Traditional PR is gasping its last breath while some are already dropping dirt on the coffin and checking their social feeds as they head off for the wake. There’s no question that the world of public relations has changed irrevocably since the advent of the internet and especially social media. The question is - has it really died or has it simply reinvented itself?
This piece will cover:
- How Public Relations Has Changed with the Advent of the Internet
- The Rise of Owned Media
- Traditional Media’s Credibility Battle
- The Impact of Social Media
- The Introduction of Influencer Marketing
- Three Tips to Adapt PR Strategies
Traditional PR Firms Acted as Gatekeepers to Earned Media
Once upon a time, employment ads for public relations professionals specified that any applicant needed a strong rolodex to apply. Why? Because PR and earned media placements were based on relationships. Seasoned PR pros knew lots of journalists, and they engaged in a kind of mutual back-scratching relationship where journalists knew who to go to for credible and pithy stories, while PR experts knew which journalists to approach for placement. It was an art and a skill, very much like sales at high levels.
So what’s changed?
1. Media has decentralized and democratized as owned media has mushroomed:
Technology has removed the middle man, leading to the rise of brands acting as news suppliers. According to a recent article at PR Week: “Formerly the sources of news, brands are now thinking like news suppliers…if you have access to the news, if you are the news, then why not deliver the news?"
2. Brands are beginning to realize the value of acting as their own publishers. If they have something newsworthy to say, why wouldn’t they take the opportunity to use their own channels (social, blog, newsletter) to say it themselves, rather than hope for coverage in some other channel where the message may be distorted through a third party’s interpretation or spin?
In other words, the lines between earned media and owned media are increasingly blurry as companies themselves become some of the most widely read sources of news for their niches. Think about sites like Hubspot, Mailchimp, American Express, and Adobe’s CMO.
3. Traditional media outlets suffer from weakening credibility:
As explained in an article on Forbes: “To complicate matters, news outlets desperate for cash now blur the lines between the editorial and advertising sides of their business. Some sell “native” or “contributed” content packages created by in-house reporters and editors (or outside PR firms) that look nearly indistinguishable from regular news coverage. Others outright sell articles or bend their editorial decisions to the wishes of major financial backers.”
The ability of advertisers to “buy news” is worrying enough, but add to it the findings in a study discussed in the Wall Street Journal noting that most students couldn’t differentiate between a news item labeled “sponsored content” and an actual piece of news, and it’s no wonder we have ongoing worries about “fake news.”
The recent lawsuit suggesting that Fox News anchors knowingly spread misinformation about rigged voting further drives concerns over credibility. Readers – and buyers – are most skeptical than ever. (An interesting sidenote here - to find a credible source to link about this item, we had to scan through three headlines from sites with clear political agendas to find a hopefully unbiased representation of this issue.)
4. The market chooses:
We live in an age where social media likes, shares, and follows have become more valuable than endorsements from a single outlet.
“A short video on YouTube or TikTok now regularly garners more viewers than a prime-time slot on CNN. A website put up overnight masquerading as ‘news’ may make a bigger splash than an in-depth investigative report in the Washington Post. And a well-executed tweet can build more buzz than an appearance on Good Morning America.” - From Forbes
5. The age of the trusted news anchor is over:
Walter Cronkite, Katie Couric, Diane Sawyer… these are not the names we look to anymore to learn where we should put our trust and money. Instead, every corner of the market has birthed “influencers” - individuals who have managed to gain trust and belief for being known and liked in the public eye. In many cases, influencers enjoy a reach far beyond their initial industry of expertise. The ongoing lawsuits over the defunct FTX crypto exchange and the high-profile sports stars, models, and actors who promoted it demonstrate some of the potential problems inherent in the unstoppable rise of influencer marketing.
How to Make the New Version of PR Work For You Today
We’ve all heard that if you can’t beat ‘em, we should join ‘em. That’s partially true in the case of the evolving discipline of PR. But rather than bemoan the changes and shake our heads at “kids today,” we suggest viewing the changes as one more way the internet and technology in general are opening new opportunities for marketers. Sure, your press release is probably useless now. But that doesn’t mean PR is dead.
Three Tips to Adapt Your PR Efforts for 2023:
1. Tell a Good Story (hire a journalist!)
If you came from traditional PR or journalism, you’ve got a leg up. You know how to craft a pitch and tell a story that outlets wanted to feature, and that’s because it was what your audience wanted to consume. Nothing has changed there. A good story beats a good product any time, so hone that craft and focus on constructing messages about your company and products that tell a cohesive and compelling story that your audience will respond to.
If you can’t hire a journalist, focus on learning from them. The art of journalism is closely linked to PR, and journalists have a lot to teach brands about how to pull the most critical information from subject matter experts and executives to craft a story.
2. Don’t Narrow Your Focus.
Your founder might have a lot to say, and that’s great. But when it comes to spreading a cohesive message through your market, it’s critical that it comes from everyone in the company. Beyond that, a broader perspective and multiple points of view (all hitting the same key narrative) will reach a broader audience and also lend credibility to your story. Content can be generated from any department - don’t be afraid to be creative.
3. Broaden Your Definition of Media.
Look inside your organization first. What outlets are you already producing? Do you have a blog? A newsletter? How is your website working to build your audience and credibility? Media coverage no longer depends on outside outlets. Consider brands like Robinhood, Slack, and Deloitte, and learn from them how to build your own media brand.
Traditional PR is struggling to stay relevant in a world where media is decentralized, and credibility is weakening. But the removal of gatekeepers has led to a revolution of sorts, where everyone can be a publisher. Smart brands are taking advantage of the freedom this offers, engaging experienced storytellers, and building their own media outlets to share their messages and build market share.