To call 2020 unique would be the understatement of century. The COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis changed how people live and how industries operate. Media and media relations was no exception.
While some of the latest developments have been brewing for a while in response to the internet revolution, many are the direct result of reactions to the pandemic. Here are 10 developments all media relations pros should track:
1. The click is king. As most print media outlets are now operating online, a story’s importance is now based by how many clicks and shares it gets. Do more clicks and shares mean the story is more relevant? Maybe, maybe not. But it is now how a journalist’s success is measured at most outlets today.
2. Remote interviews are the new norm. Remote interviews for TV and online media outlets have always been done, but were never preferred and usually reserved for important news sources. With social distancing in place, it was now necessary for all but rare exceptions, and for public relations professionals, this meant training clients to make skype interviews interesting. With the improved technology that most stations now have in place, we can expect this trend to continue.
3. Relationships are still important. For a good part of 2020, if it wasn’t COVID-19 related, journalists couldn’t/wouldn’t/didn’t engage with any story pitch. PR professionals needed a strong hook and strong relationship with journalists and editor to get attention. On a local level it was—and will remain—easier, as outlets have to produce a lot of content with ever-dwindling staffs and are relying increasingly on outside sources to provide that content.
4. The news won’t be free. All the free content on Google—which is at the mercy of editorial agendas—massacred traditional media, which struggled to compete for ad dollars. For those looking for objective reporting, most news outlets are going to subscription-based online content. This means less access to articles from traditional outlets with journalistic principals, and pitches about trending topics online will have more leverage with editors.
5. Live radio pivots. With fewer people commuting and traveling (and not listening to the radio as they do so) live local radio has been struggling according to the National Association of Many longer radio interviews have migrated to podcasts which have been highly monetized, and consumers can download and listen on their devices, including their smart cars.
6. Digital news gets aggregated. More people are getting news from social media and subscribed e-newsletters and podcasts such as New York Times highly successful “The Daily.” Legitimate news outlets are leveraging the power of social media as a tool to distribute their stories with their own Facebook pages and reporter twitter accounts where distribution is spread through readers’ sharing of a story.
7. Struggle for balance. With the advent of overtly left and right-wing news outlets, there is a growing division on how people get their news. As outlets become more politicized, most free content on Google, social media and even newspapers’ guest columns and Op-Eds are falling in line with an editorial agenda. Consumers will need to pay for most objective content, and as many won’t, that means most will get their news from sources that follow their own political beliefs.
8. Local news is challenged. The model for local news is changing. The demise of many small, hyperlocal newspapers and radio broadcasts has created “news deserts” in many communities throughout the U.S. Many turn to Google, where digital hyperlocal sources such as Patch and municipalities post content. Newspapers with a strong digital presence and some print distribution are trying to find their way through paid subscriptions, nonprofit models and other forms of sponsorships.
9. Social media influencers’ growing influence. Social media influencers who hit it big have a huge number of followers that are an attractive audience for public relations professionals to tap into. Public relations professionals are engaging more and more with these folks to get client stories, products and ideas mentioned to this new audience base.
10. More mergers, more shrinkage. More news outlets are merging, and with it is comes the continued staff losses. The advent of this is that most reporters are now generalists and many “beats” are now gone or rare. For example, business news at mainstream newspapers is focused on the major industry of the region—for example automotive in Detroit—and other business news is now covered by reporters who cover a range of topics, but are not focused “business” beat reporters.
What media relations trends are you watching?
Michael Layne is co-founder of Marx Layne & Company, a Detroit-based public relations and digital media agency.