As media expand, so do opportunities for businesses

On Oct. 9, 1986, the Fox Network launched, with 88 affiliates across the country. At the time, most experts ridiculed the notion that a fourth network could challenge the dominance of the Big Three. No doubt executives at NBC, CBS, and ABC found themselves snickering, too.When Fox took to the airwaves with its first show, featuring Joan Rivers, it did so in a year that saw CNN celebrate its fifth anniversary. Big Three news anchors Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings and Dan Rather still weren’t particularly concerned by the role of cable news.We realize today that these events represent some of the early seeds of change in the modern media. It seems now that every day a new media outlet launches, with the introduction of more cable channels, blogs, Twitter and Facebook accounts, local news sites, and more. TV stations have launched websites and are writing articles. Newspapers now ask their reporters to record interviews and events to put video online. Radio interviewers are carrying cameras. Bloggers get media credentials and traditional reporters have been asked to start blogs by their employers.As a business owner, this creates a challenging landscape to understand. It’s no longer a matter of flipping through a few network newscasts, picking up two or three local newspapers, and reading a handful of trade publications to understand the media coverage that matters.Local businesses must now concern themselves with online sites like AOL’s Patch that seek to unseat struggling small newspapers. In some communities, an individual blogger may have influence on par with the local newspaper editor. And this doesn’t even take into consideration websites like Yelp or TripAdvisor, which allow consumers to effectively become journalists themselves by writing easily searchable reviews of local businesses.For businesses looking to engage customers beyond community to state boundaries, the proliferation of new media creates even more challenges. Instead of relying on a few well-known industry trade publications, one may now find more folks read the blog of an industry expert. Customers can promote or pan a company on their own blog. And the businesses themselves now often get into the content production game, effectively becoming their own publisher as a marketing tactic.Understand the landscapeThe expansion of media challenges business leaders to adjust their marketing, media and monitoring strategies.From a marketing standpoint, it is no longer obvious where to direct advertising dollars. Gone are the days when a local business sends its business to the local newspaper and radio station – or perhaps a local network affiliate, if the budget allows. Advertising may now be focused online, not just on local news and blog sites, but even on national websites, using geographic targeting and featuring impact measurement tools.From a media outreach perspective, the explosion of outlets significantly increases the odds that a business can generate coverage for itself.In years gone by, media outlets had hard limits on the amount of content they could distribute. TV and radio had only so many minutes to program and newspapers and magazines had a set amount of column inches available to fill. Today, virtually every media outlet buys bandwidth by the barrel and can publish a limitless amount of text, audio and video content online. While this gives businesses more options, it makes it more difficult to identify the best targets.And not all influential bloggers or other new media mavens even want to be pitched on stories – many find the idea of dealing with public relations professionals to be extremely distasteful, in fact.Staying on top of what gets said about a business and its competitors has changed dramatically, too. Knowing what gets said on all of these websites and news outlets matters because it can impact revenue and profitability. And now there’s more content to sift through than ever before.Years ago, businesses would get hand-cut paper news clips mailed to them weeks later. Today, media monitoring services deliver the latest news electronically in nearly real-time.Businesses should not lament the loss of the narrow media landscape. The expansion of media coverage ultimately helps reach more people with better information. To succeed with traditional and new media today, businesses must simply strive to understand the landscape, track their coverage and take advantage of increased opportunities to communicate with potential customers.Chip Griffin is founder and CEO of CustomScoop, a Concord-based company that monitors traditional and social media.