For years the PR industry has been in an existential crisis. Declining readership and commercial struggles sparked intense speculation that we could be witnessing the slow death of traditional news outlets. Threepipe Reply’s Jim Hawker considers how the industry can improve its relationship with the media and what it can learn from journalism.
For an industry that has a symbiotic relationship with the media, this led to much soul-searching about what the decline of journalism might mean for PR: would the rise of digital channels such as social media and influencers spark a pivot for PR agencies away from traditional media? But, despite the debate, traditional media has remained the focus of PR, and so the fate of the industry remains tied to that of journalism.
However, now signs have begun to emerge that the death of journalism may have been greatly exaggerated. This is because, in recent months, a spate of quiet success stories indicate that audiences are once more engaging with some of the UK’s leading media organizations. This began at the tail end of last year, with The Guardian and The Independent both reporting impressive gains in terms of readers and revenue, with the latter posting increases in operating profits of 103% year-on-year. Following this, The Telegraph has now announced record growth in subscribers and profit.
The pandemic has undoubtedly sped up the shift away from printed newspapers toward 24-hour online news cycles, with print circulation seeing steeper declines during the pandemic. But, whether it is through online donations or subscriber paywalls, there is a clear trend that people again appear willing to support online news from recognizable publications. It is hardly surprising that readers are returning to trusted news sources with strict editorial controls and standards, given the rise of a divisive ‘fake news’ culture in the past five years. What’s more, a tumultuous news cycle sparked by politics, the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the cost-of-living crisis is fueling our news consumption. As such, at long last, it looks like traditional media has again found its value in the digital world.
So, the mainstream media is back, and with it comes an exciting opportunity for brands. With digital channels, it takes brands time, effort and investment to build a following and engagement with which to convey important messages and updates. However, online news publications have already cultivated a large and diverse audience that is ready and waiting to be engaged by brands. So, brands should be incredibly wary about overlooking the importance of a media strategy within their marketing mix.
However, this is not to say that PR is an ‘easy win’ compared with digital channels. Many brands expect to see results from day one, but it still takes time to build momentum and form important relationships with journalists. And so, the key to any effective PR strategy is long-term consistency that enables the brand to maintain a media presence across the verticals that its audience consumes. Once the momentum is behind a PR campaign, it becomes an incredibly effective way of engaging audiences and disseminating both messages and products.
There is a short-term challenge for PRs, however. Historically, there has been a prestige associated with coverage that appears in printed titles – clients are always pleased to see their brand appear in print and be able to physically share this with colleagues in the office. Therefore, given the previously-mentioned audience shift toward online news, we will need to guide clients and partners away from print media. The quickest and most effective way to achieve this will be through consultancy about the value of online news coverage and current reading habits.
This is all well and good, but some may be wondering what role PR actually plays within the marketing funnel. Many marketers are familiar with Google’s ‘See, Think, Do, Care’ framework. This is used to visualize the consumer decision-making process, as well as demonstrate ROI and gauge how marketing activity influences consumers through their journey. However, PR (always the spotted dog to marketers) is often not considered within this framework, even though PR plays an important role during the ‘See’ and ‘Think’ stages of a consumer’s journey.
Herein lies the problem: many marketers are chiefly concerned with the ‘Do’ stage, as this is where the sale is converted, and the most straightforward ROI metrics can be recorded. However, it’s during the ‘See’ and ‘Think’ phases where the actual decisions about what to buy and where to buy it are made. By the time they reach the ‘Do’ phase, consumers searching for trainers will likely already know the style, the color and even the brand they want to purchase. As such, a strong PR campaign can play an important role in influencing the customer to choose your product and brand over your competitors at the correct stage in the buying journey. This is supported by evidence from our clients who report that our PR activity is the second-largest driver of traffic to their websites.
Article first appeared on The Drum.