The Role of PR in A Changing Media Landscape
As a former hack (and with many friends still in the industry) I’ve had first-hand experience of the many challenges currently facing newsrooms up and down the country.
Unfortunately, not a week seems to go by without the sad news that yet another title has had to fold or ‘reassess’ its offering because it’s no longer commercially viable. Only this week Trinity Mirror announced it’s having to close some regional titles in Cambridgeshire.
The success of Archant’s New European shows that there’s still a demand for informative and interesting written copy – but in general it’s the exception rather than the rule.
The increase of online news and the growth of social media is often blamed for this decline. And it’s easy to see why. People can access free information at the click of a mouse. By the time that same information is published the next day it’s already out of date.
There’s no doubt that this changing landscape has affected the relationship between PR and the media. Although, I’d argue, not to the extent that some may think.
You can definitely make a case for the declining power of the traditional press. The effect of the phone hacking scandal and findings of the Leveson Inquiry have eroded people’s faith in mainstream media and it’s no longer as trusted as it once was.
The growth of ‘owned’ content also allows companies and organisations to use their own websites and social media channels to speak directly to their target audience – bypassing the need to rely on the whim of a reporter.
PRs also now spend more time engaging with other so called ‘gatekeepers’ and influential online communities. A positive endorsement from a high profile blogger, Instagrammer, Pinner and YouTuber for example can be extremely powerful.
The importance of SEO and consistently appearing atop Google rankings is also arguably now more important than spending time and money on securing a one-off double page spread in a national broadsheet.
But I don’t think we should call time on good old-fashioned media relations just yet.
A recent study by the Reuters Institute found that most people still consume the majority of their news from familiar and trusted outlets.
Social media also means PRs have to be much more responsive to journalists’ needs. It’s now a 24/7 operation where a throwaway comment can be turned into front-page news.
Most importantly (crisis comms aside) the majority of clients, MDs and chief executives still want to see their name (or the name of their business or organisation) in print or on TV. Third party endorsement through the media is highly valued and offers credibility that ‘owned’ channels just don’t have. Certainly, here in our part of the world the East Anglian Daily Times and Eastern Daily Press remain hugely trusted and influential.
Until that changes, newspapers and traditional broadcasters will continue to play an important role in any PR strategy. It’s up to us in the industry to grab the opportunity.
Starved of time and increasingly in need of decent material for websites, blogs, podcasts and vodcasts – if you pitch the right story at the right time then journalists should bite
your hand off.
That’s not to say they’ll accept any old rubbish. With reporters so short of time it won’t take them long to switch off and move on.
But suggest content that’s of real interest to their readers and you should have their full attention. Provide photos, infographics, videos and audio to inform, surprise or entertain – anything to make the journalist’s life that little bit easier.
So, while there’s no doubt attitudes are changing, the mainstream media, for the moment, remain as influential as ever. PRs need to provide a fully integrated approach where ‘traditional’ and ‘digital’ work side by side so that both can be used to best effect.