley, CEO of Shipley Communications, agrees. Her firm tries to manage client expectations with a series of questions during the initial interview process.

“Every client’s version of above the fold or front page is different, and I try to adapt every campaign to not only fit the client but to have the most impact with the targeted audience for that campaign,” she says. “Many times the link to the story is just as important as the placement as the top story in a newsletter. The placement can be used to create new content, which in turn helps us create a stronger campaign.”

Customize pitches

Complicating matters is that as digital channels increase, staff sizes for media outlets are shrinking. Heather Atherton, owner of Atherton Public Relations in Rocklin, California, notes the last two years have been particularly challenging, with the number of dedicated beat reporters or journalists in the newsroom diminishing. Generating coverage may be less about the volume of stories a pitch produces and more about the quality and depth of that coverage, she says.

“I’ve focused on being very hands-on and customizing [the pitches] as much as possible — that’s where there’s more success,” Atherton advises. “You used to be able to just send out a press release. [The media] still want that press release, but if you’re looking for a big feature or a story with national reach, they often want to have it first, or exclusively.”

That attention to detail and special access to experts can pay off. While there is no fold on a website, there are still marquee areas, such as Editor’s Picks boxes that showcase particularly important stories.

“Nothing is a substitute for good content,” Laski says. “And the best content starts with the end audience in mind. What will they find interesting? What piques their curiosity? This has always been, and will continue to be, the shared interest between journalists and PR people, and what makes a great story.”

Think strategically

Sometimes, of course, factors outside of our control push a story away from the digital equivalent of above the fold. That’s why Atherton thinks more strategically – and holistically – about how stories can be developed and amplified.

“I try to have all of [our clients’] different marketing facets working together,” Atherton says. “PR is developed so that can get you that earned message, but it has to be leveraged through social media programs, and sometimes you have to leverage advertising, too.”

Shipley is a huge fan of geofencing and push notifications, which can drive earned media and sales, especially for large events. She has also worked with bloggers and influencers on marketing campaigns.

Ultimately, of course, any earned media coverage can have a significant business impact, even if it doesn’t get prominent placement. Partly as a result of downsizing, many media outlets are now syndicating content with partners, which means a story might get wider distribution or visibility than might have been possible a few years ago, Atherton points out.

As media continues to evolve, it’s important for us to determine what “above the fold” means in 2019 and beyond, and adapt accordingly, Shipley says.

“The paradox of choice is real when it comes to understanding client needs. The client often gets overwhelming options, so it is our role to narrow the field,” she says. “It’s our job to create integrated packages for clients that go well beyond the client goals.”


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