The shift from print to online publishing, coupled with the explosion of social media, rise of the influencers and the wealth of news and information sources now available to the public has put many of us journalists and not just a few PR agencies in a complete spin. Times certainly are ‘interesting’.
As both the printed press and the publicity industries seek out how to make these new ways pay – under the pressure of increasingly restricted budgets – the shift is changing the relationships between journalists and public relations people.
“My dealings with PRs are quite different these days,” explains Editor of OutdoorFitness magazine, Amy Curtis. “We used to physically meet, for coffee, lunch, whatever, catch up properly, go through plans for the next few months and discuss collaborations – now it’s all done more remotely and we only meet if it’s at an event.”
Part of the reason why PRs especially find it hard to pin down journalists and discuss possible collaborations in an ‘old school’ way is down to the demise of print publication numbers. The last PR Census (2016) highlighted how the publicity and promotion sector has continued to grow (by £3bn in three years). Around 83,000 people work in PR in the UK – as opposed to 64,000 people who declared themselves as working journalists in a Labour Force Survey.
The figures not only reflect the changing face of the media but also highlight how more and more agencies are looking to outlets to promote their clients against a decline in traditional media platforms.
“In the last two years especially the closures of print titles has been really noticeable,” says Aspire PR Manager Vikki McGill. “At times it’s been one publication every month. However some of the more niche titles, the ones that don’t seem to need to chase advertising every month seem to be holding their own,” adds Vikki.
For Vikki, who has worked in PR for 16 years across travel and health and fitness, the shift to digital presents new challenges for agencies. “It’s not that people aren’t engaging with publications, it’s just that they’re doing it via their phones and tablets. Many brands still prefer the look and feel of coverage when it appears in print. It’s also been easier for PRs to show evidence of coverage in the past too. Now we use online portals like CoverageBook, but I don’t feel that’s as impressive.”
Amy Curtis echoes Vikki’s point. “PRs approach me to secure coverage for their brands in the magazine and although they always ask me about online, I get the impression that it’s just bonus points. This does however very much depend on the brand and the product, and who they’re targeting.”
Values That Work
The landscape may look very different from that on which both Vikki and Amy began working on – but both insist that certain methods and values remain key to ensuring beneficial relationships for both parties. “It’s still vital that we know the publications we’re pitching to, that we put the right brand with the right publications and that we have a strong working relationship with the journalists,” says Vikki. “There will be times when I’ll contact journalists I’ve worked with and sounded out their thoughts on what could work for them and us – that’s only possible when you have a good rapport.”
Whilst many brands increasingly look to social media influencers for coverage editors and experienced PRs are still to be convinced of their long-term merit. “Journalists and editors know their market and their readers much better than influencers know their followers,” says Vikki. “Whilst influencers have their place, for many of them it’s a part-time role, they’re not loyal to brands in the same way that some publications will be and their insight into the industry isn’t nearly as good.”
Amy Curtis doesn’t use influencers in the publications she edits but does use another new publicity resource; pre-devised content. “It’s saved my bacon more than once when I’ve been let down and need to fill pages, but as a general rule it’s not ideal unless I can be guaranteed exclusivity. What’s ideal is when a short pre-devised feature can be expanded upon so that it especially suits us.”
In the changing world, whether it’s pitching a product or service or creating content that promotes a brand, Vikki McGill insists that certain values haven’t changed. “You always need to hone the pitch, to make it stand out – don’t just send out releases. An account manager needs to read the publication, to know the audience and address it to the section editors on the publication they’re pitching too – basically show you’ve done your homework.”
Written by Rob Kemp, freelance journalist and author