It has been a long, dynamic journey for the electronic payments industry with many loops, turns and straightaways spanning decades. Nevertheless, leading up to the millennium, much of what transpired behind the scenes in the industry was rarely interesting or controversial enough to warrant mainstream media attention. As a result, the business of transactions remained a mystery to many who were not following the intricacies of the payments niche.
In the 1990s, when several prominent companies in the lucrative payments industry began to pursue public offerings and roll up acquisitions and venture capital, certain media onlookers began to take greater notice. Many observers believed it wouldn't be long before every consumer would be carrying multiple plastic cards, and the paper check would become a thing of the past.
Todd Ablowitz, President of Double Diamond Group LLC, called the evolution, "A long drumbeat of increasing media attention." He said the evolution was predicated on one newsworthy dynamic: the media follows money, and there is money in this industry.
The advent of PayPal Inc. in the early 2000s added a new dimension to the mix. Capitalizing on an emerging selling phenomenon known as e-commerce, the PayPal model simplified the paper trail and credit hoops businesses had to typically contend with to obtain a traditional merchant services account. The innovation made it virtually effortless for e-tailers and consumers alike to transact Internet business using only a subscriber account and a computer linked to the web.
As PayPal and new competitors began to reshape global shopping and payment behaviors, consumer-facing news about electronic payments became more prevalent. Later, Square Inc. opened up card acceptance to tens of thousands of previously overlooked micro-merchants. Yet, a gap in industry knowledge still existed among most mainstream news journalists. With little exposure to the complexities of the industry, few had become intimately aware of its vital role in the overall commerce ecosystem.
As the electronic payments story continued to evolve, concerns about security and privacy also began to bubble up in news headlines. "One of the fundamentals about drawing media attention is the fact credit has been a controversial subject for its entire existence," Ablowitz noted. However, it wasn't until after the Great Recession took hold and a series of high-profile data breaches occurred at prominent retailers that the industry really became mainstream, front-page news. Some industry professionals found themselves in the line of fire, while others saw an opportunity to tell a better version of the story.
"PR and publicity is not intended to sell," said Karla Jo Helms, Chief Executive Officer of JoTo PR. "It makes people more interested and comfortable in doing business with you due to its third-party credibility. Payment companies that utilize PR and publicity reap a larger market share and differentiate themselves from their competition much easier and faster."
According to Helms, when a company uses a PR firm to represent industry news, it not only serves to help educate journalists who may not be fully aware of how the industry works, but it also sheds light on industry happenings and future predictions they may never have been exposed to.
This practice has been used to spur strong media interest in emerging mobile commerce and alternative payment technologies. Referring to Apple Inc.'s 2014 announcement to the media about Apple Pay's launch, Ablowitz called the groundbreaking payment technology, "incredibly sexy," and added, "It's a fun time to look at the industry. There's a lot to talk about."
Ablowitz also said his current favorite news topic in payments at large is the "intersection between the tech company and the payments company." Reflecting on recent tradeshows he has attended, he said he rarely hears industry leaders refer to their businesses as traditional payment companies anymore.
Helms believes now is the time for industry experts to showcase technologies and other payments industry strengths to gain the media's respect. "Stand up as a thought leader, speak out and be the one the media quotes," Helms urged. "You have industry data journalists need, and no one understands the ins and outs of your industry as well as you do."
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