September 24, 2016

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

tronc: getting past the name for the real meaning

tronc: getting past the name for the real meaning

Media giant Tribune Publishing has unveiled a new name and rebranding effort that made it “internet famous” recently. The company has been fending off a hostile takeover by Gannett for a while and in the midst of this apparently decided that it was a good time for a rebranding. They unveiled the company’s new name, which is… “tronc.” The lower case is deliberate, because apparently “Tronc” was not quite odd enough. It stands for Tribune online content.

How have they explained this move?

A corporate news release announcing the name change explained that the company is now “a content curation and monetization company focused on creating and distributing premium, verified content across all channels.” Setting aside the extraordinarily high density of corporate buzzwords in that sentence, let’s take a look at what this statement might mean:

Content curation: essentially this means finding and presenting content that has value in an organized and meaningful way.

Monetization company: this means they would like to be paid for their efforts—content is not “free” for them.

Creating/distributing premium, verified content: I am hoping this means actual journalism. The “across all channels” is broad enough to mean just about anything, but my guess is media outlets—traditional and social.

What have they proposed that is new?

In parsing the phrase from the news release out, they will be offering content that is “premium” and “verified” across multiple media outlets and would like to be paid for it, please. This is pretty much the situation the media are currently in, so this is not new or revolutionary—but let’s move on to another phrase from the release.

The release goes on to state:

Our transformation strategy […] is focused on leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve the user experience and better monetize our world-class content in order to deliver personalized content to our 60 million monthly users and drive value for all of our stakeholders.

This is what appears to be different. The incorporation of AI and machine learning to refine and deliver content to paid users sounds to me a bit like a Facebook algorithm that learns what you like to click on and delivers more of that to your newsfeed.

What could this mean for PR?

As PR practitioners this could be seen as either good or bad. The good is that if you’ve successfully pitched a story to a tronc property, the AI will presumably deliver that content directly to an audience that wants to see it, and therefore will likely actually read it–yay! for accurate audience targeting. The bad comes into play if that “audience” represents only a fraction of readers, because now it’s no longer enough that you’ve landed a piece in a major media outlet—you’re going to have to figure out how to expand the audience through strategic sharing.

PR pros will be missing the “serendipity” of having that piece found by a reader who may be the perfect audience for the piece, but doesn’t fit the algorithmic profile—but wait—maybe in the monetization scheme you’ll be able to pay to have the piece distributed to a broader readership algorithmic profile. And just like that, the lines between earned and paid become blurred.

This is all conjecture of course—we won’t know exactly how tronc will change the media landscape until it begins to do so.

One final thought about this change is that even though this rebranding effort is ostensibly about appearing to be internet-trendy with its short name and lack of capitalization, no one bothered to secure the Twitter handle before making the name change and announcement. For a media company to make a mistake this basic in the year 2016 is a bit surprising.

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About The Author

Jennifer Zingsheim Phillips is the founder of 4L Strategies, and has worked in communications and public affairs for just over 20 years. Her background includes work in politics, government, lobbying, public affairs PR work, content creation, and digital and social communications and media analysis.

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