Is Public Relations Dead?

I belong to a private Facebook group where journalists and publicists mingle over story ideas and mutual needs. It’s a great group where media and public relations pros exchange ideas and discuss emerging trends in the industry.

Recently someone asked, “is PR dead?”.

This particular category of marketing has certainly evolved over the last 5 years and the pandemic has accelerated much of this change—but reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated. 

In this complicated world, journalists change jobs more frequently while putting a smaller emphasis on media contacts. The competition for eyeballs is harder as attention spans get shorter and the consumer segment is more fragmented, making targeted strategies more critical.

Here’s a deeper look at why I believe the personalized publicity industry will become even more valuable within the next half-decade and why strategic thinkers will lead the way.

Media is more selective

Editors and executive producers know their job security rests with viewers and readers. If they don’t increase their audience base, their publisher might not extend that contract. This makes the story approval process harder.

I oversaw the rating strategy as an executive producer with NBC and knew if we didn’t consistently grow ratings, I was out the door. Today newsroom job security is even more volatile. Indeed a close friend was recently pushed out as news director and he wasn’t even at the station for a full year. 

The bar for good stories – at the more influential publications – is also more competitive because there are more inexperienced publicists and younger entrepreneurs pitching stories that aren’t newsworthy. Today’s PR approach requires a deeper understanding of the elements that lead to news coverage.

Advertising is losing influence

When was the last time you actually watched a commercial on TV? More than likely, you grabbed your phone, or walked out of the room, and that’s if you didn’t have the opportunity to fast forward through the advertising.

Engaging content is the key to motivating action. Running endless loops of commercials for your brand might increase exposure, but don’t confuse exposure for engagement. Consumers are watching the local or cable news for content. If your publicist creates interesting content, you will increase engagement with your product or service.

Reporters are younger with shrinking budgets

Every older generation always says the current generation doesn’t get it. I’m not bashing the new generation of media. Younger and older journalists are needed in every newsroom to bring a diversity of ideas. However there is a growing trend with shrinking newsroom budgets: The more expensive journalists are pushed out – replaced with a younger and cheaper crop.

This means your story angle needs to be more refined. Over the years, inexperienced publicists pitched me ideas that weren’t fleshed out. It was okay because I navigated for the interesting news angle. But today, you can’t leave it to chance that the journalist will connect the dots. It’s another area where experienced publicists will become more valuable with their ability to close the story with the reporter.

Digital marketing is merging with PR

Digital marketing is public relations. TV segments are almost always placed on the web and print newspapers all have sites. Sure, it might take time to get the story on the internet. But this is where the experienced publicist will turn the media placement into a digital placement for more exposure.

There are digital ways to drive coverage to your website, including adding supplemental content on your page. If reporters have a reason to add a hyperlink to their story, they will, but only if it adds to their story. This approach takes forethought and planning, which is something an experienced PR team will recognize.

Yes, many industries are dying. It’s a factor of technology. But if you recognize the shift, your experience will become more valuable. 

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