PRNewser Interview: Michael Learmonth, Advertising Age

Today’s PRNewser interview is with Michael Learmonth, digital advertising and media reporter for Advertising Age. Learmonth spent several years covering the media and entertainment business for Variety and Reuters America prior to his most recent stint as Senior Editor at Silicon Alley Insider. He marks the second high profile defection from Alley Insider, along with Managing Editor Peter Kafka, who left for Dow Jones’

Learmonth, along with other industry leaders, warns Web 2.0 startups in his story today that in these trying economic times, the “build it and the advertising dollars will come” model isn’t nearly as promising as it once was. Says Learmonth, “If advertising was your panacea, better think of something else and quick.”

What are some of the biggest differences in writing for AdAge and Variety compared to your previous gig at Alley Insider?

I think that a lot of the mainstream news organizations and the trades are becoming more blog like with what they do on the web.

I think the blog is a good way to process a lot of kinds of news and a way to comment on the news. But obviously it doesn’t give you a chance to go deep into certain things, or address more feature-like topics.

What about in terms of reporting?

You have to think of a blog – you are putting out nuggets as you’re getting them. At a trade pub you do all your reporting before you write, and that’s what I’m doing.

Is AdAge looking to further expand its digital coverage?

They were looking to expand and that’s why they wanted me to be here. It’s Abbey [Klaassen] and myself and I think that’s a good size. It’s a huge area of focus and it’s significant beyond the money involved. It’s a look into future. I don’t think it shocked anyone how the TV up front’s played out last spring. How online advertising, video advertising evolves on the web over 6-12 months will be very interesting. I don’t think there are too many people who can predict what the landscape will look like. It makes it interesting from a reporting perspective.

How can PR pros best work with you?

The few that are really embedded in the business and have high value info beyond companies they are trying to flog. Those people are the most valuable. People who are able to give high value information. It’s almost never a company pitch.

Is it a person pitch?

No, they are actually involved in the news. They have insight or actual facts they can bring to a relationship, so it’s not me listening to a company pitch, of which 90% aren’t really going to go anywhere.

It’s a tough equation to get coverage. The proliferation of blogs has made it somewhat easier for you guys. However, it’s very easy to delete an email.

How many pitches do you get a day?

I’m new here, so people are still sort of finding me. I do get a surprising amount of totally irrelevant pitches. Once you turn up on masthead of a magazine like this you get into a lot of databases and those are completely not valuable and a real nuisance.

How have some PR pros developed a good relationship with you? What have they done?

The most valuable people in the business are people who are really embedded in it and really know a lot and are able to engage with the news beyond whatever company they’re flogging or they have through their clients they represent real insight on deals. Things that might be happening behind the scenes and there are some people in your business who are very good at it. And those are the people I would really like to know.

How much does multi-media content matter when pitching?

It’s a mistake to put a ton of research into an idea, if you don’t know if it’s about something someone cares about. I see a lot of pitches with a lot of work in them, but they aren’t really newsworthy.

A good idea is always welcome. IAB type research, I can get all that stuff. It’s easy for me to get that stuff. If it’s proprietary or brand new, if no one else has, it’s valuable. It can be very valuable. One thing that is not valuable, is company specific research. Any average person can see beyond that.

What stories are you most interested in pursuing at AdAge?

I’m most interested in pursuing the online video story. How TV money shifts online. I’m interested in how media adapts to distribution online and the kinds of deals they strike with distributors. And basically just the changes within big media to adapt to the new way people want to consume content.