Communicating in A World Without Newspapers – What Will Journalists/PRs do Next?

Last year (has it been that long!) I wrote this article on how journalism was one of the worst career options in the world – placed 196 out of 200. The one ‘positive’ element in this I had joked, was at least reporters were considered better than lumberjacks. In 2013, it appears the situation has reversed!

Earlier in April 2013, Yahoo published an almost identical article this time placing reporters/journalism as the number 1 worst career option. In fact your future prospects as a journalist are considered worse than being enlisted in the armed forces…

But, as insomnia inspires me, I believe there is hope.

The demand for paid-for editorial and reporting from print media is falling away. It has to.

Advertising will not support newspapers and magazines who cannot retain the eyeballs that justified the six-figure and above daily spread charges.

But there is still demand for reportage. Especially from big business and political parties who have to get their message across somehow.

So how would we communicate in a world without newspapers?

The answer is blindingly obvious – we have to go to social media.

But here we hit a paradigm shift, and I think it’s not helped by the use of ‘media’ which potentially misleads people thinking that they are the same as print media, just electronic.

No, these are totally different. As in traditional press the journalist acts as an intermediary between the corporate and its audiences. Not so with Facebook etc.

There is no need for lunches, press trips and expensive launch events to inspire and encourage positive reportage. Companies can simply write what they want and have it shared directly with hundreds of thousands or millions of potential/current customers.

Therefore the competition for eyeballs is no-longer with creative advertising – but with engaging content. The kind of material that is produced by… well… journalists!

What I am thinking of, as it fast approaches the time I should be waking up and getting ready for work, is a seismic shift in the way marketing is conducted, structured and managed.

The first point is easy to understand. Let us simply take the print advertising budget we are no-longer using and invest it in some company-generated content. This could be produced by freelancers or an in-house team.

A campaign that would usually cover one full-page colour advertisement in each UAE newspaper should be sufficient to pay salaries of an entire content factory of two-three senior journalists for a year.

But for this to happen, the corporate must realign internally. No marketing team is going to proactively say ‘let’s just spend money on editorial and content’. They don’t think that way generally – its paramount to saying ‘let’s give all the marketing budget to PR’.

And the advertising agencies aren’t going to be falling over themselves to offer this advice either. Instead they will pitch online advertising and banner ads by the gazillion to make up for the loss in print commissions.

Corp Comms teams should be proactively pitching for this budget to bolster their activities. And they should be approaching management today – even before we are the point where newspapers become irrelevant to the marketing mix.

This is a path which eventually leads us to a new rise of PR over advertising. Or a potential rise – as there have been many such prophesies in the past. If PR teams can wrestle the print advertising budget and make it work on the social media front through effective engagement with freelance or in-house journalists, then we will be in a very powerful place from which to lead integrated campaigns.

I have seen some movement in this direction recently from global industry leaders including a soft drinks giant, and a healthcare consumer electronic manufacturer. However in both occasions  the organisations have sought ‘free content’ and commentary from other businesses.

That model isn’t sustainable. Few people want to read corporate propaganda about your organisation, let alone the propaganda from another company that you are hosting on their behalf.

What is required is strong reader-focused understanding and experience of publishing successful titles, supported by a pool of authors investigating and writing powerful prose.

Smaller publishers might consider it worth changing their line of business entirely and pitching  their entire team to an individual corporate.

The end result would be very similar to in-flight magazines, which would be no bad thing at all.

But this would raise the question of whether there is a need for a PR Agency or a Corporate-sponsored publisher. Given that anywhere from 80% or more of the agency’s job is in preparing and distributing press releases or interacting with the media, and the requirement for this has dissipated, then why does a company need both functions?

I do believe that PR consultancies could compete effectively against publishers, but that they shouldn’t. Instead they should be looking at streamlining their editorial teams and seeking strategic partnerships where possible. Effectively outsourcing the editorial part.

Without that headache (and headcount) to worry about they can focus on the message and communications strategy, as well as other important PR areas such as sustainability and executive communications and corporate reputation management.

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About stephenking2012

In 2012 I volunteered to hold the position of Chair - Standards & Ethics Committee for the Middle East PR Association (@MEPRA_org). I have set up this account to assist in this effort. You may also like to follow my Blog or connect with me on LinkedIn. In any case, please do visit www.mepra.org, and if you are not yet a member, please do sign up!
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