Will There Still Be Media Relations After Covid-19?
When we come back after the Corona Virus will media relations come with us? I’m not so sure.
There was a time in the halcyon days of PR agency life when media relations was a mainstay—perhaps the mainstay—of the business. We’d spend our days developing targeted media lists, cooking up stories, crafting story pitches, drafting news releases, reaching out to reporters, and monitoring media to harvest the fruits of our labour. Along with special events, and guerilla PR, it was one of the few ways we had of showcasing our clients and their products or services. Then in the late 1990s, a little thing called the weblog—shortened to blog—breached our shores followed not long thereafter by MySpace, Friendster, LinkedIn and Facebook in the early 2000s. After that, nothing was really the same.
The rise of social media and the emerging realization that anyone with a highspeed internet connection could be their own broadcaster, marked the beginning of media relations’ slow decline. Running parallel was the massive consolidation of mainstream media among fewer owners, and the inevitable shedding of unprofitable media outlets, including thousands of radio stations, community newspapers, and even larger metropolitan newspapers. Advertising budgets shrank. Reporters were laid off and those still on the job suddenly found themselves covering many beats and writing multiple stories each day. Mainstream media entered the eye of a perfect storm. That storm is still raging.
As social media took off and we began to wrap our arms around its potential, media relations headed in the opposite direction. There were fewer reporters available to pitch and they were all harried and stressed and even harder to reach than before—and believe me, they were hard to reach even in the glory days.
So, what’s my point?
Media relations has been in serious decline for many years courtesy of the rise of social media and the long-term financial pressures faced by mainstream media. The pandemic has not helped. According to the Toronto Star, in the first six weeks of the lockdown, fifty daily or community newspapers have closed, many permanently. And the future looks even bleaker.
For the last decade and a half, media relations has played a diminishing role in the business of most communications agencies. And that was before the Corona Virus. When we all come back and business returns to at least a semi-normal footing, I suspect there’ll be even less media relations activity than before we all started wearing masks and letting our hair grow. But that may not be such a bad thing. In fact, the pandemic will likely accelerate adoption of the PESO (Paid, Earned, Owned, and Shared) content model.
Organizations need no longer rely on media relations to get their messages out to their target audiences. At the best of times, media relations was an imperfect tactic, plagued with uncertainty and vulnerable to an unpredictable and capricious news cycle. But it was the only game in town for so long. Now, organizations can essentially circumvent the mainstream media and create and share content specifically for their target audiences and disseminate it directly to them without the filter of the media. Of course, this means crafting content that audiences want and not just self-promotional sales pitches. But the company is in control. In most communications agencies (or marketing and ad agencies too, for that matter) a growing percentage of the team is involved in creating and disseminating content. And it works.
So, as our economy begins the long road to recovery, here’s to more organizations shifting marketing and communications resources away from old school tactics, like media relations, and into the development and delivery of their own content. Welcome to your post-pandemic future.