Another year, another premature obituary for media relations. It’s become a rather predictable stock-in-trade of the PR commentariat to pronounce with great solemnity that media relations is, if not dead, then most certainly on life support. I read a different story that tells me how the industry is moving on and how the core of what we do has changed. In my experience, the truth is that quality coverage in target publications is as important as it ever has been. Far from media relations dying, it is in rude health – a more skilled, creative and indispensable part of the communications toolkit than ever before.
In some ways, the circumstances for today’s media relations practitioners are more propitious than ever. We are constantly told that the number of journalists and publications is falling. The British Labour Force Survey found the number of journalists fell by 11,000 but that makes talented communicators specialising in media relations more important than it ever has been. As the numbers of journalists, photographers and other editorial staff dwindle, the savvy PR practitioner who can pitch a compelling story, provide engaging pictures and rustle up a memorable soundbite at a moment’s notice becomes all the more indispensable to news outlets faced with the insatiable demands of a deadline-driven, 24/7 news cycle. Take the MailOnline, it is now a huge behemoth which needs to be fed news 24 hours a day to satiate its audience’s desire for news around the clock. PRs are the people who provide the stories to feed that need.
More than ever, Journalists continue to rely on PR practitioners to help give them stories and other content. This reliance is arguably getting greater as conventional news outlets cut back on staff. Think about the number of times we have been asked to send pictures to a paper because their one staff photographer is not available or a journalist prefers a written interview than a spoken one to save them time.
Social media has not reduced the appetite for quality journalist and PR-driven content. Indeed, in an era of ‘fake news’, quite the reverse is true. It is still the tier one articles in major reputable media outlets that are the most shared, liked and circulated on social media, and which help shape the terms of public debate. Little wonder, then, that a powerful article in a mainstream media outlet resonates far wider than it used to.
As long as there is a public demand for quality journalism – as there surely still is – then the media remains an important, significant channel for ensuring an organisation’s name and messages are seen and heard. Most people in our industry now realise that this is not about volume but quality. One good piece of coverage can go far further than it ever has, as can one negative piece. The premium on good media relations is very high and the cost of bad media relations is even higher. It is, therefore, no surprise to see clients value quality over quantity and the numbers of PRs continuing to increase.
The rhetoric about the death of media relations peddled by some PR practitioners doesn’t match the reality. The clear majority, surely, still spend most of their time on media work. You only need to look at most of the recent PRWeek award winners to see that there is normally a media relations element and that, more often than not, this remains the focal part of the campaign.
We need to innovate in our media relations, ten years ago I would never of thought of texting a journalist content, now I have colleagues who have continuous dialogues with journalists over WhatsApp. We need to think about what works for journalists today and understanding that the same media relations job I have been doing for the last ten years is constantly changing and adapting. But to say it will ever be extinct seems at the very least far-fetched.
Nobody is, or should be, saying that media relations is the be all and end all of PR. Of course, the comms ‘toolkit’ has expanded in recent years to include social media, stakeholder engagement and much more besides. There is no contradiction in being aware of and alert to these exciting opportunities to reach our audiences in a cost-effective way, but putting media relations as a poor cousin of more modern parts of our industry would not be an accurate reflection on the reality
First published by PR Week