Newspapers are Dying, PR is Thriving. Why?
Guest Blog by Dennis Bailey, President, Savvy Inc.
Here’s an interesting stat: for the first half of 2012, Google raked in more ad revenue than US newspapers and magazines combined (see chart). And along with ad revenues, newspaper readership continues to decline. Since the 1990s, there has been a 14% drop in the number of newspapers operating in the US, a list that keeps growing (there’s even a website called newspaperdeathwatch.com)
Meanwhile, the public relations industry seems to be flourishing. Even though a big part of what a PR firm does is get coverage for their clients in those disappearing newspapers, a recent article posted on Yahoo Education ranked “Public Relations Specialist” fifth among the “Eight Hot Careers to Watch in 2013.” The article cited a Department of Labor study showing that employment for PR specialists is projected to grow by 23% over the next ten years, with nearly 60,000 job openings.
How can this be? Print media – along with much of the “traditional” media – is declining, while jobs for the PR people who work to get media coverage is growing. Where’s the disconnect?
There’s no question that getting coverage in print newspapers is a lot harder than it used to be. For one thing there are a lot fewer reporters. Newsrooms across the country have been slashed – 30% less staff than they had at the turn of the century – and reporters who cover a single beat (education, the environment, business) are mostly a thing of the past.
Also most newspapers have a much smaller news hole. Even when you pitch a decent story to a reporter, sometimes there just isn’t enough room in the paper to print it. Because of declining ad revenue, the number of pages in daily newspapers has shrunk, along with the actual physical size of the pages. That New York Times slogan “All the News That’s Fit to Print” should be changed to “All the News that Fits.”
So what do all those PR specialists do with their time, and why are they in such demand? Several reasons:
The rise of PR specialists is a recognition of the diminishing returns of “paid” media and outbound marketing. As I’ve discussed many times, it’s too easy these days to block outbound messages. DVRs let viewers skip the TV commercials, spam block sends unwanted e-mail directly into the trash icon, caller ID and the “do not call list” keep those pesky telemarketers at bay, and newspaper readers mean fewer people seeing those print ads.
That has led to a greater emphasis on “earned” media, which is just another way of saying PR. PR pros still produce press releases, op-eds, commentaries, profiles, etc., but instead of just sending them to news reporters, they now get pushed out through all kinds of distribution channels, including Facebook and Twitter. Often, that’s how traditional news reporters find the stories, which leads to more publicity. (I seem to recall a certain anonymous website in the last Maine governor’s race that was getting a few dozen views a week until the newspapers wrote about it. Then the page views reached 30,000).
The situation has also given rise to “owned media,” all those media assets that are controlled by the company or client – website, blog, an online newsroom, social media channels – along with whitepapers, case studies, eBooks, podcasts, etc. PR pros (and former journalists) are just the right people to write and produce this content. Whether or not the traditional media ever picks up these stories, they have lasting PR value and impact on the web. (Check out how one county government hired PR pros to produce daily articles, videos and graphics to sidestep traditional media coverage.)
As one blogger wrote recently, “If content is king, than PR is queen.” Due to refinements in Google’s algorithms, ranking high in search results is no longer solely dependent on keywords and meta-tags, but on high-quality, creative content. That’s why more and more companies are hiring experienced writers and journalists in-house, or contracting with PR pros to do the work (and it’s why journalists and PR pros need to learn the latest SEO techniques.)
As Shel Holtz recently pointed out on his blog, we’re entering an era of “pageview journalism” as traditional newspapers shift to a digital format. Editors are rewarding reporters with extra pay and bonuses based on the number of pageviews their stories and articles generate. And the more pageviews a story gets, the more online newspapers can charge for ads (and right now, online ad revenues are not making up for the loss of print ad revenue). The way for PR pros to succeed is to pitch stories and content that result in more clicks – even helping the reporter with keywords he can build into his article and sharing the link once the article is posted.
Finally, as my friend Frank Gallagher says, the days of the 24-hour news cycle – when news was basically reported once a day – has morphed into a news river – an ever flowing, continuous stream of content and information. Companies and clients are realizing they need a savvy (ahem) PR and communications expert to help navigate this new landscape and find the entry points into this cascading news stream.
Newspapers and even TV news may be declining, but there’s more news and content being created than ever before, and it’s being devoured by readers – not newspaper readers, but mobile, iPad and Kindle readers primarily. And not just on news websites, but on company websites, blogs and social media channels. Somebody has to write all this stuff, and that’s why PR specialists will continue to be in demand for the years ahead.