When blogs and social media rose to prominence about a decade ago, pundits were quick to declare that these innovations would likely spell the end of the news media. After all, the word “media” literally refers to being an intermediary (note the word “media” embedded in “intermediary”). If newsmakers could now reach their audiences directly via the Internet, what use would there be for intermediaries to carry the news? The news media, it was believed, would be one of the first industries to be “disintermediated,” a multisyllabic word for “cutting out the middleman.”
As you know, the news media is not dead. Besides the hundreds of channels on cable TV, newsstands are still crammed with magazines and the radio in my car still picks up dozens of stations.
Even the metropolitan print newspaper, thought to be the most likely media to disappear, continues to exist, getting a recent vote of confidence from no less than Warren Buffett, who thinks enough of the newspaper business that he recently bought his home town newspaper and expects his newspaper unit to generate 10% annual profits for the foreseeable future.
But one quick glance at your computer screen or smartphone will tell you that the news media has changed enormously in the last 10 years. What began as two separate worlds – “ traditional media” and “online media” – is now thoroughly and completely transformed into one seamless media landscape that continues to morph and change as new technologies come online and users discover new ways to engage.
At the same time, the public relations tactics needed to sweet talk editors and writers into covering your news have remained surprisingly constant. What’s changed more than anything are the pitching targets and pitchable opportunities.
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Here are five things that haven’t changed about media relations, and then five things that have:
- There are still hundreds of pitching targets: While the mainstream media sector has shrunk, online-only media and blogs have risen up to fill much of the void.
- Breaking through the noise is still the biggest challenge: It has never been easier to make initial contact with journalists, and that means lots of people are pitching them. Getting through and having a real opportunity to pitch your story remains the single biggest challenge in media relations.
- Personal relationships still make a big difference: The best way to break through the clutter is to have an existing relationship with your pitching target. You just need to do a good job maintaining your media database, updating it when people switch jobs or assignments, and making the effort to get to know them.
- Writers and editors still want your help telling interesting stories with details you can’t find other places: Telling a good story that is of interest to a wide audience and isn’t just a veiled ad for your business is still the essence of PR and content marketing.
- Being accessible and meeting the deadline needs of journalists still helps your cause: Immediacy counts, perhaps now more than ever. So being responsive when approached, or being super-cooperative when working on a story with a journalist, will still earn you much more coverage than companies and PR people who are hard to reach or hard to work with.
And here are five things that have definitely changed:
- There are fewer reporters and less space in traditional media outlets, whether online or offline: The easiest journalists to find and pitch are those working for long-established media outlets, but there are fewer and fewer of them as these outlets lose audience share to newer media outlets. Those that are left are being bombarded with pitches, while their editors are telling them to ignore pitches and use their time to cover only the biggest and most important news.
- Everyone is doing everything: The ease of creating online content extends to journalists, who are now routinely writing articles, blogging and tweeting on the side, as well as creating videos and infographics. That translates into more pitching opportunities for those who take the time to learn the needs of today’s journalists and provide the information that they can use across several platforms.
- Online-only professional media has emerged as a force: In many cases, working with them is very different from working with traditional newsrooms, making media relations more challenging and data-intensive. Now more than ever, you’ve got to do your homework.
- Niche bloggers are wearing multiple hats, making them iffy pitching targets: It’s often hard to tell whether an online journalist is trying to make a living as a content creator, or whether the content is a front door for consulting gigs or other non-journalistic activities. This doesn’t mean their blog isn’t important and isn’t potentially pitchable, but it does mean that their point of view may play a big role in whether your story gets covered.
- The rise of brand journalism: Corporations are spending big bucks on in-house journalism, whether in the form of industry blogs or industry news sites. This is the essence of cutting-out-the-middleman, and it makes these sometimes influential outlets all but impossible to pitch if you don’t have strong ties to the sponsoring organization.
Finally, here’s something that definitely hasn’t changed: Businesses of all sizes are still eager to hire and employ communications and marketing professionals who know how to do media relations and generate story placements that can be leveraged across the web. In fact, demand for such services is only increasing, as companies realize that it is now taking more and more specialized skill to do media relations effectively.
I was inspired to write this post by my recent pitching forays for an interesting tech client that is moving mainframe software to the cloud. How is media relations changing – for better or worse – in your sector?