Our guest article initially appeared on Forbes.
Public relations (PR) and journalism are inextricably linked. Yet in the digital age, that connection needs to further evolve.
In the age of the Internet, traditional media organizations are struggling to adapt and find business models that work. The impact of this struggle is clear to see — the number of reporting jobs in the U.S. is shrinking dramatically. Outside of media hubs like New York, L.A. and Washington D.C., one out of every four reporting jobs — 12,000 positions — has ceased to exist, according to The Washington Post.
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This state of affairs has shifted the dynamic between journalists and PR professionals the world over. As journalism jobs dwindle, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the PR profession will grow by 6% between 2014 and 2024. Historically PR firms have provided value to the media industry by pitching stories and while that still holds truth, this is no longer their sole purpose.
A combination of new journalistic self-sufficiency — aided by email, social media and websites such as Reddit and Medium — and swelling PR resources means that PR firms must now explore new ways of providing value to themedia. The role of “Chief Pitching Officer” is fading, but this opens the door to new opportunities.
The relationship between PR professionals and journalists is known for being adversarial. Journalists view PR reps as obstacles who either get in the way of stories or try to create stories from nothing. On the other hand, PR reps get frustrated when journalists ignore their work.
But what if this adversarial dynamic were to change? What if the role of PR was to serve and add value to the media as much as it is to provide benefit to clients?
The fact is that the PR industry needs a strong media in order to prosper. In the digital era, where media publications continue to struggle, this creates opportunities for PR firms to think outside the box, expand the scope of their work, and evolve their approach. For that, they have to offer more to the media than mere pitches.
Consider the impact of Andreessen Horowitz on the venture capital industry. Historically speaking, VCs only provided money to entrepreneurs. Andreessen Horowitz revolutionized the VC approach by taking a more active role in the evolution of its portfolio companies. Other VCs quickly followed suit.
The future of PR should take a similarly comprehensive approach. The industry can adapt its role and become more of an agent/manager for the media, serving as the liaison to the greater business community by providing these services:
Business development. Publications are hurting financially right now. At a time when they need support from the business community more than ever, the connection between them is weaker than it’s ever been. PR firms can provide value to publications by connecting them to sponsors and business development opportunities.
Consulting opportunities. Think of reporters as actors or sports stars (just don’t tell them). PR firms can serve as their agents, connecting journalists with business opportunities such as event speaking. Agencies with clients who sponsor gallery openings, or are launching their own products, can call upon the journalists they know to compere the evening and introduce them to a whole new line of work.
Distribution. Even publications need help marketing and promoting themselves. PR professionals can help journalists market and distribute their articles to a wider audience.
Recruiting. Finally, PR firms can assist with recruiting. With their ear to the ground of the media industry, PR firms are perfectly positioned to find journalists a new job or work when they leave a publication. In many instances, by the time a so-called “new” position reaches a journalism job site, the position has already been filled. PR folks can alert journalists of upcoming job changes before the position is empty and help them find the job they want.
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The PR industry can simply not afford to let the media become a weaker version of its former self. If PR firms are going to meet the demands of the media, they need to drive change within their own industry and move beyond pitches and press releases.
Changing that adversarial nature is an important part of evolving the PR/journalist relationship. With a culture of nepotism prevalent across the media, PR professionals can help here.
But there are ethical pitfalls to watch out for, too. This can’t be about a deliberate exchange of favors. Any help that we give, we give willingly and without assumption. New policies need to be put into place, and the PR industry needs to respect the media’s ethical commitment to its readership. When a conflict of interest arises, it needs to be disclosed. The agenda here is to preserve the media industry: nothing more and nothing less.
It’s time to shift our perspective on how we as agency owners add value to the media industry and provide journalists with the support and expertise they need. By offering networking opportunities and acting as their consultants, marketers and recruiters, PR firms will be able to tap into the real needs of the modern media industry.
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