Are we still over-relying on media relations?

Something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: Are we over-relying on media relations in PR?

I’m talking about the broader scope of PR here–media relations, content marketing, social media marketing, community relations, etc.

For many years, media relations has been one of the core aspects of PR.

But, a number of stats and reports lately (not to mention consumer behavior trends in general) have got me thinking: We may be well past the tipping point.


Consider the following:

  • Investments in content marketing continue to rise. CMOs say content marketing is making up their biggest increase in budgets this year at 13 percent.
  • Content partnerships with major media outlets are taking off. Think Netflix + The Wall Street Journal (and a bunch of others here)
  • Social media marketing is not slowing down. According to eMarketers, social media ad spend will quadruple by 2017. Ad numbers like this don’t tell the whole story, but it is an indicator of how brands are using their time and budgets.

Meanwhile, print circulation numbers among the nation’s largest newspapers are plummeting. Just give this shocking post a read. In fact, if these numbers are accurate, the USA Today went from a print pub circ of 1,424,000 in 2013 to just 299,000 in 2015. Wow. 

I’m not implying that mass media outlets like the USA Today and New York Times are going to die–definitely not true. And, as an active citizen, I sincerely hope that’s not true.

But, from a PR perspective, it does make me think differently about our historically substantial focus on traditional media outreach. Generally, I think we still may be putting too many eggs in the media outreach basket, and not enough eggs in those other buckets mentioned above.

Let’s think this through. Media outreach, at its core, has always been about communicating a message to a key audience, right? And, years ago, one of the best ways to do that was through mainstream media–because they were the biggest, and in some cases, very trusted, vehicles around.

Flash forward to 2016: Media reach is shrinking (traditionally). Consumer behaviors are shifting–especially around who they trust and listen to when making purchasing decisions (see: recent influencer outreach studies). And people have many more vehicles to get information each day than they did, even just 10 years ago.

That’s not exactly a recipe for sinking more money into media outreach.

Also, consider these facts:

  • Social advertising options now make it uber-easy to make sure our EXACT target sees and consumes our messages–unlike mass media, where there can be significant audience “waste.”
  • Content marketing gives brands the message control they craved for years (no more working through impartial media members to share your message).
  • And, tools like 360 video and virtual reality are on the doorstep of taking that storytelling capacity for brands to a level we’ve never seen before.

I can’t help it. I keep wincing after every sentence I write. The more I think about this, the more I think we still are over-relying on media outreach. And, it might just be time to open our eyes to the harsh reality. Media relations is (or should be) a smaller part of our job now than it’s ever been before.

Think about that for a minute, and get back to me with your thoughts.

photo credit: “BS” on newspaper box via photopin (license)

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4 comments on “Are we still over-relying on media relations?

  1. John Reinan says:

    This is an excellent topic, Arik. I’ve thought about it many times, both when I was DOING media relations and now that I’m back in the media.

    I think your fundamental assumption is true in many respects. There’s no doubt that we possess many more ways to communicate than we once did (duh). Brands and companies and organizations with a product to sell or a message to spread should use these channels creatively and extensively.

    And yet……much of the content that people share on social media still comes from traditional media. People share pictures of their kids and vacations, sure. They pass along funny memes and photoshopped items.But there’s still a need to know what’s happening. When I was doing PR, not so long ago, I had many clients tell me that they got a huge response from a media placement we’d gotten for them. People noticed and responded. The traditional media still have reach. Less today than yesterday — sure. Less tomorrow than today — probably. All the signs point to it.

    But media relations is still important. President Obama wouldn’t have praised Marvin Windows as the “no-layoff company” because Marvin had a killer customer-facing website or mobile app. He did it because the New York Times found it worthwhile to write about.

    This isn’t coming from a media guy who’s making a feeble plea to be considered relevant. I fully recognize the dynamic you’ve identified; in fact, I wrote about it regularly on MinnPost for several years. And in a few more years I might have to completely wave the white flag — it’s certainly possible. Only an idiot would deny that. But I think there’s still going to be an ongoing need for a critical media mass that other communication can spin off.

    I’ll be retired in 10 years and then I can mull these issues from my rocking chair.

  2. Kevin Watterson says:

    It’s gotta be all-encompassing. Earn the media, blog about it, amplify your blog to your exact audiences from your social channels, get traffic, boost SEO signals, etc.

  3. Jeron Udean says:

    There’s no doubt those in the communications industry need to think beyond traditional media relations, but a few thoughts on this topic:

    *The value of earned media always ways, and always will be, credibility. The editorial filter lends a level of trust that is nearly impossible to replicate through any form of paid media. You can try to blur those lines, but consumers will eventually figure it out. Or new rules will be developed to make the distinction more clear, such as the recent FTC guidelines on native advertising.

    *The content the media puts out is more important than the platform it’s consumed on. Print circulation is declining, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t reading their stories. They’re just reading it on publication’s website or Facebook page. I would also question that stat about the USA Today’s circulation. I’m fairly certain the person who cited it was incorrect. The 2016 USA Today rate card claims daily circulation of +975K, and cites the AAM as the source.

    *Mainstream newspapers are just one type of media. For many companies, a positive story in a key trade publication is just as important, if not more so, than a newspaper story or TV segment.

    *Media relations is just one component of an effective communications/PR strategy.

  4. Mark Stouse says:

    Focus on what reaches your audience effectively and pervasively aligns their Belief and Behavior with the business objectives. But realize that as the customer sense of risk grows around a purchase (B2B but some B2C), Paid and Owned channels lose their effectiveness. Independent channels (Earned and Shared) still drive the late stage buy decision in high cost, high risk purchase decisions like B2B.