Hey Alexa, What’s the News?


“Hey Alexa, what’s the news?”

That’s a question we can expect to become more common by the day, as an increasingly segmented America continues to gravitate towards technologies that allow users to curate the news they want to hear when they want to hear it.

Whether it’s Amazon’s Echo, Google Home, Apple’s Siri or other similar products, accessing the news through voice-activated devices is primed to be the next big thing, according to a new report by The Poynter Institute.

And news outlets have taken notice. Newspapers, radio stations, online news sites and everything in between are currently exploring how they can capitalize on the trend in order to both recruit new consumers of their news and to find ways to make money off this new technology.

NPR is an early leader in the effort, due to its partnership with Amazon Echo. Through the agreement, NPR’s news and announcer voices serve as the default when users ask Alexa for the latest news. And last year, The Washington Post built two “skills” – a way of creating more personalized experiences for Echo users – one focused on the Summer Olympics and the other on the newspaper’s political coverage.

PR professionals should also take note. We certainly did late last year, when Blue Engine named voice activation as one of the 10 trends in communications that we see taking root, or taking off, over the next 10 years.

Voice-activated devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home offer public relations professionals a new platform for getting a client’s message or narrative in front of their priority audiences. This could be by placing “audio pre-roll” advertisements ahead of a news story or broadcast, or by thinking about the outlets that have partnerships with voice-activated services and then pitching coverage of a client’s issue accordingly. This is especially exciting if the kind of people who use these devices and services overlap with a client’s target audience.

But what should be really compelling for PR professionals when it comes to the long-term capabilities of voice-activated platforms is their “fluid connection to journalism.” As described by Poynter, “Beyond just asking what’s the news, we’ll be able to interrupt to ask more questions and to better understand the context. ‘Wait, who’s [Syrian President] Assad, exactly? Why is he such a bad guy? Has he ever had meetings with Donald Trump? What did they talk about? Who else was in the room? Why should this matter to me?’”

Just imagine the possibilities. So much of our work is about ensuring clients’ messages are included in news coverage of their issues. Imagine the ability to insert client messages into content that pops up when listeners proactively ask Alexa (or Google or Siri) questions about an issue being detailed in a news report. Or, taking it a step further, imagine finding ways to “sponsor” supplemental content that pops up on its own, related to a listener’s interests or without needing the listener to ask a question.

One note of caution, though, as news consumption trends even further toward literal soundbites: PR professionals must be increasingly conscious of the need to be crystal clear on a client’s core message – in as exact language as possible – or have those messages go unheard.

While news outlets’ business models for voice-activated news remain a bit foggy, the path forward for PR professionals is increasingly clear. We must be early adopters, and take advantage of this moment of transition by creating and implementing strategies for capitalizing on voice-activated news.
By thinking outside the box – and ahead of the curve – we’ll have a ready answer when the question comes: “Hey Alexa, what’s the news?”