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COVID-19 Is a Game-Changer for the PR Industry as Rapidly Shifting Landscape Presents New Opportunities

May 4, 2020
By Padraic Convery

Rumors of the death of news have been greatly exaggerated. Really? Following a week in which two of Asia’s highest-profile finance sector magazines were effectively shut down, and many other publications announced furloughs, pay cuts and layoffs?

Print newspapers and magazines have been reinventing themselves for the better part of two decades against an ever-growing onslaught of digital alternatives. That’s nothing new, as those of us who once made a living from the journalism profession are all too aware. But the shrinkage and shuttering of media outlets whose presence is primarily online marks the crossing of a Rubicon: It’s not only print media that’s feeling the squeeze, but digital media, too.

Does this mean an earned coverage boon for public relations professionals? Hardly. From where I sit in Hong Kong, it’s difficult to get an adulatory corporate interview or a client puff piece published in any media outlet whose editorial budget is at breaking point or bust altogether.

Content vs. coronavirus

But one interesting effect of the COVID-19 pandemic that shouldn’t be overlooked is the fact that even though media outlets are struggling financially – online as well as in print – consumption of media content overall is on the rise.

This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, really: social distancing, lockdowns and the closure of entertainment venues means people are stuck at home with little but each other – and the devices through which they consume media content – for company.

The mainstream media has not disappeared – nor will it – but its ongoing and increasing displacement by media outlets that do not rely primarily on advertisers that take flight at falling circulation figures, media that in fact thrive on such terrible events as pandemics, which keep consumers glued to their mobile devices, presents PR professionals with a clear sign of where they should be focusing their attention: mobile-friendly media in general, and social media in particular.

New norms, tighter targets

These changes are likely to persist even after the current pandemic abates. And the media developments to which they have given rise should show PR firms that it is no longer sufficient to unload in the same old way on the reporters upon whom they have traditionally relied.

PR pitches will need to be more targeted, as the pool of mainstream media attention becomes harder to attract, the bar for coverage is set higher, and exclusive stories become ever-more critical as the means by which such media outlets seek to differentiate themselves from the cacophony of voices in the social media sphere.

For these pillars of the traditional media landscape, getting the right news angle into PR pitches will mean everything. And, increasingly, so too will it for the unstoppably expanding universe of social media as its users become every bit discerning as the print and mainstream media consumers upon whom the industry once relied upon to support its business model.

Reaching reporters

The tools PR practitioners use to reach journalists will also require rethinking. Traditional press releases and interviews could usefully be augmented by blogs and short briefs sent to reporters, likely more often, so the drumbeat of reportable news is ever-present.

Opportunity knocks

And PR professionals’ quest for paid, earned, shared and owned media should exclude no opportunity without a compelling reason to do so.

The transformation we are witnessing in the media environment in which we operate may appear intimidating, but it presents the PR industry with opportunities entirely of its own. Change always includes an element of fear; success entails responding to fear with faith in new ways of conquering the challenges change presents.