Media Relations: How times have changed

Those who have broken into the PR business in the last five years are often recounted with stories of ‘the good old days’ when PRs would write press releases, mail them out (literally) and wait for the coverage to roll in.  Times have most definitely changed.

According to the FT, the ratio of PR professional to journalists in the US is almost four to one – and I can’t imagine the ratio in the UK being far behind. It’s not just a case of the PR industry thriving but, as Ian Burrell reported in The Independent at the end of last year; there were 70,000 journalists in traditional media in 2002, whereas there were just 40,000 in 2010. If updated figures are published in 2013, I will be afraid to look.

So, what does this mean for ‘media relations’?

Harder for PRs

There are two ways of looking at it. One may be forgiven for thinking ‘only the strongest survive’ i.e. publications which attract the most readers and therefore the most advertisers continue, whereas ‘duds’ die out. This would mean PRs simply have to work harder to trim the fat and set expectations of what clients can expect in terms of coverage. Anything short of Apple releasing a new iPhone is faced with intense competition to attract the attention of vastly reduced editorial teams at major publications.

Against a lot more competition, PRs for lesser known brands have to find new and inventive ways of catching the attention of the media while pitching only the purest, non-self promotional content, let alone considering what the readers of the publication are interested in.

Easier for PRs

With reduced editorial teams and less budget for investigative journalism, there is an argument that journalists are more reliant on the PR industry than ever. When clients talk about staging press events these days, PRs will try and discourage them in favour of telephone briefings (again, unless you’re Apple or the like) – why? Because journalists often cannot afford five minutes out of the office, let alone hours. As a result, they can often rely on PRs to do the leg work.

PRs get hundreds of journalist requests a day, ranging from ‘comments on the budget’ to ‘case studies of people that are scared of furniture’. Whereas in the past a journalist would have to deal with layers of bureaucracy to get to a company’s CEO on the line, now all they have to do is simply email the company’s PR team saying “can I speak to Mr. CEO” and wait for the PR team to turn things around as quickly as possible.  There are not too many professions with that level of support.

What’s a PR to do?

Competition is good for any business – it brings out the best in all parties. The consolidation of traditional media means PR, like journalism, has to adapt and innovate. The innovations are not always clear – for example, effectively pitching to journalists is so incredibly important and is the difference between effective PR and complete failure – and that’s before we even address what the story being sold in is about.

As there are fewer journalists, PRs are increasingly picking up the slack, while at the same time educating clients on the need to comment on topics and issues that are not always directly related to plugging products and services. That surely cannot be a bad thing.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that while traditional media may be consolidating, in today’s world of blogs and online publications, journalists are by no means the only ‘influencers’ out there. Social media, blogs, podcasts, online video and e-zines are all on the up and perhaps present the greatest array of channels to reach stakeholders that there has ever been.

These new channels are covered extensively on our blog, such as Podcasting: why it should be the PR consultant’s best friend just last month, and my colleague’s look at Vine in this issue of Spark.

The PR/Journalist ratio may be widening, but so too is the array of channels to stakeholders.

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