The Changing Media Landscape: What It Means to Public Relations

May 10th, 2012

This post first appeared on 5.9.12 and is cross-posted with permission.

Recently, I spoke at two PRSSA regional conferences about how the evolution of digital and social media is changing the media landscape. In particular, the discussion revolved around how news is now immediate and information can get lost in the shuffle and, perhaps more importantly, how this all affects our role in PR. I wanted to share some of what we discussed with you. 

According to The Pew Research Center and the Project for Excellence in Journalism (Pew PEJ), the Internet surpassed newspapers and radio as a primary news source back in 2010. In fact, the explosion of online content (via blogs, social networks, new online-only media outlets, video portals and other venues) is coming not just from traditional media companies, but individuals and organizations from every walk of life. It’s a development that invites an entirely new way of thinking about how companies can get out their message and amplify their brand.

We keep hearing “Chicken Littles” spouting that big media is dead or that social media will soon replace traditional media. Poppycock, I say! On the contrary, “old” media still provides most of our news! The percentage of original content found on social media pales in comparison to traditional media. The Pew PEJ studied one typical American city (Baltimore), and reported that a whopping 92 percent of new content came from “old” media, proving that the published story is just the beginning of its life cycle.

There seems to be no shortage of those that believe the press release is dead. I’m in the opposing camp, as I believe it continues to be a useful tool for public relations practitioners. Don’t get me wrong, every circumstance is unique and not all situations will warrant release to the media, but the press release is still an integral part of the PR toolkit. Actually, social media has created more — and more effective — channels for companies and brands to communicate. Regardless, the press release will always have a place in your online newsroom. I’ve heard both Sally Falkow and Steve Momorella say it well—don’t underestimate the power of that news release, it has great SEO value.

So what does all this mean in terms of media relations? Considering that 98 percent of journalists say they start a story with a Google search (per the Pew PEJ State of the Media 2011 report), it means your news needs to be optimized for search engines. Make it easy to find as well as easy to access. In other words, don’t make journalists register to get into your newsroom. Instead, include embed codes for video and images, publish text as text (versus as images where it’s difficult for a journalist to copy and paste from), include links to all your social media accounts, and make your news available in a feed so they can follow if they’d like and get your news pushed to them.

We also discussed digital storytelling as a key core aptitude for public relations and marketing professionals. We frequently hear that good writing skills are the single most important attribute for a PR pro, and that’s true, but storytelling is a very close second. Some things to keep in mind when telling your story is that more is not always better. Be sure you’re speaking your audience’s language. In this multimedia environment, text is not always enough. Engage their senses—use images, podcasts, videos to amp up the virtual volume. PR professionals must adapt to the “new” journalism, more as a service rather than a product that is platform or format specific. 

I think John Steinbeck said it best in East of Eden, “If a story is not about the hearer he will not listen. And here I make a rule—a great and interesting story is about everyone or it will not last.” Read that again. It’s so true!  

Another wise person, my colleague Johna Burke, says, “Remember Captain Sully (the US Airways captain who emergency landed in the Hudson River saving hundreds of lives)? Every organization has these people and stories, your job is to find them and leverage them.”

What techniques are you using to find and leverage your story makers? How has your role in PR and communications evolved along with the media?

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