Rachna Baruah
Nov 04, 2020

Opinion: Navigating PR in a shrinking media space

The author lists out how PR agencies can adapt and thrive by delivering the right coverage and exposure to clients

Opinion: Navigating PR in a shrinking media space
Media today is a very different environment, creating unique challenges for PR executives and businesses looking to build their brands. On the one hand, 2020’s externalities -- from COVID to the US elections to war in the Caucasus -- create an environment where every piece of breaking news is seemingly outdone by the next. On the other hand, the nature of the media space is itself changing. As audiences move to digital platforms, print and television publications are consolidating and realigning their product offerings. Digital marketing is having its day in the sun, with social distancing forcing brands to build pure-digital outreach strategies. How do successful PR agencies adapt and thrive in this environment? How do they deliver the right coverage and exposure to clients? 
One impactful story can do what 100 press releases can’t
The number of viable news slots brands can compete for is itself shrinking. This isn’t a long-term system problem: it’s more a 2020 issue. With so much happening, with so much change taking place in such little time, this is set to be a year for the history books. Journalists find interesting, epoch-making stories wherever they look. In this context, quantity-based PR campaigns -- flooding the media with “brand stories,” is no longer a viable approach. 
Both PR execs and their clients need to work backwards and look at the situation from the perspective of journalists and media editors. Why does your brand story matter today? Why does it deserve space amid the history-shaping events taking place every week? Answering this question demands a more targeted approach. PR executives need to collaborate closely with clients to build compelling stories that justify themselves in 2020. This is a year when people are looking for help and for solutions. This means that, rather than focusing on “we’re here!” stories, PR campaigns need to focus on how brands are brands are solving challenges, offering solutions, and making this turbulent world a better place. Better targeting and solution-oriented brand storytelling are key to securing media placements in today’s environment. 
Your pitch needs to BE the story
It’s hard to understate the value that strong relationships bring to the table in the PR space. It’s vital to nurture existing, long-term relationships with journalists and media executives. It’s equally important to approach new engagements and opportunities from this same frame of mind. 
What does this mean in practical terms? Throwing your pitch email templates in the dustbin. Generic introduction templates have never done much to proactively instil journalist interest. A pitch email that introduces a brand and says that a decision maker is available to be interviewed isn’t actually giving anything of value to journalists. It’s asking them to take a gamble on the newsworthiness of your brand story. In “slow news years,” templated blast campaigns might have worked. But not anymore. Successful PR executives need to approach new contacts in the spirit of a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship. This means giving first, instead of asking. Newsworthy content is journalistic currency. Instead of waxing on about who your client is, use the first email to talk about the problems they solve and the people they help. Journalists are looking for stories. Don’t make them search and read between the lines of your pitch to find one: your pitch needs to be the story. 
Cross-channel engagements: are your audiences even reading your stories anymore?
Successful PR campaigns need to recognize the fundamentals ways in which the media space itself is changing. Print and TV media are prestige formats, but audiences are increasingly engaging with brands online. PR executives aren’t digital marketers or SEO specialists. Broadening your product offerings to include a full-stack service can be beneficial. But pure-play PR can also benefit from digital. PR is about building relationships and this is just as important in the online space. Brand collaborations on social media, influencer marketing, and promoting authored articles, blogs, and video stories, can all help to broaden a brand’s reach. Digital is critical to the future of PR. Successful PR executives understand digital and how to incorporate digital outreach into integrated, cross-channel PR campaigns that deliver results. 
Focus on becoming meaningful facilitators and see your job getting easier
This is a challenging year, for PR agencies, clients, and the media industry itself. Between 2020’s immense uncertainties and the consolidation of conventional media in the face of digital, PR leaders need to work harder and smarter to deliver. Immense opportunities await, though on the other side, post-COVID. 
The author is founder, Madchatter Brand Solutions
Campaign India

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