Media turmoil challenging for PR

By Leola Abraham

The issues were discussed at a recent conference called "The Inside Story," which tackled a number of challenges for communications professionals in the modern media world.

Leola Abraham, Account Director at Wright Communications, recently chaired this conference and shares her key outtakes here for the benefit of other PR practitioners.

The changing media landscape

The past few years have been tumultuous for the media industry. Changes in technology have met with industry consolidation and economic malaise to create a perfect storm of cost-cutting and restructuring.

Many titles have gone by the wayside, while respected reporters have had to adapt to the times and deal with increasing uncertainty. The changes show no sign of abating.

Although journalists are impacted by the changes and new ways of working, those in the PR industry face plenty of challenges of their own.

One of them is figuring out who and where to pitch their content to.

We have always picked up the phone and pitched in a story to a specific reporter, chief of staff or similar. What has changed is the syndication model.

So rather than picking up the phone to the news editor of all daily papers, now if you get news of national significance in Fairfax or NZME it gets syndicated to other titles and even to other formats (e.g. radio).  So the importance of that one pitch is now ten times more crucial to nail.

These days content can be pitched to print and online news, radio, TV, bloggers, vloggers and remarketed on our client's own social media platforms.  Kiwis spend 47% of their total time online on social media.

This gives a range of options for telling your clients' story, but it can be a headache working out which option is best. And you never know if the outlet you pitch to today will be in business next month...

Think like a journalist

Putting yourself in the journalist's shoes has always been important for those in the communications industry, but now it is more important than ever.

Shrinking newsrooms and expanding responsibilities mean journalists have to produce more with less of almost everything, most importantly time.

It is common knowledge that many in communications are former journalists, but even those who transitioned recently may need to get up to speed with what life is like in newsrooms today.

News meetings that used to take place at 10am have now been shifted forward to as early as 8am, so it is crucial to consider the timing of your pitch.

Also, gone are the days when journalists would file a story then quickly move on to the next one.

Today they are expected to constantly update the story throughout the day, because nothing looks worse on a news website than a story that is 8 hours old sitting on the homepage.

It is essential to get journalists easily-understood information quickly, so they get the facts right for the first take.

Once they have done the initial story you can follow up with any other inquiries and arrange interviews, photo ops etc.

Content is king (and distribution is key)

While the media landscape is in flux and consumers are choosing different ways to access news, one thing is constant: there will always be demand for quality, authentic content that engages with target audiences.

The requirement for communications professionals to be great storytellers is more important than ever, and the story has to be tailored to the medium.

For example, New Zealanders check their phones about 100 times a day on average. The way the story is written for mobile news apps should be vastly different to what you prepare for a TV current affairs show.

It is equally important that you choose the correct distribution method for your content, because that can be the difference between achieving significant media coverage and getting ignored.

Another issue looked at during the conference was the rise of native advertising, which allows businesses to pay for sponsored content that looks like a news story. It remains to be seen how widespread this will become and how audiences will react.

Know your audience

Putting yourself in the shoes of journalists should be part of your process, but don't forget to do the same for your target audience.

Understanding your audience is more important than ever, due to the growing fragmentation of how people access news and information.

An interesting point made during the conference was that the nature of communities is changing and an audience is not just based on a physical location or social group.

Mainstream, traditional media may still be the best option for certain stories but for others you could do better to choose a niche outlet where your target audience is known to reside.

The first step is making sure you are clear about who you want the story to speak to.

It could be insurance advisers in the Auckland region, first-time mothers or builders in the Waikato, but whoever it is, you must learn about what they care about and what interests them.

This advice also relates to sponsorship, which was another topic explored at the conference.

In years gone by, businesses have often taken a fairly haphazard approach to selecting which causes to support in their communities but this is unlikely to match organisational goals or get good results for organisations and staff. Companies are increasingly taking a more strategic approach to sponsorship and charity, working with organisations that align with their core values and help build their brand equity. This is one area where PR practitioners can potentially add a lot of value in future.

Conclusion: make change your friend

The trends discussed at The Inside Story conference might seem challenging, but with every change comes both challenges and opportunities.

The public relations industry has fared better than the media industry in recent years, but there is likely to be a widening gap between the operators who adapt to these trends and those who stick to the old way of thinking.

As technology continues to rapidly change our world both off and online keeping these useful tips in mind may make all the difference to your success.

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