We’ve been working in the PR realm long enough to see a number of shifts in best practices. While strategic communications and PR have always been players in the marketing mix, the increase of pay-to-play messaging placements, skippable content and consent-based advertising gives earned media more gravitas than ever before, with many consumers viewing earned media as more credible than other sources of information.
If you’ve read our blog, you know we’re advocates for an integrated approach. Even as the earned media channel seems to require more strategy, more legwork and more relationship building than it did even a few years ago, the rewards are that much more valuable. We don’t shy away from the extra challenge but are frequently reminded of a few reasons why the craft of PR is evolving and the job isn’t getting easier:
1. The C-suite doesn’t always understand its value.
In some cases, PR can be a hard sell. If you’re working with senior leadership that either doesn’t understand public relations or hasn’t had much experience seeing it succeed, you might feel that you have to prove yourself. On the other hand, there are also cases where leadership believes that a press release is needed for every small announcement their company makes, and that the result will be an immediate influx of media calling for interviews.
Our typical approach places the emphasis on thought leadership, and is more nuanced than blasting out news without specific direction. This type of program can seem like it gets off to a slower start, but organizations that are willing to stick with the program will see the long-term results.
2. The impact of PR is harder to measure than digital advertising.
Metrics matter and PR is notoriously harder to measure than digital marketing and advertising, where the readily available data allows marketers to test, learn and adjust strategy. PR, on the other hand, isn’t as black and white. For starters, each channel comes with its own practices for providing measurement insights. Radio and TV aren’t as easy to get exact numbers on as online or print, but even then media outlets aren’t in the habit of sharing web stats with PR practitioners after running a story resulting from a pitch. On this side of things, we’ve learned to track media coverage and look for corresponding spikes in website traffic, increase in customer calls, and social media mentions that might come as a result of coverage.
3. There are fewer journalists.
Even if you’re not in the industry, this probably doesn’t come as a surprise. With the rise of social media and other online news sources, traditional media outlets have seen a major shift over the past 15 years. In fact, studies show that U.S. newspapers have cut newsroom staff in half since 2008 – meaning the people that fill these roles are working twice as hard.
Journalists at these media outlets are now wearing more hats than ever before. Cision’s 2021 State of the Media report revealed that almost half of journalists cover five or more beats, and about the same amount file seven or more stories each week. On top of that, reporters have new responsibilities in addition to the jobs they’ve always done – things like managing social media accounts and creating online personas are expected as part of filling the role.
4. Journalists are inundated with pitches.
In addition to working overtime to meet these additional responsibilities, 1 in 4 journalists receive over 100 pitches a week – many of which are irrelevant or lacking the substance to catch their attention. This means their inboxes are overflowing and they’re conditioned to hit delete after skimming briefly if your email doesn’t immediately convey the value you’re able to provide.
On top of the challenges of breaking through the inbox clutter, nine out of ten journalists strongly prefer being pitched via email rather than over the phone, so PR professionals aren’t left with many options.
5. Sponsored content is on the rise.
In addition to competition for journalists’ attention, PR pros are also up against pay-to-play content, which often takes up valuable editorial space and can be confusing for clients who might not immediately understand why they don’t have the editorial control over their earned content that comes across in sponsored content in the same outlet.
We believe in the power of PR, but view it as just one element of an integrated marketing strategy. There’s a time and a place for sponsored content, and for many clients we recommend a mix of paid and earned media efforts that compliment each other to achieve heightened credibility and increased awareness in front of target audiences. Not every story is newsworthy but that doesn’t mean it can’t be told on another platform or through paid media placements.
Fluent IMC is a Maine marketing agency specializing in integrated marketing communications. Our expertise ranges from brand strategy and marketing planning to digital marketing and online advertising to public relations and communications.